The Other McCain

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‘We Will Not Set Arbitrary Timelines’: Kellogg Has Skin in Afghanistan Game

Posted on | August 26, 2017 | Comments Off on ‘We Will Not Set Arbitrary Timelines’: Kellogg Has Skin in Afghanistan Game

National security advisor retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.


President Trump’s decision to send 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan has enraged some of his supporters, who see it as a broken promise, as he had frequently criticized the Obama administration’s policy during the campaign. What is Trump’s Afghanistan strategy? His national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg published a column Wednesday at that began:

I have seen the devastation of war. I have witnessed the final moments of young men in distant lands, far from all they love and hold dear. I have watched my daughter deploy to combat in Afghanistan and soon might my son. I recognize the personal courage required to make difficult decisions. I know the cost of war. More importantly, I know the price of freedom.

The general and I have something in common: We’ve got skin in the game. His son the lieutenant, like my son the sergeant, is on the “point of the spear,” and our sons actually know each other. When the general talks about “the price of freedom,” it’s not idle rhetoric.

“No American has any more rights than our sons are willing to die for.”
Robert Stacy McCain, Nov. 18, 2016

The current U.S. mission in Afghanistan, Operation Resolute Support, is not exactly a war, although it is a direct extension of the war that began in September 2001 when Al Qaeda terrorists attacked America, destroying the World Trade Center and also killing 125 people at the Pentagon, where Gen. Kellogg was working that day. During the Bush presidency, the Left frequently criticized the war in Iraq as a “distraction,” saying that the real enemy was in Afghanistan, where the Taliban had harbored Osama bin Laden until the U.S.-led invasion (Operation Enduring Freedom) sent Al Qaeda fleeing to Pakistan. A decade later, during the Obama presidency, as many as 100,000 U.S. troops were deployed to Afghanistan, but in 2014 Obama announced plans for withdrawal and, predictably, this brought about a resurgence of the Taliban.

Domestic political considerations have arguably sabotaged U.S. policy in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama was elected on a promise to end the Iraq war and, given the Democrats’ criticisms of Bush’s policy, felt an obligation to ramp up the U.S. deployment to Afghanistan. Once the U.S. killed bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, this seemed to signal “victory” in the war on terrorism, but this was an illusion. There are still radical Muslims who want to kill us, a permanent threat which requires a permanent willingness to fight back. Fools keep saying “peace,” but there is no peace, and the sooner we adjust to that reality, the less political interference there will be in the decisions of those who must fight the war.

“Skin in the game” — Gen. Kellogg is willing to send his son and mine into harm’s way, in order to protect Americans from the danger we would face if Afghanistan were to regress to its status quo ante and become a safe harbor for Islamic terrorists, as it was before the 9/11 attacks.

Well, if 100,000 U.S. troops couldn’t end this threat under Obama, what difference could an increase from 4,000 to 8,000 troops make? What’s the strategic vision behind this move? While I am not privy to the discussions among President Trump’s advisers, it would seem to me that the basic idea is to have a large enough force to permit battalion-size combat operations. Given the large logistical “tail” necessary to send troops into combat, and the need to have reserves able to reinforce troops in battle, a force of 4,000 is too small to allow U.S. troops to be able to engage in sustained operations against Taliban strongholds. Think of all the manpower required in terms of supply and maintenance personnel needed to keep a 500-man combat team in the field for a week, with another 500-man team ready to go in to back them up, if they need help. Even at a total troop strength of 8,000, such an operation would be a strain, but it’s scarcely feasible with only 4,000 troops.

Doubling the Afghanistan force, then, enables the U.S. to take the fight to the enemy, to maintain the tactical initiative so that the Taliban has to reckon with the possibility that hundreds of soldiers might come swooping in suddenly to destroy them. Trump’s strategy is not about returning to the kind of massive force we had in Afghanistan five years ago, but instead is about having a force with the capacity to launch significant offensive operations if necessary, rather than just being a training-and-escort operation. We must keep in mind that there is no such thing as a “safe” policy in Afghanistan. Today in Columbus, Indiana, they are holding funeral services for Sgt. Jonathon Hunter of the 82nd Airborne, one of two American soldiers killed earlier this month when a suicide bomber hit a NATO convoy near Kandahar.

My libertarian friends and “America First” nationalists don’t like Trump’s decision to double the force in Afghanistan, but there are no good options available in this permanent war against a permanent enemy.

Gen. Kellogg’s description of Trump’s policy deserves quoting:

We do not seek territorial conquest or occupation. We do not intend to create a government after our own image. We will not set arbitrary timelines. We will use our integrated military, political, and economic efforts to promote stability in the region. We will demand that nations ultimately provide for their own security. Those that harbor terrorist networks must eliminate them.
We will fight those that threaten us wherever they may be. We will fight them at night, in the day, in their supposed sanctuaries. We will give them no rest nor will we grow weary.

Notice the general uses the first-person plural pronoun “we.” Thus speaks a man who has skin in the game. May God protect our sons in battle, give them victory and bring them safely home again. Strike Hold!


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