As President Obama Convenes War Council in Sit Room Today, Some Tough Questions Await

By Jenny Schlesinger

Sep 13, 2010 10:04am

ABC News' Jake Tapper reports Despite the best efforts of media-charmer and Afghanistan Commander Gen. David Petraeus, the war in Afghanistan is in the throes of a number of difficult challenges, Topic A as President Obama convenes a meeting of his national security team today. Mr. Obama will talk to Petraeus via teleconference, as well as other key members of his national security team including Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, National Security Advisor James Jones, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon Panetta and others. Freshly back from Afghanistan, Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace writes that the outlook there is worsening. “Even with the surge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the coalition’s position continues to erode as the Taliban gain strength,” he says.  “In Helmand, where the coalition has used its best troops, progress will take at least five years to materialize, according to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, James T. Conway….months after the offensive started, Marja remains unstable and insecure. …Operations in Kandahar will be even more difficult because the insurgents enjoy strong popular support west of the city and this is where the most severe fights will take place in the next few months….Things are also going badly in the north. The Taliban are in charge in many places and, even where they are not, the Afghan government has no real support.” Dorronsoro says the “presence of the Taliban can even be felt in Kabul. They are progressively surrounding the capital and tightening their control in adjacent areas. With the center of the city remaining safe, even to foreigners, there are fewer and fewer places outside the city that are reachable by car. .. The isolation of Kabul is putting further strain on the government and coalition as they cannot easily travel outside the capital.” He further reports that as the Taliban try take the fight to every part of the country, they “are successfully gaining control as the group becomes more of a national movement. …Without many more troops than would ever be feasible for the United States or NATO to supply, the coalition will be unable to face all the threats at once, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to gain a tactical success in a single location that could have wider tangible implications for the war. The progress of the insurgency is now irreversible as the Afghan government is too weak to roll back the insurgents. He says the surge is not working. “Despite arguments to the contrary, the higher levels of casualties in the coalition do not equal progress on the ground.” A New York Times story from yesterday squares with this analysis. “Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces.” The Times notes that according to the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, the number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly, from 630 in August 2009 to at least 1,353 last month. A spokeswoman for ISAF reported that in August “ISAF recorded 4,919 ‘kinetic events,’ including small-arms fire, bombs and shelling, a 7 percent increase over the previous month, and a 49 percent increase over August 2009.” The Washington Post reported that original hopes for cleaning up corruption in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai are disappearing, with “officials” telling the newspaper that “there is a growing consensus that key corruption cases against people in Karzai's government should be resolved with face-saving compromises behind closed doors instead of public prosecutions. "'The current approach is not tenable,’ said an administration official who, like others interviewed, agreed to discuss internal deliberations only on the condition of anonymity. ‘What will we get out of it? We'll arrest a few mid-level Afghans, but we'll lose our ability to operate there and achieve our principal goals.’”

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