I. The Genesis
II. The Background
IV. The Now
V. Central Issues
VI. Candidate's Position
It was in the yet unknown tail end of the Cold-War era, the last decade of the existence of the mightiest communist government the world has ever seen; the Soyuz Sovietskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik (CCCP), or more commonly known to the rest of the world as, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
The world watched in stunned silence as the 5th Guards, 108th and 68th motor rifle divisions of the legendary 40th Army of the USSR marched into Afghanistan on December 24, 1979, to throw their support behind the fledgling socialist government of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), who gained power through a military coup a year earlier (note: the coup was an internal one, orchestrated by the Parcham faction of the PDPA against the Khalq faction). After two years of covert support for the Parchams, Afghanistan was now officially a Soviet satellite. The USSR leadership, under General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, promptly established a puppet government headed by Marxist ideologue, Babrak Karmal, as President.
As the new government consolidated their position with the capture of strategic assets around the capital, the specter of a Communist Middle East slowly began to take shape in the minds of America and her allies. The only hope of curtailing the spread of the Red Menace fell unto the frail shoulders of the mujahideen (warriors of the faith), a motley crew of disorganized Islamic radicals, nationalists, monarchists and remnants of the Khalq faction of the PDPA.
Recognizing this, and in place of direct American participation in the war, President Jimmy Carter authorized the CIA to covertly arm the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets. However, the limited assistance backfired, as massive retaliatory responses from the Soviets crushed the defenseless Afghani mujahideens.
Following Carter's reelection defeat in 1980, the new Reagan administration decided to expand America's covert assistance to the mujahideen, and with the support and pressure from former Texas Congressman, Republican Charlie Wilson, and the Heritage Foundation, a powerful conservative advocacy group, the Reagan Doctrine was conceived. The Doctrine has since been widely credited as the architect of the eventual disintegration of the USSR.
The CIA was tasked with the implementation of the Doctrine, and was armed with a massive budget towards achieving the goal. The plan, code named Operation Cyclone, was led by Army Special Forces NCO Michael G. Vickers (the current Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict who coordinated efforts to secretly train, arm and provide covert ancillary support to the mujahideen. Two significant developments occurred at the time that will prove to be the crucial in the eventual Soviet retreat and paradoxically, future American deaths; the Tora Bora stronghold and Stinger missiles.
The need for a secret base to house and coordinate the movements of the mobile mujahideen guerrillas, as well as providing a center of command for 'cells' spread all over the country, saw to the creation of the Tora Bora cave complex. The circuitous network, hidden deep within the White Mountain range, with entrances kept miles apart and only known to a selected few, proved to be a masterstroke.
The threat of the previously deadly Soviet Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters meanwhile, were nullified with the introduction of the heat-seeking Stingers. In one of the most stunning statistics of any war in recent times, the mujahideen brought down 269 Soviet crafts from a total of 340 shoulder-launched attacks. It forced the Soviets to change their overall military tactics into a ground-based mechanized one. The mujahideen easily countered it with mines placed along major roads and crossing zones, and in the process, contained the majority of Soviet forces into urban centers, and purged huge tracts of the country off the invaders. With mounting military losses and rising economic costs, the humiliated Soviets sought a peace treaty with the Afghanis in 1988 and began an ordered retreat.
However, there was a hidden aspect of the resistance that neither the CIA nor the Army understood. During the height of the resistance, regional and/or communal power bases were created, and warlords came into existence. One of the most powerful to have emerged was none other than Osama Bin Laden, the born-again Muslim, son of a Saudi billionaire.
The young Osama - an idealist, a nationalist and more importantly, a radical Muslim - founded the Maktab al-Khadamat to recruit soldiers for the cause, a cause not exclusively limited to fighting the invading the Soviets. His men were indirectly trained and armed by the CIA, his commanders taught the art of modern guerrilla warfare and perhaps most dangerously, the whole organization saw with their own eyes the humbling of a world superpower.
