Obama May Postpone Afghan Surge

Severe Problems in Supply Routes Afflict Aghanistan War Effort

While the attention of the US public and the news media here has
been consumed (understandably enough) by the congressional debate over
the economic stimulus plan, America's war in Afghanistan has nearly
collapsed because of logistical problems.

First, the Taliban destroyed a crucial bridge west of Peshawar over which NATO trucks traveled to the Khyber Pass
and into Afghanistan. 75% of US and NATO supplies for the war effort in
Afghanistan are offloaded at the Pakistani port of Karachi and sent by
truck through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. Then the Taliban burned
10 trucks carrying such materiel, to demonstrate their control over the
supply route of their enemy. The Taliban can accomplish these
breathtaking operations against NATO in Pakistan in large part because
Pakistani police and military forces are unwilling to risk much to help
distant foreign America beat up their cousins. That reluctance is
unlikely to change with any rapidity.

Well, you might say, there
are other ways to get supplies to Afghanistan. But remember it is a
landlocked country. Its neighbors are Pakistan, China, Iran,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Pakistan is the
most convenient route, and it may be at an end. China's short border is
up in the Himalayas and not useful for transport. Tajikistan is more
remote than Afghanistan. The US does not have the kind of good
relations with Iran that would allow use of that route for military
purposes. A Turkmenistan route would depend on an Iran route, so that
is out, too.

So what is left? Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, that's what.

More bad news. Kyrgyzstan has made a final decision to deny the US further use
of the Manas military base, from which the US brought 500 tons of
materiel into Afghanistan every month. It is charged that Russia used
its new oil and gas wealth to bribe Kyrgyzstan to exclude the US,
returning the area to its former status as a Russian sphere of
influence. (Presumably this would also be payback for US and NATO
expansion on Russia's European and Caucasian borders).

Then
there was one. The US has opened negotiations with Uzbekistan, which
had given Washington use of a base 2002-2005 but ended that deal after
it massacred protesters at Andizhon in 2005. Some Uzbeks charged that
the US had promoted an "Orange Revolution" style uprising similar to
the one in the Ukraine against Uzbek stongman Islam Karimov. But even
if the US could get a stable relationship with Karimov, the Uzbeks are
not offering to be the transit route for military materiel, only for
nonlethal food, medicine and other items.

In the light of these
logistical problems (which are absolutely central to the prospects for
success of the Afghanistan War), and given that no clear, attainable,
finite mission in Afghanistan has ever been enunciated by US civil or
military leaders, it is no wonder that President Barack Obama is reported to be putting the "Afghan surge" or the sending of 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan on hold until a clearer mission can be formulated. TheTimes of London writes:

' The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first
meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in "the
tank", the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: "What's
the endgame?" and did not receive a convincing answer. '

and adds, 'Leading Democrats fear Afghanistan could become Obama's "Vietnam quagmire".'

This is a warning that I have voiced, in Salon.

And make sure to read Tom Engelhardt's essential essay on Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires.

Aljazeera English reports on the blocking of the supply routes in Pakistan
used by NATO to send materiel to Afghanistan, by Taliban in Pakistan.
Just a note on the high quality both of the report and the discussion,
which includes former State Department South Asia analyst Marvin
Weinbaum, former head of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Lt
Gen (Ret.) Asad Durrani, and former Afghan/Taliban ambassador to
Pakistan Mulla Abdul Salam Zaeef. You would almost never get this range
of opinion in expert comment on such an issue on American corporate
news. Aljazeera's philosophy, of allowing all sides of an issue to be
heard, seems to me far superior to the American approach of having a US
centrist debate a US far-right conservative about foreign policy
(typically even an American left voice is absent over here).