May 10, 2009

My buddy Cernig has noticed an interesting shift in Gen. David Petraeus's rhetoric insofar as Afghanistan and the threat posed by Al Qaeda there:

"Mission creep" is when you keep inventing new reasons for the mission continuing long after the original objective has been accomplished. Fox News reported General David Petraeus' statement that the original UN-mandated mission for coalition forces in Afghanistan has been accomplished .

The head of U.S. Central Command said Sunday that Al Qaeda is no longer operating in Afghanistan, with its senior leadership having moved to the western region of Pakistan.

Gen. David Petraeus said affiliated groups have "enclaves and sanctuaries" in Afghanistan and that "tentacles of Al Qaeda" have touched countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. But he said the terrorist group has suffered" very significant losses" in recent months.

"Affiliated groups" means "anyone we say is a Taliban militant", in the same way that the Iraqi insurgency used to be conflated into being just an Al Qaeda operation, ignoring Baadrists, Sadrists, Baathists and opportunists entirely. But Petraeus is only admitting what the US military has known since at least last November, when journalist Douglas Saunders was in Afghanistan asking pinted questions. As he wrote on his return in December:

Earlier this year, I visited several regions of Afghanistan and asked military leaders in regions held by British, Canadian and U.S. forces how many al-Qaeda fighters they were seeing within the country's borders. In all cases, the answer was “none.” ...Afghanistan-based writer Anand Gopal is probably the most well-connected observer of the insurgent groups. He has come to the same conclusion as my Globe and Mail colleague Graeme Smith, who has conducted video interviews with dozens of Taliban fighters and found no sign of al-Qaeda sympathies. “The Afghan rebellion remains mostly a homegrown affair,” Mr. Gopal wrote last month. “Foreign fighters – especially al-Qaeda – have little ideological influence on most of the insurgency, and most Afghans keep their distance from such outsiders. Al-Qaeda's vision of global jihad doesn't resonate in the rugged highlands and windswept deserts of southern Afghanistan.”

Saunders noted back then that coalition soldiers are authorized to oust the Taliban, but only insofar as those “Taliban” are the ones who are going to allow al-Qaeda to operate again. That's just not going to happen - the Taliban in Afghanistan have as little intention of allowing Al Qaeda a safe haven again as their compatriots in Kabul do. Which means, as Saunders also pointed out, that the war should be officially over.

Article 51 of Chapter VII guarantees “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations” – in this case, the al-Qaeda attacks against the U.S. and other countries launched from within the former Taliban administration in Afghanistan. As the UN and the ISAF members have repeatedly asserted, preventing a future Sept. 11 is the raison d'être of the Afghan war. Everything else, no matter how noble, is time-filler. ...Al-Qaeda is gone, and not likely to return. To the extent that it is still around, it's because we're attracting it. If both those statements are true, then no matter how ugly it looks, the war's over

There is no longer any rationale for the current UN mandate for the occupation of Afghanistan. The US military, the Bush administration and now the Obama administration are engaging in mission creep beyond that rationale; firstly by invoking the "you bought it, you own fix it" Pottery Barn deception - the real Pottery barn rule always was "you broke it, you pay for fixing/replacing it and get the f**k out of our store" - and by redefining the battlefield as "Af/Pak" so that the UN mandate can be, entirely illegitimately, stretched into sovereign Pakistan.

Read on...

Transcripts (courtesy of CQPolitics) below the fold

WALLACE: You also said this week that Al Qaida has reemerged in northwestern Pakistan as a centrally organized operation capable of planning attacks in other countries.

Is Al Qaida back in business, sir?

PETRAEUS: Well, Al Qaida has been back in business for years, Chris. There is not an enormous revelation here. What I was merely saying was that the location of Al Qaida’s senior leadership is, indeed, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of that very rugged border region of western Pakistan just east of Afghanistan.

There’s no question that Al Qaida’s senior leadership has been there and has been in operation for years. We had to contend with its reach as it sought to facilitate the flow of foreign fighters, resources, explosives, leaders and expertise into Iraq, as you’ll recall, through Syria.

We see tentacles of Al Qaida that connect to Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, the elements Al-Shabab in Somalia, elements in north central Africa, and that strive to reach all the way, of course, into Europe and into the United States.

And of course, there were attacks a couple of years ago in the U.K. that reflected the reach of the transnational extremist elements of Al Qaida and the other movements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

WALLACE: And -- and, General, do you believe that bin Laden and Zawahiri are still in charge of Al Qaida?

PETRAEUS: We do. Again, I don’t think anyone can give you any kind of accurate location for bin Laden or, frankly, for Zawahiri other than a general description of where that might be, but certainly, they surface periodically.

We see communications that they send out. And of course, they periodically send out videos in which they try to exhort people and to inspire individuals to carry out extremist activities.

WALLACE: General, let’s...

PETRAEUS: It’s important to note, by the way, Chris, that -- that these organizations, by the way, in the FATA have sustained some pretty significant losses over the course of the last six, eight, 10 months or so.

And there is a good deal of disruption that has taken place but, of course, that’s transitory in nature, and we’ll have to see how the security operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas -- different from, of course, the fight in the -- in the Swat and North- West Frontier Province areas go.

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