- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

I read with much interest the article by Gordon Cucullu and Paul Vallely on the forthcoming U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan (“Stabilizing Afghanistan,” Op-Ed, Monday). Being a security analyst with a specialization in Afghanistan, I follow the events in the country in great detail, and I always read any U.S. official military comment on the situation there with much attention. Although I agree in principle with the essence of the article — namely that the situation in Afghanistan is completely different from that in Iraq, and appears to be further down the line in terms of reconstruction — I respectfully have to disagree with the rationale behind the article.

It has come to my attention that U.S. military sources often claim successes are being made in the war on terror in Afghanistan. In mid-2005, there was an apparent tail-off in hostilities: Fewer militant attacks were being mounted in general, and the trend to engage government troops in pitched battles with large numbers of attackers appeared to tail off after the summer. Justifiably, the trends allowed for a U.S. claim of progress.

However, the recent spate of suicide attacks in the country has been explained by U.S. high command as being a sign that the insurgents are on such a back foot that they are being forced to modify their tactics, adopting Iraqi-style campaigns of suicide attacks. This, being presented as a definite sign of progress, came alongside news of the upcoming troop withdrawal: Is this unassailable proof of an improvement?

In a word, no. The authors completely fail to mention that as the U.S. reduces troop strength in Afghanistan, NATO is increasing troop numbers heavily (only “NATO’s continued willingness to participate in the mission of Operation Enduring Freedom” is mentioned). In fact, there may not even be a net change in troop numbers; they will stay at the current levels of around 30,000 in total (at the moment there are about 20,000 U.S. troops and 10,000 NATO troops in the country).

What is more, the extra 6,000 troops that NATO will send will be heavily involved in combat operations in the south and east of the country, which had up until now been the chief preserve of the American military: The fact is that “the operations in the south are transitioning from combat to stability operations” (which will dramatically cut the number of body bags being sent back home); but nowhere is it mentioned that there is still a pressing requirement for foreign military in a combat role despite this transition.

So, while the United States is greeted with news of troop reductions, followed by an inevitable and no doubt much-trumpeted decrease in the number of reports of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan, in actual fact the insurgency rages on and will rage on.

It may well be the case that insurgents have modified their tactics in the face of a determined and technologically superior foe, but it seems nonsensical to claim Afghanistan is a template of stability for Iraq when there is a current vogue for Iraqi-style terror tactics.

JAMES MCLEOD-HATCH

Security Analyst

AKE Ltd.

London

Judging Alito

When Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. grilled Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Tuesday, the Delaware Democrat — when he occasionally took a breath and allowed the judge a brief response — seemed to pin much of his objection to Judge Alito’s nomination on the fact that he would be replacing the “swing” justice, Sandra Day O’Connor (“Alito vows equal justice for all,” Page 1, Tuesday).

Does Mr. Biden mean to imply that, since Judge Alito would be replacing Justice O’Connor, he should ape her judicial stance and alter his own avowed position that “a judge can’t have any agenda, a judge can’t have any preferred outcome in any particular case, and a judge certainly doesn’t have a client”?

BILL SMITH

Palm Desert, Calif.

According to Steve Chapman (“Vote keyed to ideology?” Commentary, Wednesday), asking for a consideration of a Supreme Court nominee without considering his or her ideology is like asking for people to consider food without considering taste. This seems to misrepresent the process and considerations received by Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., both from the administration that appointed him and from the liberal senators who have, thus far, opposed him.

The “unwritten laws of Washington” that Mr. Chapman alludes to (“When you oppose a president’s judicial nominees, you can’t give your real reasons”) hasn’t applied to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, for instance, who (I think) has been clear in his statements that he dislikes Judge Alito’s ideology. Of course, he tries to find other reasons that the judge isn’t qualified; he wants to try to sway some of his less liberal colleagues and constituents away from Judge Alito. President Bush appointed Judge Alito using the same strategy — what he really liked was the judge’s conservative mind-set, but his qualifications were excellent also and the president pointed those out consistently.

Judge Alito is extremely well qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court, but the Democrats are doing their best to paint a picture of Judge Alito as out of the mainstream with regard to issues such as abortion and presidential powers. (They should discover, to their chagrin, that he isn’t.) Democrats will try to supplement their case against Judge Alito by challenging his credentials, as that is the easiest way to disqualify him.

When Mr. Chapman says that Democrats “shouldn’t be ashamed to admit” that ideology matters to them, he is missing the fact that they aren’t. At least Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Charles E. Schumer and Kennedy, the outspoken members of the judiciary committee, certainly aren’t ashamed of saying anything, much less that they disagree with Judge Alito’s ideology.

The point is, Judge Alito was nominated on the grounds of his conservative beliefs, he can be opposed on those grounds also, but in the end he should be appointed on the strength of his record.

JAMES A. MCFADDEN

Philadelphia

Homeschoolers in the military

Using similar words from the pop song, “Tin Man,” from the band, America, the passage by Congress of Section 522, the Recruitment and Enlistment of Home Schooled Students in the Armed Forces, doesn’t give anything to home-schooled graduates that they didn’t already have (“Graduates win military equality,” Life/Schools, Monday).

By accruing 15 hours of college credit, which only adds to a person’s life experience, a home-schooled grad who wants to enlist in one of the military services achieves Tier I status in line with standards applied to all other alternative diploma holders. Home-school diplomas are categorized as Tier II diplomas because they are, and will always remain, an alternative to the Tier I standard of a day-school diploma. An alternative is an alternative.

An inaccuracy in the article is its assumption that, “starting a military career in Tier II rather than Tier I, disqualifies recruits from making significant upward progression.” My husband was drafted into the Army as an infantryman during the Vietnam War, and went on to retire as a command sergeant major whose final Army assignment was CSM of the 66th Military Intelligence Group. “Upward progression” has more to do with the individual, and how that person uses his or her opportunities in the armed services, rather than how he or she starts out.

And as for the military services treating home-schoolers “fairly,” by giving home-school diploma holders “preferred enlistment” status, fair is exactly what the services were doing by categorizing the alternative diplomas as alternative diplomas.

What is unfair is legislatively changing the tier classification of one category of alternative diploma while not considering a similar change for other alternative diplomas. The legislation provides preferential treatment, not equal treatment.

The legislative change is nice for home-schooled grads, and many home-school grads are indeed serving honorably in the armed services, but the legislative change shouldn’t be framed as “fair” or “equal.”

VALERIE BONHAM MOON

Belton, Mo.

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