Friday, April 16, 2010

End Game In Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan Logisitical Hub In Doubt.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government says it will extend the US lease on a key air base, a day after the ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, left the country.

The deputy leader, Omurbek Tekebayev, said the agreement over Manas air force base - a logistics hub for Afghanistan - would extend for another year.


Kyrgyzstan is extending by one year the validity of the agreement with the United States over the Manas transit centre," Mr Tekebayev said.

He said that parliament should make its own decision on the base but that because there was currently no parliament in place the lease, which runs out in July, would automatically be renewed.

The announcement came only hours after Mr Bakiyev agreed to leave, formally resigning from neighbouring Kazakhstan.


The clock is ticking on our presence in Afghanistan. Our cause may be noble but our logistical chain is going to hell in a hand-basket.

You can not fight a way without beans and bullets. Modern militaries have a very long supply tail. We can no longer forage off the local resources as in days gone by. M1A1 tanks do not run off hay nor do attack helicopters. You need to ship in jet fuel, diesel fuel, repair parts, tires, etc., etc., etc. Manas is critical for these operations.

The only other logistic path for the U.S. military is the increasingly dodgy Khyber Pass in Pakistan. The Taliban is quickly making that area Indian country. Manas, on the other hand, was far more secure.

But everything old is new again and the U.S. blundered into Russia's backyard when it set up operations in Manas. This is what Russia considers its "near abroad." Think 19th century spheres of influence. If that does not turn on a light-bulb, think about Russians being deployed Mexico and how we would respond to that. Russia wants us the hell out of Kyrgyzstan, a former part of the Russian Empire, yesterday.

Afghanistan has always been a bridge too far. It is the graveyard of empires. It the place both the British and the Russians have come to grief. It is a terrain that is next to impossible for interlopers to control.

Obama has not ever really come to terms with the realities on the ground. He has continued Bush's attempt to fight this battle on the cheep. Again, this is a terrain and a people that responds to only one thing, boots on the ground--lots of them.

But the other reality is that there is not the will to deploy the actual resources needed to pacify the rugged landscape and the even more rugged people. Predator drones and other high-tech stop gaps can not get into the multiple caves, spider-holes, valleys, mountain crags and assorted rock-piles the bad guys can hide in. The drones certainly cannot collect actionable intelligence of where the bad guys are. Thus, we keep blowing up innocent wedding parties on spurious intelligence delivered by bad actors with grudges they want to settle.

Political reality mandated that we strike Afghanistan after 9/11. But after that, what? Any substantiate operation required the acquiescence of either Russia, Pakistan or Iran. Look at the map, those are the land routes that work; especially for a nation that absolutely requires a sea/land logistical chain.

The best link, via Iran, was for political reasons a non-starter. That left Russia and Pakistan. Our post Cold War triumphalism negated a reach-out to Russia. Thus, our logistical chain became the anti-Russian set up of Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.

This meant supporting two epically corrupt and detached leaders. Flash forward and Pakistan's Musharraf and Kirghistan's Kurmanbek Bakiyev have been show the door. Both of these nations are rather thin and rickety reeds to base a power projection policy on. If either one of these nations decides it no longer wants to support our logistical and/or war fighting efforts in the area, we will be forced to pack up our toys and go home.

Our position in Afghanistan is quickly becoming untenable. Our logistical ability to support our goals is in deep trouble. Either Kyrgyzstan or Pakistan can blackmail us into contributing more aid. Remember, even before revolution in Bishkek the U.S. was forced to pony up more dollars to Bakiyev for the privileges of using the Manas Air Base. Not too be too cynical, but one wonders how much extra we had to pledge to Roza Otunbayeva just to get the one year extension. All the signs point to some sort of dirty deed done (not so) dirt cheep.

The end game is upon us in Afghanistan, forget high drama, big picture geopolitics; look at the worm's eye view of logistics, it is not good.

Look for Hamid Karzi to get even more "frisky" in the next few months; this is man who can smell blood in the water, no matter where it is coming from. If Obama does not have a viable exit strategy, he better come up with one fast. He needs to pick up some Cliff Notes from Tricky Dick Nixon and the notion of "peace with honor." His biggest political headache is how to not be tagged with the opprobrium of "loosing Afghanistan" by the Republicans.

The irony of "loosing Afghanistan" meme is that it is the negligence of a Republican, George W. Bush, that made it impossible for us to achieve anything in Afghanistan without a massive commitment of U.S. resources. When we flubbed our chance at decapitating (literally) OBL's organization at Tora Bora, we guaranteed that our efforts in Afghanistan would be a glorious failure. For want of a nail, etc.

General David Petraeus' math cannot be wished away. The reason the surge in Iraq "worked" is because the Sunni awakening cut Al Qaeda in Iraq at the knees. To repeat the success in Afghanistan the U.S. would need a Pashtun awakening to duplicate what happened in Iraq. Unfortunately the Pashtun awakening already exists, it is called "The Taliban."

It is a painful thing to contemplate but the U.S. has no good options in Afghanistan. We had a golden opportunity right after 9/11 but George W. Bush set fire to that. He burned that bridge down to the ground whilst dancing naked around the flames. We now stand amongst the ashes of that pagan ceremony. We are out of options, truly pragmatic foreign policy consists of regrouping and reconfiguring our area of responsibilities. We are too far afield, even muscular diplomats have to understand the notion of over-reach. At Manas and in Afghanistan we are being shown the exit, it's time to go; we have overstayed our welcome.