Moral choice in Afghanistan, how war aims become transmuted by war itself into moral issues…

The whole story (link below) is interesting but two points hit me hard in this story and I have added emphasis to make them visible.  First is that analysis of 76,000 WikiLeaked documents covering escalation of the insurgency 2004- end of 2009 show al-Qaeda had become an afterthought in the war.  Those documents are more compelling testimony to me than Leon Panetta and other government officials claiming it, because they are raw field stuff, not material filtered to and from officialdom.  Second is that al-Qaeda has to deal with Afghan mistrust of foreign intrusion, just as we do.

These two points make me think that, in terms of our initial war aims, we may have done as much as ever can in Afghanistan.  What remains are all those things we’ve learned (or, more correctly, progressed from “knowing” to “feeling intensely”) since arriving, i.e. the plight of women under the Taliban, the impact of the drug based agricultural system on the country, the fragility of the government we set up, the extent to which one becomes the victim of one’s best judgments as we are now bound to Karzai who is quite possibly no longer bound to us, and readers can extend the list.  But are we willing to walk away from the likely fate of women after we leave, the drug situation, a government which will almost surely reconfigure to our disadvantage if it doesn’t fall completely or fault Karzai for not wanting to give his life and fate to the United States?

The question in Afghanistan for me is increasingly not one of whether the war is now necessary but are we prepared to suffer the consequences of having gone to war there and left it to its fate when our initial purposes were met; are we able to step away from what we now know and feel intensely that we knew abstractly and from a distance before going in?

Facing Afghan mistrust, al-Qaeda fighters take limited role in insurgency

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2010; A01

On Aug. 14, a U.S. airstrike in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz killed a Taliban commander known as Abu Baqir. In a country where insurgents are killed daily, this attack was notable for one unusual detail:

Abu Baqir, the military said afterward, was also a member of al-Qaeda.

Although U.S. officials have often said that al-Qaeda is a marginal player on the Afghan battlefield, an analysis of 76,000 classified U.S. military reports posted by the Web site WikiLeaks underscores the extent to which Osama bin Laden and his network have become an afterthought in the war.

The reports, which cover the escalation of the insurgency between 2004 and the end of 2009, mention al-Qaeda only a few dozen times and even then just in passing. Most are vague references to people with unspecified al-Qaeda contacts or sympathies, or as shorthand for an amorphous ideological enemy.

Bin Laden, thought to be hiding across the border in Pakistan, is scarcely mentioned in the reports. One recounts how his picture was found on the walls of a couple of houses near Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, in 2004.

A year later, U.S. forces also saw his likeness on a jihadist propaganda poster near the Pakistan border. In 2007, a district subgovernor in Nangarhar province informed U.S. officials that a local newspaper would print “names of personnel working for bin Laden.”

Other al-Qaeda leaders are similarly invisible figures. One report describes a botched June 2007 attempt to capture or kill Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda military commander. U.S. Special Forces missed their target, instead accidentally killing seven children in a religious school in Paktika province.

There are also fleeting references to Abu Ikhlas al-Misri, the nom de guerre of an Egyptian who serves as an al-Qaeda commander in Kunar province. In 2008, an Afghan district official confirmed to U.S. officers that he had heard a rumor that Abu Ikhlas was suffering from a “sprained ankle.” But otherwise, at least in the WikiLeaks reports, the Egyptian remains in the shadows.

Change in strategy

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that, “at most,” only 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives were present in Afghanistan. His assessment echoed those given by other senior U.S. officials. In October, national security adviser James L. Jones said the U.S. government’s “maximum estimate” was that al-Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan, with no bases and “no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda’s leadership and fighters have largely sought refuge across the border in Pakistan. There they have been targeted by U.S. drone attacks from the skies as they try to remain beyond the reach of U.S. forces.

The evasion marks a departure from al-Qaeda’s approach in previous conflicts. Bin Laden and other jihadist leaders recruited thousands of Arabs and other foreign fighters to combat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Al-Qaeda also persuaded hundreds, if not thousands, of followers to travel to Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion, where they played a significant role in fueling the insurgency and sectarian violence.

This time, U.S. military officials and analysts say, al-Qaeda has changed its strategy, mostly limiting its role in the Taliban-led insurgency to assisting with training, intelligence and propaganda. Although the terrorist network still considers the “liberation” of Afghanistan its primary strategic objective, it is biding its time until the infidels lose patience and leave.

“The numbers aren’t large, but their ability to help local forces punch above their weight acts as a multiplier,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor. “They’ve learned from their previous experiences, when their foreign fighters were front and center.”

In Iraq, he noted, al-Qaeda figures from elsewhere alienated the locals by trying to hijack that insurgency.

U.S. military officials say al-Qaeda recognizes the same risk in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders often see al-Qaeda, their erstwhile ally, as “a handicap,” according to an unclassified briefing presented in December by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the top U.S. military intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

Although Taliban commanders want support from al-Qaeda and jihadists around the world, according to Flynn, they are sensitive to the idea that ordinary Afghans might view it as foreign interference.

Excerpt from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/22/AR2010082203029_pf.html

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