Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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I'll be taking an 'unpaid leave of absence' from my job at the Global Network from December 15-March 15, 2020 in order to help my friend Lisa Savage on her campaign for the US Senate in Maine. She's running as a Maine Green Independent Party member and needs to gather 2,000 petition signatures of registered Greens during that period. I'll be back to GN after March 15.

Monday, December 07, 2009

BI-PARTISAN WAR TEAM SPEAKS: "THEY ARE NOT LEAVING IN JULY OF 2011"



By Brian Knowlton
New York Times

WASHINGTON — Perhaps only a “handful” of American troops will be leaving Afghanistan in July 2011, the date President Obama has set to begin a gradual withdrawal, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

“We will have 100,000 forces, troops there,” Mr. Gates said on ABC’s “This Week,” “and they are not leaving in July of 2011. Some, handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time.”

“I don’t consider this an exit strategy,” he continued, “This is a transition.” He said it would begin in less-contested parts of Afghanistan before expanding to the most obdurate Taliban strongholds, largely in the south and east.

The White House used appearances on the Sunday talk programs to convey that the deadline would mark the start, not the end, of troop withdrawal. “2011 is not a cliff, it’s a ramp,” Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, said.

“And it’s when the effects of this increase will be, by all accounts, according to our military commanders and our senior civilians, where we will be able to see very, very visible progress and we’ll be able to make a shift,” General Jones said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mr. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who unusually appeared together on three Sunday programs, emphasized that the July 2011 date did not signal a wholesale abandonment of Afghanistan that could further destabilize the region.

They said it was important to impart a sense of urgency to the Afghan government about the need to move expeditiously to assume responsibility for their own security.

“We will not provide for their security forever,” Mr. Gates said.

But the message he and Mrs. Clinton conveyed also seemed meant for Pakistan, which fears the reverberations of any overly hasty American pullout, and for Republican critics of any notion of a fixed withdrawal deadline.

“We’re not going to be walking away from Afghanistan again,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We did that before; it didn’t turn out very well.”

Mr. Gates also said that “I think it has been years” since American intelligence had a good idea of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, though the Qaeda leader is thought to be either in Pakistan’s rugged North Waziristan region or just across the border in Afghanistan.

General Jones, also asked about Mr. bin Laden’s location, answered: “The best estimate is that he is somewhere in North Waziristan, sometimes on the Pakistani side of the border, sometimes on the Afghan side of the border.”

Both Secretaries Gates and Clinton favorably mentioned President Hamid Karzai’s recent assurance that Afghan security forces could resume control of some provinces within three years, and over the bulk of the country in five.

While the new strategy aims in part to lure lower-level Taliban fighters away, partly through offers of jobs, Mrs. Clinton expressed doubt that key Taliban leaders could be thus enticed. Any defecting Taliban member, she said, would have to renounce al-Qaeda, forswear violence and vow to live by Afghan laws. As to whether senior leaders would do that, she said, “I’m highly skeptical.”

Mr. Obama’s new strategy — built around the rapid deployment of 30,000 additional American troops and thousands more NATO forces — has faced some of its toughest criticism from his fellow Democrats. It has received stronger, if conditional, support from some Republicans.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Vietnam War veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, has generally supported Mr. Obama’s plan.

“I think he made the right decision,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” But the mention of the July 2011 date, he said, had left policy makers throughout the region — including in Pakistan and India — “trying to figure out whether, really, they can go all in and support this effort.”

He and other Republicans fear that the 2011 date will encourage Taliban and al-Qaeda forces to simply outwait their enemy.

The appearances by Mr. Gates and Clinton — two of the president’s most important advisers, and also two of the more hawkish — appeared designed to explain the withdrawal guideline.

“After saying that “some, a handful, or small number” of troops would leave in July 2011, Mr. Gates added that further departures would come only when American commanders on the ground assessed that local conditions had sufficiently improved.

“We’re not talking about an abrupt withdrawal,” Mr. Gates said, “we’re talking about that something that will take place over a period of time.”

But he also sought to prepare Americans, and their allies, for a short-term increase in casualties.

“The tragedy is that the casualties will probably continue to grow, at least for the time being,” he said, because, as during the so-called troop surge in Iraq, the new coalition troops would be going to some of the most hostile parts of the country.

Mr. Gates added, however, that “we’ll have an increase in casualties at the front end of this process, but over time it’ll actually lead to fewer casualties” as security grows.

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