In the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, a power vacuum existed in Afghanistan. The Marxist government, bereft of their Soviet overlords, struggled to maintain power. However, their cause was helped by the now divided mujahideen, who in the absence of the Soviets and the Americans, lacked a unifying cause. The country, for all intents and purpose, were controlled by regional warlords, leveraging the ethnically diverse population to enhance their power bases.
A protracted civil war ensued between the Mohammad Najibullah led Marxist regime against these warlords, which eventually culminated in the Peshawar Accords that saw to the creation of the Islamic State of Afghanistan on April 30, 1992. Unfortunately, a weak central government, political ambitions of neighboring countries (Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia) and powerful warlords, meant that fierce fighting continued still throughout the country. The situation deteriorated, and the country became even more divisive.
The economy collapsed, and the steady inflow of returning refugees slowed down to a trickle. The country was thrown back into the dark ages. There were no police, infrastructure development or government presence out of Kabul; Afghanistan became a free for all, lawless crime-ridden nation with atrocity and violence around every corner. The populace cried for a savior, and it came in the form of 'The Students,' or as they're known to the world, the Taliban.
The movement began in Pakistan in a religious school known as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy). Practicing a strict brand of Islam, the movement advocated the implementation of the Islamic syariah law and the concept of 'ulama (religious leader)-administrator'. One of its students returned to Afghanistan and started a similar religious school there. His name was Mullah Omar, and from all accounts, his movement's evolution into a socio-political force was triggered by the tyranny of the Governor of Kandahar. His students took up arms and began to enforce the law according to a strict interpretation of Islamic laws.
For a nation that was crying out for peace and order, the Taliban was welcomed with open arms and rapidly grew in strength and influence. Their growth from relative anonymity to a national force surprised many. Two years after coming to prominence, the Taliban, with help from the Pakistan military, captured Kabul and subsequently took control of the country in 1996.
While all of this was happening, Osama Bin Laden was safely tucked in the caves of Tora Bora, which he had converted into an al-Qaeda command center, unbeknownst to many in the intelligence community who lost track of him after his disappearance from Sudan several years earlier. As the war against the Soviets was reaching its end in the late eighties, the increasingly militant Osama, together with his cadres of loyalists, left the mujahideens and formed a new group, the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders (WIFJAJC), the precursor to Al-Qaeda (The Base). Harnessing all the knowledge and expertise learned from their CIA and ISI (Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence) handlers, the organization began to launch sporadic small scaled attacks against American interests and individuals in the region. However, intelligence agencies paid little heed to WIFJAJC, likening them instead to one of the many anti-American militant organizations in the region. This is despite the increasing reports and intelligence chatters of their involvement in acts of terrorism in Sudan, Egypt and elsewhere in the region.
Things changed, however, in 1998 after the release of a fatwa by the group.
"First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples... So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors... All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, and Muslims. And ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries... The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim"
Extracts from the WIFJAJC Fatwa, 23 February 1998
It was apparent by then that Osama, and the al-Qaeda as a whole, was angered by America's continued presence in the region, specifically at their holy sites, and was prepared to do everything in their power to remove the infidels. The Clinton administration and intelligence community were left ruing the many opportunities they had in the early nineties to capture the then relatively insignificant Osama, who by now has dropped off the radar and was well on his way towards cementing his status as the bogeyman of international intelligence community (although there is now conclusive evidence that certain factions within the ISI were in contact with the man right until his death).
The next three years saw Al-Qaeda finally announcing their presence to the world with a series of attacks on high profile US installations. Despite retaliatory attacks authorized by President Clinton against their training camps in Afghanistan and suspected installations elsewhere, it only seems to ignite them further. Bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and the U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Cole in Yemen, demonstrated the level of planning and sophistication al-Qaeda was capable of. The fluid, clandestine cell structure used by their ground operatives, augmented by an elaborate communication system based on disposal emails and cell phones, made them difficult to track and penetrate. It was through sheer good luck that several of their other plans were halted by law enforcement agencies; the most notable being the planned bombings of the Los Angeles International Airport.
