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Sunday, 29 March 2009

Bush's 'war on terror' is now Obama's

Sunday, March 29, 2009
Dr Farrukh Saleem

Bush's 'war on terror' is now Obama's 'overseas contingency operation', or OCO. Bush's 'war on terror' wasn't going well neither is Obama's OCO. Bush had asked Lieutenant-General Douglas Lute, his 'war czar' for the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan, to recommend a new strategy. The Lute strategy has been sitting on shelves collecting dust. General David Petraeus, the 10th commander of the US Central Command, was then asked to come up with his own strategy. According to the New York Times recommendations given to the White House by General David Petraeus and Lieutenant-General Douglas Lute "call for expanding US operations outside Pakistan's tribal districts."

The Petraeus strategy in Iraq had called for a troop surge and that troop surge did work. The Petraeus strategy for Afghanistan-Pakistan, or Af-Pak, isn't much different; a troop surge followed by negotiating with the Taliban from a position of strength, elimination of Al Qaeda and then an exit strategy.

On January 20, Barack Hussein Obama II took over the White House as the 44th president of the United States of America. On January 22, the new president brought in a new United States special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, ambassador Richard Holbrooke. The new special envoy was asked to design a new Af-Pak strategy. Apparently, that wasn't much to talk about either.

In February, the new president brought in Bruce Riedel -- a 29-year CIA veteran, author of 'Al Qaeda strikes back' and a counterterrorism expert -- to chair another committee and overhaul America's Af-Pak strategy. The Riedel review has now recommended: 

• Successfully shutting down the Pakistani safe haven for extremists 

• In 2009-2010 the Taliban's momentum must be reversed in Afghanistan 

• The international community must work with Pakistan to disrupt the threats to security along Pakistan's western border 

• This new strategy of focusing on our core goal -- to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually destroy extremists and their safe havens within both nations

OCO seems to have two immediate targets: Af-Pak and Iran. And, the route to these two targets passes through Russia (plus countries under Russian influence). The first prong is to establish alternative supply routes -- beyond Chamman and Khyber Pass -- in order to reduce Pakistan's leverage. And, the second prong is to reconcile with Russia, engage Iran and, at the same time, use Russia to force Iran rollback its nuclear ambitions.

The US-Russia dialogue now revolves around five major issues: one, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I (set to expire on December 5, 2009). Two, the issue of NATO expansion. Three, Ballistic Missile Defence (10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic). Four, Iran's rollback. Five, the Manas Air Base in Bishkek (the airbase supports US military operations in Afghanistan). 

Intriguingly, the Obama administration is showing flexibility on all of these five issues --the kind of flexibility that hasn't been seen before. Obama is willing to abandon Ukraine and Georgia (keep them out of NATO) and avoid deploying interceptor missiles in Poland in return for alternative supply routes through Russia and Russian-influenced territory plus a verifiable rollback in Iran. In essence, Obama's new focus is Af-Pak (plus Iran). Within Af-Pak, the real theatre of war now seems to be moving southwards more towards the Spin Buldak-Kandahar-Quetta corridor. 

OCO itself stands on two legs; a military column and an economic limb (the classic 'carrot-and-stick' policy). Petraeus has been given his additional combat brigades and Pakistan is being charmed with an offer of $1.5 billion a year in non-military aid (subject to Congressional approval). 

America is in Af-Pak not to win a war but to neutralise all threats to the mainland US that may in the future originate from within Af-Pak. The Taliban are no direct threat to the mainland, Al Qaeda is. America is here to defeat Al Qaeda not the Taliban.

The writer is the executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). Email: farrukh15@hotmail.com

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