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Obama's War - how the USA wants to turn the page on the Hindu Kush


Translated by  Agatha Haun

Iraq was Bush's war. Afghanistan will be Obama's war. And even the new US president lets no one doubt that he wants to win. Already during the presidential campaign he described Afghanistan as "a war that we must win". A determination with serious implications. Immediately after he assumed office, President Obama ordered a review of the US strategy for the conflict on the Hindu Kush. It was completed in good time before the NATO summit. The result: a powerful new start in the war against terrorism. Obama when he introduced the new Afghanistan strategy last week:

Obama, voice over:

"I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us my message is the same: We will defeat you.“

Carlos Latuff, Brazil

In contrast to his predecessor, Obama refers to a clear goal. He wants to crush the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to prevent them from launching any new attacks on the US and its allies from there. Granted that Obama avoids using the concept "war on terror“, but he assigned the US commitment on the Hindu Kush to this goal more clearly than ever before. The president thus follows the security experts, such as Bruce Riedel, who regarded the war against Iraq as an expensive blunder in every respect. Riedel, a former CIA anti-terror expert, is of the opinion that the occupation of Iraq played into the hands of the Al Qaida strategy, to "bleed white" the US armed forces. Since spring 2007, when Obama was a presidential candidate, Riedel has acted as his adviser. On 10 February, the president gave him the task of elaborating the new strategy for the Hindu Kush, together with Special Representative Holbrooke and Deputy Secretary of Defence Michele Flournoy. The most important elements of the new US initiative were articulated already in an article for the respected journal "Foreign Affairs", which Riedel published in May 2007.

Carlos Latuff

Afghanistan and Pakistan are now regarded as a connected problem zone, requiring a common strategy. With the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, this new viewpoint is clearly expressed. Holbrooke in February at the Munich Security Conference:


"... we often call the problem AfPak, as in Afghanistan - Pakistan. This is not just an effort to save eight syllables. It is an attempt to indicate and imprint on our DNA the fact that there is one theatre of war, straddling an ill-defined border, the Durand Line. On the western side of that border, NATO and other forces are able to operate. On the eastern side, it's the sovereign territory of Pakistan. But it is there on the eastern side of this ill-defined border that the international terrorist movement is located."

The Af-Pak strategy seeks to integrate all the neighboring countries and regional powers into the resolution of the conflict. India is supposed to exercise self-restraint so that Pakistan can concentrate its armed forces entirely on combating the Taliban. At the US government's instigation, Iran was invited to the UN Afghanistan conference in The Hague this week. Tehran's participation is a minor diplomatic sensation. NATO even includes Iran in its considerations about alternative supply routes to Afghanistan. And Saudi Arabia has assumed a role in secret negotiations in order to persuade certain Taliban groups to give up their fight against the Karzai government.

In the new Af-Pak strategy, military methods will continue to be important. On 17 February, President Obama gave orders for the transfer of 17,000 combat troops to Afghanistan before summer, above all because of the elections in August. Now a further 4,000 men are supposed to be dispatched as trainers for the Afghan army. During the year the US troop strength in action in Afghanistan will then come to about 62,000. That meets all of the requests for more troops for this year made by McKiernan, the commanding US general.

Rodrigo, Portugal

From its current strength of 82,000 men, the Afghan army is supposed to be brought up to 134,000 by 2011. And the police forces are to be increased from 80,000 to 82,000 men.

But the military instruments are supposed to be subordinated to a comprehensive security concept. Obama announced a "smart[er] and comprehensive strategy", because it is impossible to win only through the use of military means:


A "campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone.“

In the future, the USA wants to concentrate much more than on civilian reconstruction than it did in the past. For example, planting wheat is seen as an alternative to poppies, they want to fight intensively against corruption, the economic and development assistance will be decentralized - at the province and administrative district level.

The allies are supposed to play a more important role here.


"As America does more, we will ask others to join us in doing their part. From our partners and NATO allies, we will seek not simply troops, but rather clearly defined capabilities: Supporting the Afghan elections, training Afghan security forces, a greater civilian commitment to the Afghan people.“

The negotiations on the contributions of support began this week at the UN conference on Afghanistan in The Hague. The process continued at the weekend at the NATO summit in Strasbourg and Baden-Baden. There the US administration has been intelligent enough to not demand anything impossible from its European allies. It takes into consideration the domestic political constraints in each country.

US Defence Secretary Gates:

"I think that the focus of our request on civilian expertise and police trainers frankly is easier for the Europeans politically at home than to send more soldiers [and to be actually more in the fight]. [...] the [kinds of] things we're going to be asking for will be easier for them politically, [and I hope] that despite their economic problems at home, that they will in fact meet those needs."

Horsey, USA

Already a day before Obama's official announcement of the Afghanistan concept, Chancellor Merkel declared last week, in her government's statement to the NATO summit, that Germany would support the USA's new Af-Pak strategy. The German government recognizes in the "comprehensive strategy“ of the US administration its concept of "integrated security". However, Angela Merkel did not announce or hint at new or continued support measures. That was ruled out at this point. It is to be expected, though, that the German government will be persuaded here and make a stronger commitment than before on the Hindu Kush. That was the result of the intensive negotiations which just began in the last few days.

Now it is already clear that in any case, the character of the NATO mission in Afghanistan will be changed. In accordance with the new Af-Pak strategy, the US has expanded its area of operations to Pakistan also, but NATO won't operate there. The alliance's area of operations still extends only over Afghan territory. The US troops will be increased by 21,000 soldiers, which will bring the number of US armed forces on the Hindu Kush to more than 60,000. They are under a united US command structure – they are assigned either to the ISAF or the Operation Enduring Freedom. In terms of numbers, the US armed forces have dominated the military mission for a long time already. A NATO operation could quickly become a new "coalition of the willing" under US command, with all the strengths, but also with all the risks and side-effects, of the "American way of war“. These were to be observed last month in northern Afghanistan. US special forces had carried out a commando action near Kunduz, without the knowledge of the German ISAF regional commander. During the operation several colleagues of a German-friendly mayor were killed.

Critical observers see in the Af-Pak strategy a questionable present from the USA on the 60th birthday of the alliance. In spite of the good intentions of the well-wishers, the new concept is ultimately an unspoken indication of defects in the alliance. Above all, it was the alliance partners' lack of readiness for action that came in for criticism, as well as the inability to adapt, in view of the new challenges.

The mood of celebration in the alliance may no doubt quickly vanish after the NATO summit.

R.J. Matson, USA

Source: Transcript of radio broadcast on North German Radio Streitkräfte und Strategien - NDR info - Obamas Krieg – wie die USA das Blatt am Hindukusch wenden wollen

Original article published on April 4, 2009

Agatha Haun is a member of
Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.

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IMPERIUM : 23/06/2009