However, all this pales in comparison against 9/11, a horrific attack that was the first, and thus far, only foreign act of terrorism on US soil. After years of intricate planning, nineteen al-Qaeda operatives hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 (Boston to LA), United Airlines Flight 175 (Boston to LA), United Airlines Flight 93 (Newark to San Francisco) and American Airlines Flight 77 (Washington to LA) with the explicit objective of crashing the planes into pre-selected targets.
The coordinated attacks on September 11, 2001, saw the first two planes hurtling into the North Tower and South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York at 8:46am and 9:03am respectively. Both buildings collapsed by 10:30am. AAL Flight 77 struck the western section of the Pentagon in Washington at 9:37am.
The last plane, UAL Flight 93, nose-dived near an abandoned coal-mine in Stonycreek Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, at 10:03am, after a violent struggle in the cockpit as passengers attempted to regain control of the craft from the hijackers. Investigators speculate that the hijackers planned to crash the plane into either the Capitol or the White House.
The attacks killed 2,427 civilians at the World Trade Center while 125 died in the Pentagon crash. Another 44, including the four hijackers, died in the UAL 93 crash. 403 rescue and support personnel from the NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority were also killed on the day. The 256 passengers in all four planes died.
Americans watched the images on their TV screen in disbelief. More than the deaths and the fiery infernos, the sense of security they have taken for granted for so long has now been brutally snatched from right under their feet. There was grief, there was bewilderment, there was anger, but most of all, there was a thirst for vengeance, a collective demand for justice. President George W. Bush appeared on the air the next morning to rally the country.
Excerpts of President Bush's speech: This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life. This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people, then runs for cover, but it won't be able to run for cover forever. This is an enemy that tries to hide, but it won't be able to hide forever. This is an enemy that thinks its harbors are safe, but they won't be safe forever. This enemy attacked not just our people but all freedom-loving people everywhere in the world. The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy."
His approval rating skyrocketed to over 90% following the speech, and the whole country stood behind him. Three days later, Congress passed the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists" legislation that authorized President Bush the use of the armed forces to apprehend everyone who were involved in the attacks.
In the midst of it all, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's leadership shone like a beacon of hope for the traumatized New Yorkers. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 14.3% within a single week, wiping off $1.4 trillion from the market. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) declared the attack as an attack on all NATO members, and invoked Article 5 of organization, promising military support. Britain promised its full military support to the United States. Australia and New Zealand invoked Article IV of the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS treaty), promising similar military support. The whole world mourned for the dead, staring in disbelief at the carnage.
Exactly one week later, after conclusively determining the role of al-Qaeda in the attacks, President Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Mullah Omar led Taliban in Afghanistan, where Osama Bin Laden and the bulk of al-Qaeda forces were hiding;
"The Taliban must act, and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate... Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in your land. Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens you have unjustly imprisoned. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating."
The Taliban refused, and instead suggested that the accused be tried in an Islamic Court to determine the veracity of the accusations against them while inviting the United States to submit evidence of their involvement.
Faced with the refusal of the Taliban the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, and with the assistance of a British-led a coalition, initiated a bombing campaign of Afghanistan, targeting suspected al-Qaeda hideouts and Taliban army installations. It has been a decade since the world had seen the Americans in combat, and they watched in awe as the United States armed forces pulverized the country into submission.
Five weeks later, the coalition force and the rebel Afghan Northern Alliance captured Kabul and subsequently the country, as al-Qaeda and Taliban fled to the mountainous regions in the east (in some instance, right to Pakistan), helpless in the face of the onslaught. The coalition, as expected, easily triumphed over the battered Afghanis. However, it was a bittersweet victory, as, by and large, they failed to capture any of al-Qaeda's and the Taliban's senior leaders.
Strangely though, American citizens weren't cheering as loudly anymore. Ten years on, the cheers have almost died down...
