Category: A.J. Caschetta

Wanted: An Afghanistan Policy


From start to finish, it took fewer than 45 months for the U.S. to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The U.S. entered into a war in Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001, and we’re still there, 190 months later.  After two presidents, five secretaries of defense, and nine CENTCOM commanders, the Summer of 2017 finds Americans awaiting yet another administration’s policy to win the war in Afghanistan.

Six months into the Trump administration, the long-awaited Afghanistan strategy has not yet been articulated, much less implemented. When James Mattis, the sixth secretary of defense to oversee Afghanistan, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 12 we learned only that a new strategy will be unveiled sometime in mid-July.

Mattis admitted that America is not winning its longest war and hinted at adding 4,000 more troops. Is this a harbinger of something different in Afghanistan, or evidence of yet another administration perpetuating a 16-year-long “mission creep”?    

No one can say for sure what role the unpredictable Donald Trump will play in devising the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy, but we can probably rule out extremes.  A full-on, WWII-style fight aimed at victory is as unlikely as a full departure of all U.S. personnel.

Even a departure followed by a “bomb when necessary” strategy (a favorite of the “more rubble = less trouble” crowd, who prefer U.S. military might delivered from the relative safety of 35,000 feet above the problem) is unlikely.  At the televised hearing, when Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss) said that a pull-out would be “a massive mistake.” Mattis agreed that it would be wrong to “walk away.” 

The worst compromise might be simply to maintain the status quo of half measures, drone warfare, and restrictive rules of engagement imposed on U.S. ground troops.  

Perhaps Mattis will offer another counterinsurgency strategy focused on winning “hearts and minds,” spending money and showing Afghans that we are their friends. If they don’t know that by now, more USAID programs and bags full of money will not convince them.

Will the 4,000 additional U.S. troops be expected to train and form close partnerships with Afghan soldiers? This status quo measure becomes more difficult to defend every time another American soldier (or three) is killed (or wounded) by an Afghan soldier on patrol or in a “safe space.”  

A successful strategy in Afghanistan should emulate past successes there and avoid repeating past failures. The early victories in the war were achieved by small numbers of highly mobile, special operations forces and CIA paramilitary teams working with the Northern Alliance. The Afghans did most of the fighting, but we provided information, equipment, and tactics they lacked.   

A successful strategy should also look to American successes elsewhere in the world. 

When the Trump administration announced in April that it was sending troops to Somalia for the first time since the Clinton administration, it was not thousands or even hundreds, but dozens. On June 11, what the Pentagon calls an Al-Shabaab “command and logistics camp” in Somalia was destroyed by U.S. airstrikes partnering with the forces of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his allies in the African Union. On July 2, they struck again. 

Most important, a successful Afghanistan policy must recognize that the Taliban is an unregenerate enemy.  If Eli Lake is right that “the objective for Trump’s strategy is to force the Taliban into peace talks and to push for a negotiated settlement,” then July will almost certainly bring another status quo policy destined to failure.  

Even before the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, and right up to the Bush presidency, the Clinton administration negotiated with the Taliban. Before 9/11, the Bush administration negotiated briefly to prevent the Taliban from destroying the Bamiyan Buddha statues and to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to India. The Obama administration frequently negotiated with Taliban officials, perhaps in the hopes that treating them like legitimate politicians would make them act as such.  It failed when Clinton tried it, when Bush tried it, and when Obama tried it.  It will fail if Trump tries. 

The one thing everyone agrees on is that unlike Obama, Trump will not “telegraph” his policy by announcing numbers and dates.  But every day that we wait contributes to the inertia of the status quo and makes it more difficult to break free of our 16-year rut. 

If President Trump cannot end the status quo in Afghanistan, by the end of his first term he will be sending Americans to fight a war Afghanistan that began before they were born. If that’s not enough to motivate him, perhaps he will be moved by John McCain’s warning of increased Congressional oversight.  Speaking for the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain told Mattis, somewhat ominously, that “unless we get a strategy from you, you’re going to get a strategy from us.”

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

From start to finish, it took fewer than 45 months for the U.S. to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The U.S. entered into a war in Afghanistan shortly after September 11, 2001, and we’re still there, 190 months later.  After two presidents, five secretaries of defense, and nine CENTCOM commanders, the Summer of 2017 finds Americans awaiting yet another administration’s policy to win the war in Afghanistan.

Six months into the Trump administration, the long-awaited Afghanistan strategy has not yet been articulated, much less implemented. When James Mattis, the sixth secretary of defense to oversee Afghanistan, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 12 we learned only that a new strategy will be unveiled sometime in mid-July.

Mattis admitted that America is not winning its longest war and hinted at adding 4,000 more troops. Is this a harbinger of something different in Afghanistan, or evidence of yet another administration perpetuating a 16-year-long “mission creep”?    

No one can say for sure what role the unpredictable Donald Trump will play in devising the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy, but we can probably rule out extremes.  A full-on, WWII-style fight aimed at victory is as unlikely as a full departure of all U.S. personnel.

