Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has finally opened up to reporters about our mission in Afghanistan and in doing so he offered some good news, albeit questionable: We’re in a good position to defeat al Qaeda and now that Osama bin Laden is dead, we’ve just got ten to twenty more guys to go and viola! Al Qaeda kicks the can.
Hold it right there kimosabe.
Is this the product of a David Axelrod creation? No, I’m not doubting the viability of such a proposal since after all, taking away the top 20 leadership positions in nearly any organization would have a crippling effect and further, General Petraeus has given his nod to the claim, citing a “strategic victory” should such targets be killed or captured. But a few points come to mind.
First of all, the sudden positive spin on defeat and the allusion to victory is suspicious given the military leadership’s reaction to the new Afghanistan strategy. Granted, targeting individuals using counterterrorism methods is in line with the new Obama-Biden plan for Afghanistan, which obviously would be the pursued strategy for hunting these terrorists down; however, if counterterrorism alone would have worked as the be-all, end-all strategy to defeating the terror threat in Afghanistan, why would we have 100,000 armed forces over there? In the big picture, if counterterrorism worked alone period, why would counterinsurgency doctrine exist at all? (Psst…it existed long before General Petraeus did)
This is why I mention Axelrod. The message has gone from, “how can we ever win now?” to “hey, this is all we need to do to win!”, and I don’t like it. Which brings me to my next point…
Secondly, how many al Qaeda leaders have we taken out thus far? What I’m getting at is that at this point we only have 10-20 left, but how many did we start with? About 10 to 20. Unlike the counterinsurgency which was just really implemented about a year ago, we’ve been at the counterterror helm for ten years now. Capturing top leadership isn’t like a dodgeball game where we just keep popping mortars until we get them all. These guys have to be hunted down through surveillance, intelligence, and ultimately sending our commandos in to take them out. Or a predator drone. Whichever works best. So if we want to place some estimates on this new claim, we can get one to two top guys every year. Kind of puts a new perspective on that positive messaging, eh?
Then again, there’s a new factor that wasn’t the case while we were hunting down the leadership prior to the capture of bin Laden: there’s been an influx of new intelligence from that raid and, in the world of intel, knowing is half the battle. Of course, that advantage might be canceled out by the intel gathered after 9/11 using our more…politically questionable interrogation methods, meaning we have about the same quality of information to work with as we did after 9/11 and thus, our timeline isn’t shortened any from the raid intel. Oh wait! David Petraeus will now be the CIA chief, which by default means good things. I’m sorry, I just can’t hide my bias!
Oh and there’s just one more point to make: a good number of these guys are in Iran. Yep. If Obama is the new Carter, then that means there’s a potential for another Operation Eagle Claw moment, granted we’d be trying to kill people, not save them of course. But that’s not really the worrisome point. Word on the street is that Iran will respond if attacked.
While Panetta has shown some cajones in claiming that the U.S. will step up to the Iranian threat of their arming insurgents in Iraq, the primary fluff has been centered on their nuclear program while their influence and threat in the region is beyond what they “might” do. What they “are” doing is far-reaching and undermining nearly all of our efforts in the Middle East and now, they’re standing in the way of an entire war effort by harboring our enemies that started the war. Since, for political posturing it seems, the message is that we just have to get these 10 or 20 more guys to “win” the war, we seem destined to toy the line with one more war to get there.
The question then is, how will Iran respond to U.S. targeting and elimination of those enemies when we have to knowingly breach Iranian soil to get to them? Considering that Pakistan is supposed to be our ally and they had a big problem with us killing bin Laden on their soil, we might be looking at having our troops learning Farsi in the near future.
Unless of course, this is just 2012 posturing.