‘Do Not Occupy What You Can’t Transfer’
A lot of Jonathan Alter’s (extremely credulous) account of the Obama administration’s fall 2009 internal deliberations over Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy will be familiar to readers who watched that debate unfold. But this is at least a new layer of detail:
When he spoke to McChrystal by teleconference, Obama couldn’t have been clearer in his instructions. “Do not occupy what you cannot transfer,” the president ordered. In a later call he said it again: “Do not occupy what you cannot transfer.” He didn’t want the United States moving into a section of the country unless it was to prepare for transferring security responsibilities to the Afghans.
You’ve heard, since at least the December 1 West Point speech, the administration add “Transfer” to the Iraq-era counterinsurgency formulation of strategy, “Clear, Hold, Build.” Gen. McChrystal first put it into place in Marja. While it’s probably not really right to place Kandahar in the same category — NATO and Afghan forces are already in Kandahar — the “rising tide of security” approach to securing the city presupposes Afghan leadership.
It makes sense, then, to look at places that McChrystal’s forces are *no longer *occupying. Last month, U.S. forces withdrew from eastern Afghanistan’s treacherous Korengal Valley. More broadly, McChrystal’s effort centers primarily on southern Afghanistan, not eastern Afghanistan, a major departure for war strategy and one predicated on prioritizing the south’s denser population centers. And it’s hard to see an Afghan governmental presence in the east looking stronger this year than in prior ones. When I visited in 2008, U.S. commanders’ concern for eastern Afghanistan centered on the lines of insurgent freedom of movement to and from the abutting Pakistani tribal areas. It’s unclear, to say the least, if that concern has subsided. But it looks at least somewhat clear that the focus has.