Even a departure followed by a “bomb when necessary” strategy (a favorite of the “more rubble = less trouble” crowd, who prefer U.S. military might delivered from the relative safety of 35,000 feet above the problem) is unlikely.  At the televised hearing, when Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss) said that a pull-out would be “a massive mistake.” Mattis agreed that it would be wrong to “walk away.” 

The worst compromise might be simply to maintain the status quo of half measures, drone warfare, and restrictive rules of engagement imposed on U.S. ground troops.  

Perhaps Mattis will offer another counterinsurgency strategy focused on winning “hearts and minds,” spending money and showing Afghans that we are their friends. If they don’t know that by now, more USAID programs and bags full of money will not convince them.

Will the 4,000 additional U.S. troops be expected to train and form close partnerships with Afghan soldiers? This status quo measure becomes more difficult to defend every time another American soldier (or three) is killed (or wounded) by an Afghan soldier on patrol or in a “safe space.”  

A successful strategy in Afghanistan should emulate past successes there and avoid repeating past failures. The early victories in the war were achieved by small numbers of highly mobile, special operations forces and CIA paramilitary teams working with the Northern Alliance. The Afghans did most of the fighting, but we provided information, equipment, and tactics they lacked.   

A successful strategy should also look to American successes elsewhere in the world. 

When the Trump administration announced in April that it was sending troops to Somalia for the first time since the Clinton administration, it was not thousands or even hundreds, but dozens. On June 11, what the Pentagon calls an Al-Shabaab “command and logistics camp” in Somalia was destroyed by U.S. airstrikes partnering with the forces of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his allies in the African Union. On July 2, they struck again. 

Most important, a successful Afghanistan policy must recognize that the Taliban is an unregenerate enemy.  If Eli Lake is right that “the objective for Trump’s strategy is to force the Taliban into peace talks and to push for a negotiated settlement,” then July will almost certainly bring another status quo policy destined to failure.  

Even before the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, and right up to the Bush presidency, the Clinton administration negotiated with the Taliban. Before 9/11, the Bush administration negotiated briefly to prevent the Taliban from destroying the Bamiyan Buddha statues and to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to India. The Obama administration frequently negotiated with Taliban officials, perhaps in the hopes that treating them like legitimate politicians would make them act as such.  It failed when Clinton tried it, when Bush tried it, and when Obama tried it.  It will fail if Trump tries. 

The one thing everyone agrees on is that unlike Obama, Trump will not “telegraph” his policy by announcing numbers and dates.  But every day that we wait contributes to the inertia of the status quo and makes it more difficult to break free of our 16-year rut. 

If President Trump cannot end the status quo in Afghanistan, by the end of his first term he will be sending Americans to fight a war Afghanistan that began before they were born. If that’s not enough to motivate him, perhaps he will be moved by John McCain’s warning of increased Congressional oversight.  Speaking for the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain told Mattis, somewhat ominously, that “unless we get a strategy from you, you’re going to get a strategy from us.”

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.



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Honoring Terrorism in New York City


As the financial and media capital of the free world, the New York metropolitan area has long attracted terrorists, from the anarchists who struck Wall Street with a horse-drawn cart bomb in 1920 to the jihadists responsible for 9/11. But increasingly it appears that terrorists are attracting New York, or at least its elected officials.

Starting at the top, Governor Andrew Cuomo last December commuted the sentence of Judith Clark, a member of the terrorist Weather Underground Organization (WUO) serving a 75-year sentence for her role in the murder of a Brinks armored car guard and two police officers. At her trial, Clark described herself as a “freedom fighter” and claimed that the Weather Underground was a “liberating force.” Cuomo seems to have fallen for her claim. After meeting with Clark last year, the governor expressed admiration for her “exceptional strides in self-development” and gushed like a fanboy about getting “a sense of her soul.”

Clark’s parole board unanimously disagreed and ruled that freeing her would be “incompatible with the welfare of society.” But the commutation means that she will continue to come up for parole and will likely be freed before her term expires.

Further down the hierarchy are New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the City Council. These two have been trying to outflank each other from the left for years. De Blasio worked for the Sandinistas in the 1980s and honeymooned (illegally) in Cuba in 1994. Mark-Viverito once posted an image of herself photoshopped to look like Che Guevara when running for office.

All New York politicians were presented with an opportunity to differentiate themselves when Barack Obama commuted the sentence of another terrorist who targeted New York: Oscar Lopez Rivera, cofounder and leader of the Puerto Rican separatist Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). In the 1970s and 1980s, Rivera’s FALN conducted over 100 bombings in the U.S. (many in New York City). In 1981 he was captured, tried, and sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and other terrorism charges.

Rivera is an unrepentant killer. In 1999 Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 14 FALN terrorists, offering them release on the condition that they renounce violence. Rivera refused and stayed in jail.

After Obama freed Rivera, it was entirely predictable and natural for politicians like Raul Castro and Nicholas Maduro to congratulate him and sing his praises, but not for New York politicians.

Cuomo stayed quiet at first, perhaps stung by unexpected opposition to his Judith Clark commutation. But not de Blasio and Mark-Viverito. Mark-Viverito flew to Puerto Rico to be present when her idol was released from house arrest. She and de Blasio then arranged for Rivera to march in the city’s Puerto Rican Day parade on June 11. Adding salt to the wounds, they arranged for Rivera to be honored as a “National Freedom Hero” by the city he once terrorized.

