THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH ON TERRORISM: IGNORING THE WAR WE ARE ACTUALLY FIGHTING
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy, CSIS
24 May 13. The most striking thing about President Obama’s speech on terrorism is that he said so little about the war that we are still fighting in Afghanistan. It was an interesting speech as an academic exercise, but when it came down to practice, it made no attempt analyze the current threat posed by al Qaeda, the Taliban, or violent Islamist extremism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or anywhere else in the world.
If one looks at what the president actually said about Afghanistan, it amounts to generalities, “buzzwords,” and virtually nothing substantive:
What is clear is that we quickly drove al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but then shifted our focus and began a new war in Iraq. And this carried significant consequences for our fight against al Qaeda, our standing in the world, and—to this day—our interests in a vital region…We pursued a new strategy in Afghanistan, and increased our training of Afghan forces
…Fewer of our troops are in harm’s way, and over the next 19 months they will continue to come home…Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They’ve not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.
…In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for that country’s security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counterterrorism force, which ensures that al Qaeda can never again establish a safe haven to launch attacks against us or our allies
…In the Afghan war theater, we must—and will—continue to support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014. And that means we will continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces. But by the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we’ve made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.
In practice, the president needed to start making hard decisions about our future presence in Afghanistan last fall. We needed clear goals for a meaningful strategic agreement with Afghanistan and to start getting the details nailed down—not wait to point of failure as we did in Iraq. We needed clear plans for our future military presence in Afghanistan, the level of civil and military aid we needed, what kind of basing rights we wanted (if any), and what kind of diplomatic and aid presence we wanted to keep.
At present, we don’t even have a meaningful request for the FY2014 budget, much less a plan for the future. No action has been taken on the U.S. Central Command recommendation that we keep some 13,600 military personnel in country after 2014 to provide the level of training and partnering, and combat and service support the Afghan forces will need for years after the end of our formal combat role. We don’t have decisions on how many military facilities we’ll need and what conditions are required.
We can’t even publically assess our current progress in the war. ISAF has adapted to grossly exaggerating our progress, such as using measurements like Enemy Initiated Attacks, by ceasing to provide any public data at all. We talk about the Taliban and insurgents being tired or uninterested in peace, but it is our side that cut back on the campaign in the south, never carried out the campaign plan in the east, and is soon withdrawing from the Afghanistan completely. Furthermore, we decouple our plans for Afghanistan from the threat in Pakistan.
We are cutting aid levels and pulling out aid personnel without any clear