Small Wars Journal


The War Within the War for Afghanistan

Editor's Note: The following was provided by the Washington Post and is posted here unedited.  I look forward to your comments.

In ‘Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan,’ author Rajiv Chandrasekaran explains how the Pentagon’s decision to send U.S. surge forces to Helmand in 2009 had profound consequences on the Afghan war effort. The Washington Post published an excerpt from book today, which can be read here. 

Key new information from The Post's excerpt: 

-- The U.S. military squandered more than a year of the war by sending troops to the wrong places. Most of the first wave of new forces authorized by President Obama was sent to Helmand province instead of Kandahar, which was far more critical to Afghanistan's overall stability. The failure to focus on Kandahar right away delayed and compromised U.S. efforts to beat back the Taliban.

-- The excerpt provides new insight into Obama's national security record. As Obama battles for re-election, White House aides have sought to depict the president as an engaged and decisive leader on national security matters. But the initial deployment exposes the limits of his understanding of Afghanistan - and his unwillingness to confront the military - early in his presidency. "Nobody bothered to ask, 'Tell us how many troops you're sending here and there,'" a senior White House official involved in war policy told Chandrasekaran. "We assumed, perhaps naively, that the Pentagon was sending them to the most critical places."

-- U.S. Marines made a series of highly unusual demands before deploying to Afghanistan in 2009 that hindered the war effort. Among them was the requirement that overall operation control of the Marine force rest with a three star Marine general at the U.S. Central Command, not the supreme coalition commander in Kabul. That meant General Stan McChrystal lacked the power to move the Marines to another part of Afghanistan or change their mission in anything other than minor, tactical ways.

-- While in Helmand, the Marines engaged in questionable operations. They conducted a massive assault on an abandoned town in late 2009. The Marines undertook the mission because they had so many spare troops. But when McChrystal's top deputy asked the Marines to secure part of neighboring Kandahar province, Marine commanders refused.

The Post will publish a second excerpt from Little America in Monday's print and online editions. It will contain the previously unrevealed story of how infighting between the White House and the State Department led the U.S. government to squander its moment of greatest leverage to hammer out a peace deal with the Taliban to end the war.