Since Gates’ assumptions, according to White House sources, were influential in President Obama’s decision to escalate the fighting in Afghanistan, it is important to examine Gates’ thinking. But Gates was not asked to explain how a haven in Afghanistan for al Qaeda would increase the security threat to the United States or his inexplicable reference to Afghanistan as a wellspring of inspiration for extremist jihadism.
In addition to exaggerating the operational links between the Taliban and al Qaeda, Gates misstated al Qaeda’s need for a safe haven in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda already has a safe haven in Pakistan, and no amount of US pressure on Pakistan is going to lead the Pakistani military to take on the task of conquering al Qaeda’s sanctuary.
There are other areas, such as Somalia and Yemen, where al Qaeda could establish a sanctuary if necessary. Furthermore, it is wrong to think of Afghanistan as the site of al Qaeda’s preparation for the 9/11 attacks. The recruiting and planning for 9/11 took place primarily, according to the former deputy chief of the counterterrorist center at the CIA, “in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States” – not in primitive training camps in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda currently does not threaten the United States from Afghanistan, and, as long as the United States is willing to resort to military pressure from sea-based facilities and air bases abroad, it will not be possible for al Qaeda to reconstitute itself in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his minions could have been stopped in their tracks in Afghanistan in 2001, but President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were not willing to send additional US military forces there in December 2001.
Just as the Bush administration blundered badly in abandoning the struggle in Afghanistan in order to conduct an unnecessary invasion of Iraq, the Obama administration has committed its own blunder in building up forces in Afghanistan when the terrorist threat to the United States is currently located in Pakistan.
The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 became an important recruitment tool for insurgents everywhere, and Obama’s “surge” in Afghanistan will lead to an increase in terrorist activity to counter the US occupation of Afghanistan. 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. (Posted by Bulatlat)
Melvin A. Goodman is national security and intelligence columnist for Truthout. He is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. His 42-year government career included service at the CIA, State Department, Defense Department and the US Army. His latest book is “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.”