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'Obama's war' in Afghanistan could be politically precarious

Obama has a fair amount of public support for the war in Afghanistan. But given palpable public war weariness after eight years, that could quickly erode if things do not go well.

By Staff writer / December 5, 2009

Marines patrol after a gun battle with insurgents in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on Saturday.

Kevin Frayer/AP

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As 1,000 US marines launched a combat operation behind enemy lines dubbed “Cobra’s Anger” this weekend, it became clear that President Obama now “owns” the war in Afghanistan.

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Though there was high symbolism of that fact in his speech at West Point Tuesday, Obama took control of the war months ago, escalating US military assets and aggressiveness in Afghanistan.

He’s more than doubled the number of US troops there since he took office. And as the Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi reported, he’s greatly increased the US commitment compared to NATO and other non-US forces.

At the same time, Obama has authorized an increase in the use of pilotless drone aircraft to strike targets -- typically Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives -- along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, according to a New York Times report.

NATO countries have pledged some 7,000 more troops for the Afghanistan mission. But the US, under the “surge” Obama announced this past week, will send more than four times that many additional forces. Perhaps just as significant, US soldiers and marines are concentrated in the most hotly-contested areas, where enemy Taliban activity is strongest.

It’s a high-risk situation, not least of all because of the logistical challenges. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is landlocked. It offers no easy access to the war zone for troops and equipment, which must be flown in or hauled overland through insecure mountain passes -- starting from Pakistan, an uneasy ally with security and political problems of its own.

“The logistics nightmare will be one of the reasons Afghanistan will turn out to be President Barack Obama's briar patch,” writes Melvin A. Goodman, who had a long career in the CIA, State Department, and US Army before becoming the national security and intelligence columnist for the liberal web site Truthout. “In many ways, the Obama blunder is even more tragic than Bush's because the Afghan challenge is far more daunting than the one in Iraq and there are important domestic programs that will be held hostage to Obama's war.”

As David Sanger of the New York Times notes, Obama’s Afghanistan surge differs from Bush’s surge in Iraq in another important way: There is no friendly and helpful local group willing to fight the enemy -- nothing analogous to the “Awakening” movement in Iraq, “the movement by local Sunni tribes who rose up against extremists.”