5 years, 10 months ago
Media Matters analyzes reactions on the so-called right to Coakley’s Afghanistan remarks (that Afghanistan is terrorist-free). Distort Coakley’s comments, the right does, from the Weekly Standard to Foxnews and others. Then they marshal evidence from McChrystal to Jim Jones and then Petraeus to show that at most there may be 300 “al Qaeda” fighters in Afghanistan proper. Even Charles Krauthammer gives her the benefit of the doubt. Media Matters ignored my own post on Coakley showing that the Marines in Helmand were battling fighters from both sides of the border (although I occupy first page on a Google search).
Alas, the issue is not that complicated, but it does require a bit of attention to detail. It’s important in that it matters from the perspectives of both national security and the lives of sons of America who are fighting in Afghanistan as we speak. Thinking of the enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a name (such as al Qaeda) is dangerous because of its oversimplification of the problem. To be sure, there are Arabs, Chechens, Somalians, and other foreign fighters (e.g., German) who currently take sanctuary in the Hindu Kush.
But as I have noted before, the Taliban (including the indigenous Pashtun population) has evolved into a much more radicalized and globally committed group after at least eight years of exposure to this thinking.
… they have evolved into a much more radical organization than the original Taliban bent on global engagement, what Nicholas Schmidle calls the Next-Gen Taliban. The TTP shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! “We are al-Qaida!” There is no distinction. A Pakistan interior ministry official has even said that the TTP and al Qaeda are one and the same.
Admiral Mullen explains the same thing in slightly different words.
The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, is expressing concern about the growing ties between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.
Admiral Mullen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that President Barack Obama’s new strategy in that country is aimed at creating an environment that will not permit al-Qaida to return to Afghanistan.
“There is a strategic goal the Taliban have, to move back and take over the country, and secondly, in that goal, in that environment, that that is fertile ground for al-Qaida, who continues not to be just in Pakistan, but is now moving into Yemen, is connected very well in Somalia, and in other parts of the world,” said Admiral Mullen. “Their strategic objectives remain the same – to threaten us, to threaten the west, and that fertile ground to do that would be Kandahar and Kabul again, if we do not get this right.”
Mullen underscored his concern by noting growing ties between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.
“While al-Qaida is not located in Afghanistan, it is headquartered clearly in Pakistan, what I have watched over the last couple of years is this growing integration between al-Qaida and the Taliban, and the various networks of the Taliban, whether it is [Jalaluddin] Haqqani, or [Baitullah] Mehsud or [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar, and that has alarmed me in its growth and integration over the last couple of years,” he said.
Asking the question whether al Qaeda and the Taliban are in Pakistan or Afghanistan is like asking whether the water is on the right or the left side of a swimming pool.
The conversation on Pakistan versus Afghanistan presupposes that the Durand Line means anything, and that the Taliban and al Qaeda respect an imaginary boundary cut through the middle of the Hindu Kush. It doesn’t and they don’t. If our engagement of Pakistan is to mean anything, we must understand that they are taking their cue from us, and that our campaign is pressing the radicals from the Afghanistan side while their campaign is pressing them from the Pakistani side.
Advocating disengagement from Afghanistan is tantamount to suggesting that one front against the enemy would be better than two, and that one nation involved in the struggle would be better than two (assuming that Pakistan would keep up the fight in our total absence, an assumption for which I see no basis). It’s tantamount to suggesting that it’s better to give the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan as Pakistan presses them from their side, or that it’s better to give them safe haven in Pakistan while we press them from our side. Both suggestions are preposterous.
This is why Coakley’s misunderstanding is critical. Reasonably intelligent people must be engaged in assessing the facts on a rather detailed level in order to arrive at a reliable understanding of the issues. Catch phrases, buzz words and bean counting is no replacement for scholarship. And that’s why Coakley’s comments are no mere gaffe. They are honest comments that betray a stolid understanding of national security.