Pentagon Official: Obama’s Afghanistan Fantasy Today Is America’s Nightmare Tomorrow

Joseph Miller Contributor
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Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.

Over the weekend, the legacy media was happy to give President Barack Obama a boost by writing puff pieces about his trip to Afghanistan on a day so close to one of the nation’s most solemn holidays. But the Obama Doctrine outlined then and in the two days since isn’t hope and change. Not only is it another broken campaign promise, it’s an international show of an American leader irresponsibly passing responsibility for essential “hard choices” onto the next U.S. president — just like he has done with Iran, North Korea, and the rest.

The trip was his first to Afghanistan since 2012 and was billed as a chance to thank the troops for their service to the nation. It was a much needed moment of relief for a commander in chief who has been beaten up in recent months for failing to craft or execute a discernible foreign policy.

The press took photos of Obama glad handing and smiling with members of the armed forces at Bagram Air Field. They also reported on the speech outlining his plan to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

“America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end,” he declared. The optics were fantastic and, as usual, the president’s delivery was superb. However, what the press failed to pick up on were some of the subtleties of the trip itself which, when combined with elements of the president’s speech, were much more telling of his failed Afghanistan policy.

After twelve and a half years at war, the security situation is still so bad in Afghanistan that the president was forced to arrive unannounced and land under the cover of darkness. By all accounts, even Afghan President Hamid Karzai wasn’t made aware of Obama’s impending visit to his country until shortly before he arrived — and even then, Karzai refused to meet with him. What’s more, the president didn’t even stay for a full day or travel to Kabul, never leaving Bagram Air Field.

Despite this, the president spoke of transitioning responsibility for security over to Afghan forces. How exactly Obama expects to responsibly transition security to the Afghans while the situation is so bad that he has to arrive in the dark and can’t even get off of Bagram Air Base is unknown at this point.

At this time, the Taliban maintain control of large swaths of the country, and many in the national security apparatus expect the Taliban to retake control of Afghanistan at some point after U.S. forces withdraw. Afghanistan lacks the infrastructure and the financial resources required to keep the country stable under the current government — or even to pay its soldiers. Without the presence of foreign military forces, the Afghan government is likely to crumble and the country will then descend back into civil war. If it does, all of our security gains in Afghanistan will be lost — and all of the blood and treasure spent will be for naught.

But since Obama said the last U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan in 2016, it’s the next president’s problem, and Obama is passing the buck — just as he has all over the planet.

Obama’s continued push to transition security to the Afghans amid a deteriorating security situation is indicative of the president’s desire for a time-driven strategy for withdrawal, instead of one based on the accomplishment of planned goals. This violates the very tenets of basic military planning, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the White House that either understands or cares enough to tell the president the truth.

The Taliban came up with a saying to describe the situation after the president announced his timetable for withdrawal a few years ago: “You have the watches but we have the time.”

This phrase is often used by detainees to taunt their American captors, because they know that soon enough the Americans will be gone — no matter the situation on the ground. If the president visited Taliban prisoners at the detention facility on Bagram he might have even heard it for himself.

By remaining at Bagram Air Field for “security reasons,” Obama failed to meet with any Afghan officials — a potentially important meeting as Karzai has refused to sign the security agreement with the U.S. The yet-to-be-signed security agreement is the lynchpin required to facilitate the final phase of the president’s Afghanistan policy, as outlined in his speech. This security agreement must be signed and be in place before the end of 2014 in order to provide the U.S. with the legal authority to remain in Afghanistan.

Two days after visiting Afghanistan, the president announced that he seeks to keep 9,800 U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan in order to safeguard U.S. security gains and transition responsibility over to Afghan security forces by the year’s end. But his declaration is divorced not only from reality, but from his own interpretations of it: On the campaign trail, the president promised to have all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by 2014; and the security agreement required to enable this is going to be left to two Afghan men battling to become president of their country in an impending runoff election.

Time will tell what the candidates for Afghan president do, but the time frame for U.S. withdrawal is rapidly approaching.

There are over 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and every last one of them will need to be flown — not driven — out of the country. That will take a significant number of air resources and must begin many months before the current December mandate for the U.S. presence expires. This situation is all too familiar to those who witnessed the hurried withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, when the Obama administration failed to secure an agreement with the government of Iraq, resulting in the total withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country.

Neither Vice President Joe Biden — the president point person for Iraq — nor then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were able to seal the deal. Since then, Iraq has been plagued by violence with al-Qaida retaking cities in western Iraq as many of the security gains the U.S. made were lost.

Just as in Iraq, the president had the opportunity to commit to a strategy and the resources required to stabilize Afghanistan during his policy review two years ago. Instead, he chose to side with his political advisers —  a group of people many seasoned Washington policy hands describe as a bunch of petulant, inexperienced campaign staffers with big titles.

None of those advisers had any military planning experience, and they encouraged the president to barter over troop levels like they were buying rugs in an Arab bazaar. In the end, the administration came to a decision about what its Afghanistan goals were and then failed to adequately resource the plan for it to succeed. The president was so adamant about capping force levels after listening to these same advisers that he took the unprecedented step of typing out his order, which was subsequently published verbatim in Bob Woodward’s book, “Obama’s Wars.”

This is the same man that was said to have appointed Gen. Eric Shinseki as secretary of Veterans Affairs for telling the Bush administration more troops were needed for the occupation of Iraq.

Obama admires generals who tell their elected leaders what is required to get the job done — so long as that elected leader isn’t him.

Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.