Cuomo was on board at first, indicating that “my inclination would be to march,” but early opposition to the very bad idea spooked him, so he balked, absurdly claiming on May 18 that he that had “just heard about it,” didn’t “know the facts of the situation” and was “going to look at the situation.”

Opposition grew quickly, with NYC Police Commissioner James O’Neill and every police union imaginable refusing to march. When the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosello, called for “all of the sponsors and anyone to avoid supporting this endeavor,” many listened: AT&T, Coca-Cola, Corona, JetBlue, WNBC, Telemundo, Unavision. Even the New York Yankees want nothing to do with this mess.

On June 1, a defiant Rivera wrote an op-ed complaining of “misinformation about who I am and what I stand for.” Rivera wrote that he will march in the parade “not as your honoree, but as a “humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.”

By June 2, Cuomo had seen enough to make his decision, announcing “I’m not going to march in any parade that honors a terrorist – I’m not going to do it.” Had he said so at first, it might have been believable. Timing is everything.

So the parade will go on, as Mark-Viverito put it, “to recognize and uplift the legacy of Oscar Lopez Rivera.” But the fact that politicians entrusted to protect us from today’s terrorists are so prone to romanticize yesterday’s terrorists should be deeply concerning to all New Yorkers.

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

As the financial and media capital of the free world, the New York metropolitan area has long attracted terrorists, from the anarchists who struck Wall Street with a horse-drawn cart bomb in 1920 to the jihadists responsible for 9/11. But increasingly it appears that terrorists are attracting New York, or at least its elected officials.

Starting at the top, Governor Andrew Cuomo last December commuted the sentence of Judith Clark, a member of the terrorist Weather Underground Organization (WUO) serving a 75-year sentence for her role in the murder of a Brinks armored car guard and two police officers. At her trial, Clark described herself as a “freedom fighter” and claimed that the Weather Underground was a “liberating force.” Cuomo seems to have fallen for her claim. After meeting with Clark last year, the governor expressed admiration for her “exceptional strides in self-development” and gushed like a fanboy about getting “a sense of her soul.”

Clark’s parole board unanimously disagreed and ruled that freeing her would be “incompatible with the welfare of society.” But the commutation means that she will continue to come up for parole and will likely be freed before her term expires.

Further down the hierarchy are New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the City Council. These two have been trying to outflank each other from the left for years. De Blasio worked for the Sandinistas in the 1980s and honeymooned (illegally) in Cuba in 1994. Mark-Viverito once posted an image of herself photoshopped to look like Che Guevara when running for office.

All New York politicians were presented with an opportunity to differentiate themselves when Barack Obama commuted the sentence of another terrorist who targeted New York: Oscar Lopez Rivera, cofounder and leader of the Puerto Rican separatist Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). In the 1970s and 1980s, Rivera’s FALN conducted over 100 bombings in the U.S. (many in New York City). In 1981 he was captured, tried, and sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and other terrorism charges.

Rivera is an unrepentant killer. In 1999 Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 14 FALN terrorists, offering them release on the condition that they renounce violence. Rivera refused and stayed in jail.

After Obama freed Rivera, it was entirely predictable and natural for politicians like Raul Castro and Nicholas Maduro to congratulate him and sing his praises, but not for New York politicians.

Cuomo stayed quiet at first, perhaps stung by unexpected opposition to his Judith Clark commutation. But not de Blasio and Mark-Viverito. Mark-Viverito flew to Puerto Rico to be present when her idol was released from house arrest. She and de Blasio then arranged for Rivera to march in the city’s Puerto Rican Day parade on June 11. Adding salt to the wounds, they arranged for Rivera to be honored as a “National Freedom Hero” by the city he once terrorized.

Cuomo was on board at first, indicating that “my inclination would be to march,” but early opposition to the very bad idea spooked him, so he balked, absurdly claiming on May 18 that he that had “just heard about it,” didn’t “know the facts of the situation” and was “going to look at the situation.”

Opposition grew quickly, with NYC Police Commissioner James O’Neill and every police union imaginable refusing to march. When the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosello, called for “all of the sponsors and anyone to avoid supporting this endeavor,” many listened: AT&T, Coca-Cola, Corona, JetBlue, WNBC, Telemundo, Unavision. Even the New York Yankees want nothing to do with this mess.

On June 1, a defiant Rivera wrote an op-ed complaining of “misinformation about who I am and what I stand for.” Rivera wrote that he will march in the parade “not as your honoree, but as a “humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.”

By June 2, Cuomo had seen enough to make his decision, announcing “I’m not going to march in any parade that honors a terrorist – I’m not going to do it.” Had he said so at first, it might have been believable. Timing is everything.

So the parade will go on, as Mark-Viverito put it, “to recognize and uplift the legacy of Oscar Lopez Rivera.” But the fact that politicians entrusted to protect us from today’s terrorists are so prone to romanticize yesterday’s terrorists should be deeply concerning to all New Yorkers.

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.



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