The expressed objective of Operation Enduring Freedom was "to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime," as articulated by former President George W. Bush in his address to the nation on October 7, 2001, just hours before the offensive against Taliban-controlled Afghanistan commenced.
These objectives were met within five weeks of the United States and the coalition's entry into Afghanistan, by employing the strategy advocated by former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The strategy revolves around the concept of a short term, small-scale deployment of ground-based armed troops, harnessing their superior weaponry and technological advantages, augmented by CIA's intelligence, Air Force assets and the assistance of the coalition and local allies (the Northern Alliance), to neutralize the enemy's threats.
However, the escape of senior al-Qaeda and Taliban figures, most notably Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, as well as other emerging threats, forced a review of the campaign's initial objectives and strategies. The challenge now was to ensure that the Afghan Transitional Administration, in the absence of support from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), would not fall under the weight of a sustained and multi-directional assault by insurgents (al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and the still powerful foreign-backed warlords.
There was a very credible fear that, left on their own, the young Afghan government will suffer a similar fate to the 1992 government established after the Peshawar Accord, overrun by foreign-backed local warlords and more critically, turning the country once again, into a haven for international terrorists, and providing the time and space for al-Qaeda and the Taliban to recover.
After several years of uncertainty and the all too obvious decision to prioritize the Iraqi occupation ahead of Afghanistan, President Bush shared his thoughts on the subject in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington on September 9, 2008.
"... It (Afghanistan) has few natural resources and has an under-developed infrastructure. Its democratic institutions are fragile. Its enemies are some of the most hardened terrorists and extremists in the world. With their brutal attacks, the Taliban and terrorists have made some progress in shaking the confidence of the Afghan people. And in the face of all these challenges, the Afghan people are naturally questioning what their future looks like. Afghanistan's success is critical to the security of America and our partners in the free world. And for all the good work we've done in that country, it is clear we must do even more."
President Bush also outlined the administration's new approach to the Afghan issue:
♦ "a quiet surge of troops to provide security for the Afghan people, protect Afghanistan's infrastructure and democratic institutions, and help ensure access to services like education and health care"
♦ "helping Afghans develop additional security forces, and increasing the direct involvement of Afghan tribes. More experts from U.S. government civilian agencies would be deployed to help Afghans improve governance and to jumpstart the economy"
After almost ten years, $427 billion (as at 25 June 2011), and a total of 1,636 American casualties, General David Petraeus, the then Commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan (and since September 2011, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency), acknowledged in 2011 that there is still "a lot of hard work to do," and while the newly trained Afghan forces made "impressive progress," there remains a need to continue "improving quality of the Afghan Army and police." General Petraeus also commended on the significant improvements on Afghanistan's health, legal and educational infrastructure.
A Pentagon report in May 2011 indicated that while the injection of 30,000 additional troops in 2010 authorized by President Barack Obama managed to broadly arrest "the momentum of the insurgency in much of the country and have reversed it in a number of important areas," the improvements are "fragile and reversible."
This was in the face of an exponential increase in insurgent attacks, a trend that became a cause for concern as intelligence sources predicted that the Taliban was attempting to regain their former strongholds in the southern and eastern regions over the summer of 2011. A November 2010 Pentagon report cited "the Taliban's strength lies in the Afghan population's perception that coalition forces will soon leave, giving credence to the belief that a Taliban victory is inevitable," as well as pointing out "combat incidents have increased 300% since 2007."
Even the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, following a raid on his hideout (a bungalow located half a block away from a Pakistani army base, no less) by US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan, failed to provide any significant military or political boost. It did not surprise those in the intelligence community though, as Osama has long been suspected to have ceded operational responsibilities within the al-Qaeda hierarchy.
While the Obama administration has largely kept to the same objectives and strategies of the previous administration, the November 24th, 2011 NATO Summit in Lisbon saw the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan unanimously redefining their objectives and setting a target date for their complete withdrawal from the country.
"Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan ... transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops.
Keep in mind we're talking about ten thousand troops by the end of this year, an additional twenty-three thousand by the end of next summer. And we'll still have sixty-eight thousand US troops there, in addition to all the coalition partner troops. So there is still going to be a substantial presence. But what it does signal is, is that Afghans are slowly taking more and more responsibility."
President Obama's Live Address: Reducing U.S. Troops in Afghanistan
On May 2, 2012, exactly one year after the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In a speech to American troops several hours later at the Bagram Air Base, about 35 miles north of the capital Kabul, President Obama announced that U.S. Forces would end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2012, and hand off security control to Afghani forces by 2014. In the remaining period, American forces will focus its efforts in transitioning "from a combat role to a training, advice and assist role" (Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta).
" ... there will be difficult days ahead. The enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over. But tonight, I'd like to tell you how we will complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan.May 2, 2012: President Obama's address from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan
First, we've begun a transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Already, nearly half of the Afghan people live in places where Afghan security forces are moving into the lead. This month, at a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year. International troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed. But we will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward.
As we do, our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more and more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.
Second, we are training Afghan security forces to get the job done. Those forces have surged, and will peak at 352,000 this year. The Afghans will sustain that level for three years, and then reduce the size of their military. And in Chicago, we will endorse a proposal to support a strong and sustainable long-term Afghan force."
The original objectives for Afghanistan, pursuant to the stated goals of Operation Enduring Freedom, were "to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime" The objectives have been redefined a number of times since then, both officially and unofficially, with the latest announced through the publication of the National Security Strategy by the White House in May 2010, that states,
Page 8, National Security Strategy May 2010
"We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates through a comprehensive strategy that denies them safe haven, strengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a bankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity. The frontline of this fight is Afghanistan and Pakistan, where we are applying relentless pressure on al-Qaida, breaking the Taliban's momentum, and strengthening the security and capacity of our partners."
Page 20, National Security Strategy May 2010
"In Afghanistan, we must deny al-Qaida a safe haven, deny the Taliban the ability to overthrow the government, and strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government, so they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."
After almost ten years, how much progress have we achieved in meeting these objectives? At its peak in 2000, there was an estimated 2000-3000 top tier al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, operating from hundreds of bases in the Eastern mountain ranges and along the Pakistani border, supplemented with a good number of fresh recruits arriving daily for training and indoctrination.
Al-Qaeda's current strength has been greatly diminished; intelligence officials estimate that the first wave of attacks in 2001 took out two-thirds of their followers. In 2009, ABC News, citing a senior intelligence official, reported that there remain approximately 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.
Michael E. Leiter, the Director of the United States National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), in a July 2010 interview with the New York Times, estimates that there were more than 300 operatives hiding in the country and in Pakistan. A Washington Post article by Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria two months later contends that there were about 400 operatives left.
However, counter-insurgency officials cautioned that al-Qaeda's threat is not limited purely from direct terrorism. They are also experienced in recruitment, dissemination of propaganda and weapons training, an ability that has seen them forging links with organizations such as,
♦ Iraq's Jama'at al-Tawhid wal Jihad (Iraq)
♦ Egypt's Islamic Jihad
♦ Iranian-backed Hezbollah of Palestine
♦ Yemen's Islamic Army of Aden
♦ Libya's Islamic Fighting Group
♦ Kasmir separatist Lashkar-e-Taiba
Their links with militants in Pakistan are a particular source of concern, as it provides a de facto 'safe haven' to reorganize and rebuild their networks, as well as providing excellent off-site shelter. The Wall Street Journal, in an April 2011 piece, reported the return of al-Qaeda operatives into Afghanistan, specifically into 'white' regions previously deemed safe. Establishment of hideouts, training and operation centers were confirmed by both Pakistani and Taliban sources.
Operation Enduring Freedom began on October 7, 2001, with an elite force of 5,200 Special Forces troops, a number that, augmented with tactical air and mechanized support, proved to be sufficient to topple the Taliban.
