While the Obama administration performs an administrative signal check (“Give me that definition of ‘COIN’ again?”), Iran and NATO are moving ahead to shape the president’s decision criteria. CBS News aired a segment on Wednesday about Iran’s increasing support to the Taliban in western Afghanistan, support that includes an especially lethal type of armor-piercing explosive device. (H/t: Hot Air) An important feature of this development is that it extends Taliban effectiveness beyond the traditional stronghold of Kandahar, on the Pakistani border, and into Afghanistan’s westernmost provinces. In combination with the non-Taliban Islamist insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, the Iran-Taliban connection creates a growing menace to NATO forces from east, south, and now west of Kabul. The problem of interdicting Taliban supplies is also extended to include both Pakistan and Iran.
As Afghan insurgents gain territorial influence, NATO logistics are increasingly reliant on airlift through Central Asia. Russia played a diplomatic game with the availability of Kyrgyzstan’s Manas air base in February and could do so again at any time. Nevertheless, NATO is pressing Russia this week for greater involvement in Afghanistan, to include not only a higher volume of traffic through Kyrgyzstan but also Russian participation in the training of Afghan security forces. The NATO appeal, made by Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, can hardly avoid appearing as a desperate move by Europe, with Washington hunkered down trying to agree on its staffing terms.
President Obama has a difficult problem in Afghanistan and a tough decision to make. In key ways, his situation mirrors Bush’s in 2006: deteriorating conditions in theater, the military commander recommending a strategy change, coalition partners off devising their own plans. The magnitude of what he is facing should not be minimized, and General McChrystal has asked for a major policy commitment that certainly merits the most careful consideration.
But the situation in the “war of necessity” is changing by the day, if not by the hour. The attack on a joint U.S.-Afghan outpost in Nuristan last weekend was a combat attack, with hundreds of armed fighters using grenades and rockets against a military outpost. It was a disquieting harbinger of a shift in guerrilla tactics, from improvised roadside bombs to military-style attacks on NATO forces in garrison. Both in Afghanistan and elsewhere, American indecision motivates all the players in this drama to improvise for their own purposes in the interim. Policy is never made in a vacuum, and the longer we wait, the less latitude we will have.