2009 in retrospect: Even under Barack Obama, the United States escalates its policy of using military force.
The only campaign promise Barack Obama has managed to keep so far in his first year in office is escalating military action against the insurgents in Afghanistan and spreading the war into Pakistan. The president declared both countries a joint theater of operations as early as March 27 in a programmed speech in which he claimed, “The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan. In the nearly eight years since 9/11, al-Qaida and its extremist allies have moved across the border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier . . . For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.”
When Obama took office on January 20, there were 32,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. By the summer of 2010, there will be three times that number. George W. Bush had already stated his intention to increase troop strength there by a few thousand soldiers during the last days of his presidency. In February and March, Obama ordered an additional 21,000 troops deployed. A few months later, he gave in to pressure from his generals, and on December 1, he increased the troop surge to a total of 30,000.
Expanding the occupation
At the same time, the number of Pentagon contractors (many of whom carry weapons) will increase from the current 104,000 to 160,000. According to U.S. Senate data, between June and September 2009, alone, the number of private contractors active in Afghanistan went up some 40 percent.
Even though Obama reiterated in his West Point speech that the military engagement in Afghanistan wasn’t “open ended,” in reality that’s exactly what it is. It is a war with no visible end, a war without a clearly delimited battlefield and a war lacking a defined and achievable goal.
This is also illustrated by the expansion of the war into Pakistan. Because Afghanistan is militarily occupied by NATO forces and doesn’t control its own policies, while Pakistan is still at least nominally a sovereign country, two different approaches are required. The relevant politicians and military commanders leave little doubt that Pakistan, in their view, is by far the more important, volatile and complicated of the two entities now referred to as “AfPak.”
The rationale always given is the danger that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could fall into the wrong hands, meaning opposition political parties are not as willing to subject themselves to U.S. leadership as completely as the current regime. Journalist Seymour Hersh reported in the November 16 issue of New Yorker Magazine that a “special team” of U.S. personnel has been involved in training for the “removal” or “neutralizing” of the majority of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal for years. A unit from U.S. Special Operations Command, responsible for directing “anti-terror” command actions, was recently brought in to reinforce the team.
Ultimatum for Islamabad
According to reports in the New York Times and other U.S. media relying on government insider sources, Obama approved a CIA strategic concept in November that calls for a considerable increase in illegal activity in Pakistan. Part of the plan calls for increasing the number of unmanned drone strikes on Pakistani targets and expanding the attack area to include other regions, above all Baluchistan. Beyond that, more agents will be sent to Pakistan, and the CIA budget for clandestine operations there sharply increased. These measures will be flanked by a massive expansion of personnel and office space in the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, as well as the consulates in Lahore, Karachi and, above all, in Peshawar, which lies in the middle of the disputed tribal areas. Protected by diplomatic immunity, these will also serve as CIA strongholds.
Also in November, the U.S. media reported on a letter President Obama gave to National Security Advisor General James L. Jones to pass on to the Pakistani government during his visit to Islamabad. In it, Obama reportedly requested that the Pakistanis expand their military operations from the northwest of the country to other areas and against extremists of other organizations. The list of requirements was essentially an ultimatum: Obama went so far as to threaten that the U.S. would “take control” of things in Pakistan if the Pakistani government wasn’t soon successful in militarily neutralizing al-Qaida and other “extremists.” Press releases concluded that that included the possibility of U.S. special operations forces operating within the country, itself.
Ever since 9/11, Pakistan’s leadership has been subjected to increasing U.S. pressure to bring the Pashtun-occupied areas of the country under control, using military force, if necessary. The result has been an expansion of military operations to more and more areas of the country, but above all inside major cities. The Obama administration seems determined to escalate hostilities by insisting on opening new fronts. The campaign against the “tribal regions” has resulted in hundreds of thousands fleeing the areas, leaving more and more people without prospects. At the same time, the fundamentalist insurgents relocate to other regions, thereby necessitating new American military campaigns and putting new pressures on the U.S.
The Pakistani media reports that insider information from military and governmental sources reveals that the Pakistani civil war being waged at the behest of the U.S. has already cost them $35 billion. During the same period, Islamabad has received only $12 billion in military and civilian aid from the U.S. Within just a few years, Pakistan’s foreign debt rose from $32.3 billion in 2003 to about $57.4 billion today. Under American leadership and intimidation, the nation finds itself on the path to becoming a failed state that will someday need to be taken over completely.