As America's objectives in Afghanistan evolved and were subsequently redefined by the Bush administration, the troop strength was increased to 20,000 by 2006, consisting of members from various branches of the armed forces, led by Camp Pendleton-based I Marine Expeditionary Force-Forward, the Screaming Eagles (101st Airborne Division), and the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry).
At the end of President Bush's tenure in late 2008, the number of American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan grew to 50,000. The Obama administration increased it further to 65,000 by the end of 2009, and with an additional 30,000 sent as part of a troop surge strategy in 2010, the total number of American soldiers in Afghanistan by the turn of 2011 breached the 100,000 mark. Almost 80,000 of them were placed under the direct command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The demands placed on these soldiers were not limited to combating al-Qaeda or their symbiote, the Taliban. Their role has expanded to nation building, and training the Afghani security forces.
The estimate for the total cost of operation in Afghanistan for 2011 is $113 billion, bringing the total expenditure there to a projected $450 billion by the end of 2011. To appreciate the magnitude of the sum involved, let's put the figure into perspective.
♦ In 2010, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Afghanistan was $14 billion. $113 billion is equivalent to Afghanistan's next eight years combined GDP.
♦ President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act is designed to trim the national debt by $130 billion over a ten-year period. Republicans claim that "Obamacare" will instead increase the cost of health care to the tune of $115 billion over the next ten years.
♦ $113 billion can pay for the tuition fees and living expenses of 700,000 medical school students.
♦ Only 46 out of the 192 member countries of the United Nations has an annual GDP higher than $133 billion
To generalize, it costs the country in excess of $1 million dollar annually to maintain each individual soldier in Afghanistan.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a nation of 180 million situated at the northwest reaches of the Indian subcontinent, has long been recognized as one of the most important allies of the United States in the global war on terror. Pakistan's worth as an ally is perfectly reflected by the amount of funding they received in 2010, $4.5 billion, which is the highest ever single-year foreign aid disbursed to ANY country, bringing the total received by Pakistan in the past ten years alone to $21 billion.
Interestingly, $17 billion were routed directly to the Pakistani army by the United States. The army has no constitutional obligation to present a budget or report their spending to anyone or any bodies in the government, a situation that led to a protest by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin in 2009. The lack of accountability and oversight here has led to numerous allegations of abuse, from the serious (funding of militants) to the comical (real estate investments, including hotels and apartment buildings).
Despite the United States' best efforts to develop a strategic relationship with Pakistan since the mid 1950s, the country has now turned into a hotbed for some of the most intense, and at times violent, anti-American sentiments in the world. Moreover, there is a strong case to be made that Pakistan can be held directly responsible for the current quagmire that is afflicting Afghanistan. Some have even gone further, apportioning them a measure of responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
There is also the small matter of Osama bin Laden. The decade-long, biggest manhunt in history ended recently with the death of the al-Qaeda founder on May 2, 2011, deep inside the Pakistani border - inside the garrison city of Abbottabad, in a specially built bungalow located barely a few hundred meters away from an army base and a police station. The former head of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Hamid Gul, was quoted days after the incident, " ... there is the local police, the Intelligence Bureau, Military Intelligence, the I.S.I. They all had a presence there," - which brings us to the ISI.
ISI, or rather, its shadowy cabal of high-ranking current and former officers, known as the S Wing, has long been suspected of being one of the biggest factors behind the rise of armed militancy in the Middle East. From their first significant foray in arming the mujahideen of the Soviet-era in the 1980s, the ISI then disrupted the unification of the fledging nation in 1992 following the Peshawar Accords - a ceasefire agreement which was attained after a bloody three-year war between the Marxist-regime of President Mohammad Najibullah and an alliance led by the Lion of Panjshir, the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud - by arming one of the most brutal warlords in Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a decision that gave rise to a massive civil war in the war-torn land.Seeing their man, Hekmatyar, finally defeated by the forces of Massoud, appointed Minister of Defence after turning down the offer of both the Presidency and Prime Ministership, the ISI then turned their attention to the fledgling Taliban movement of Mullah Omar. Once again, Massoud, now heading the Northern Alliance, a disparate collection of anti-Taliban fighters, held their ground against the ISI-armed Taliban and impressively retained control of almost a third of the country. There have been numerous suggestions that it was the ISI who provided Mullah Omar with the initial organizational and logistical expertise, providing the basis of their lightning expansion across the country.
