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NORTH: Obama’s bitter harvest in Afghanistan
New commander in chief needed to win
In December 2009, our commander in chief went to West Point and proclaimed that he would withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2014. Since then, he has proudly emphasized, “We are on a course to end this war responsibly.” U.S. and NATO troops and loyal Afghan soldiers and police officers are reaping the bitter harvest of the seeds President Obama planted with those words.
Over the past 10 days, in five incidents, seven American military personnel were killed in what used to be called “green-on-blue attacks” — in which Afghan soldiers or police assaulted their U.S. and NATO counterparts. Thus far this year, 37 coalition troops and civilians have been killed in 29 incidents of what the Pentagon now calls “insider attacks.” According to figures released by the NATO command in Kabul, there were 11 such events in all of last year, resulting in 20 deaths.
Until now, the Pentagon and NATO command in Kabul maintained that those “sporadic incidents” usually were the consequence of “personal grievances” and were “related to people getting into arguments.” In March, after an insider attack that killed two British commandos, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the assaults by persons wearing Afghan police or military uniforms weren’t part of “any kind of broad pattern of activity.” That perception has been altered by events on the ground in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, following two attacks perpetrated by Afghan nationals that resulted in six Marines killed and two wounded, U.S. Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, took the unusual step of issuing guidance to all U.S. Marine leaders. Gen. Amos, it should be recalled by my media colleagues, co-authored the “Counterinsurgency Manual” with Gen. David H. Petraeus. It was used as the guidebook for the fight in Afghanistan. In his letter Tuesday, Gen. Amos noted that the recent assaults “were carefully crafted to drive a wedge between us and our Afghan partners.” Importantly, he also warned his Marines: “More of these types of spectacular attacks can be expected.”
A day after the Amos message went out, Mr. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged at least partial reality in a Pentagon news conference. They now say the Taliban is “resorting to these kinds of attacks to create havoc.” In that same news conference, Mr. Panetta, perhaps forgetting this is not a conventional war, claimed that “the Taliban has not been able to regain any territory lost.”
During the question-and-answer session with reporters, Gen. Dempsey announced new measures to ameliorate the threat: the formation of a Joint Casualty Assessment Team (JCAT) to evaluate every aspect of each attack, increased counterintelligence “expertise” and a “conference” of “one-stars and above” to develop “thoughts about what more we might do.”
Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s fixes won’t fix the problem of increasing insider attacks. We have 84,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan. The Obama administration insists on dropping that number to 68,000 before the presidential election in November while the Afghan National Security Forces simultaneously increase from 332,000 to more than 350,000. That’s mission impossible.
The JCAT idea might have been a good one back in 2007, when NATO began to tally insider attacks. Any study the JCAT produces now will be good for the history books but unlikely to stop the carnage over the next 12 months.
Improved intelligence on those entering, and counterintelligence about those already in the Afghan police and military services, would be a great idea. Institutional arrogance in U.S. intelligence agencies mandates reliance on signals intelligence, not human intelligence that actually would be effective in screening out and detecting Taliban infiltrators.
If the Pentagon brass wants to know what needs to be done to mitigate the risk of such attacks, it ought to forget about a conference of generals and solicit ideas from the lieutenants and captains in the field who are living, fighting and dying beside loyal Afghan counterparts.
Finally, in what can only be a total lack of situational awareness, there is Mr. Panetta’s assessment that insider attacks are designed to “create havoc” and his comment that success is measured by keeping the Taliban from regaining “any territory lost.”
The radical Islamists in Afghan police and military garb who kill Americans don’t care about territory. Havoc is simply a subsidiary effect — collateral damage — of an insider attack. The perpetrators of these assaults on American and NATO personnel have but one goal: killing an infidel.
President Obama planted the seeds for all this when he publicly announced a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. His deadline is fertile ground for jihadis, who know that their “window of opportunity” for murder is closing. We should expect the bitter harvest of green-on-blue attacks to produce a bumper crop of American casualties unless we hire a new commander in chief who knows how to fight a war and win.
Oliver North is host of “War Stories” on Fox News Channel, founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance and author of “American Heroes in Special Operations” (Fidelis, 2010).
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