"We have concerns about Pakistan's behavior in the region."
Ahmad Shah Massoud, speaking to the EU parliament in early 2001.
"The war which clamps down in Afghanistan nowadays is not only an internal conflict. It is especially owed to an interference of enemy foreign countries, particularly Pakistan."
Maasoud, answering questions from a visiting delegation from the EU Parliament on June 11th, 2000
However, perhaps the most damning indictment of ISI's unofficial involvement and support of terrorist elements they are officially tasked with eliminating, came from the infamous 'Wikileaks'.
On June 3, 2011, a December 2009 diplomatic cable from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was released to the public. Among others, the dispatch noted that "although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, some officials from the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate continues to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular, the Taliban, LeT and other extremist organizations ... These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan's extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas." Pakistani Intelligence officials have dismissed the validity of the cable and claim this was an attempt to discredit the ISI.
Note: Ahmad Shah Massoud warned the United States intelligence officers, EU parliamentarians and journalists of an impending al-Qaeda attack in 2001. He was assassinated two days before 9/11. Afghani President, Hamid Karzai awarded Massoud a posthumous title of "Hero of the Afghan Nation." He was also nominated for the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
VI. Candidate's Position
Obama Position on Afghanistan
On May 2, 2012, exactly one year after the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama made a
surprise visit to Afghanistan to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In a speech to American
troops several hours later at the Bagram Air Base, about 35 miles north of the capital Kabul,
President Obama announced that U.S. Forces would end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of
2012, and hand off security control to Afghani forces by 2014. In the remaining period, American
forces will focus its efforts in transitioning "from a combat role to a training, advice and assist
role" (Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta).
" ... there will be difficult days ahead. The
enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over. But tonight, I'd like to tell you how we
will complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan.May 2, 2012: President Obama's address from Bagram
Air Base, Afghanistan
First, we've begun a transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Already, nearly half of the
Afghan people live in places where Afghan security forces are moving into the lead. This month, at
a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for
combat operations across the country next year. International troops will continue to train,
advise and assist the Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed. But we will shift into a
support role as Afghans step forward.
As we do, our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from
Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will
continue at a steady pace, with more and more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition
agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their
Second, we are training Afghan security forces to get the job done. Those forces have surged, and
will peak at 352,000 this year. The Afghans will sustain that level for three years, and then
reduce the size of their military. And in Chicago, we will endorse a proposal to support a strong
and sustainable long-term Afghan force."
Excerpts of President Obama's Full Speech on Troop Reduction in Afghanistan
By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year. But al Qaeda’s
leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and
gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned
that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.
For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an
additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we
set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan
security forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be
open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.
Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our extraordinary men and
women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals.
As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan
by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully
recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will
continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission
will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the
Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at
any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s
leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin
Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known …
The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain.
Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists
that had been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at
war with Islam -– thereby draining more widespread support. Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we
must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not
relent until the job is done.
In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its
strongholds. Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped
stabilize more of the country. Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in
some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to
the Afghan people. In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for
their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new
opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.
Obama touching on the cost of the decade-long war on terror
“Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and
hard economic times. It is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”
22 June 2011, Obama’s speech from the White House East Room
Outlining the administration’s approach towards Pakistan
“ … need to work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism,
and we will insist that it keeps its commitments … ”
22 June 2011, Obama’s speech from the White House East Room
More on Barack Obama
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