The Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said U.S. military forces had a feeble understanding of the Taliban and other militants they were fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal region.
“I am very dissatisfied with the amount of knowledge that exists in Washington about our enemy,” Holbrooke said. “I am deeply disturbed about our knowledge on this subject.”
Holbrooke’s comment came during an informal off-camera briefing with CNN and several other news agencies. A U.S. official hosted the event inside a private residence in Islamabad.
Holbrooke was in town to meet Pakistani leaders and bolster the strained relationship between Islamabad and Washington in the fight against extremists.
He also came to promote the Obama administration’s new policy in the region, a policy designed to combine an aggressive military strategy with billions of dollars in economic aid.
About 25 of us sat around a plush living room. We had 30 minutes to ask questions. Admiral Mike Mullen was there too. He’s the highest ranking U.S. military official.
These sessions are rare and very useful.
You don’t get officials on camera but sometimes you get them to relax and open up on sensitive subjects.
With Holbrooke that’s not always necessary. He has a reputation of telling it like it is.
That’s exactly what he did when I asked him how well Washington understands the mindset of militants who welcome death, militants who are willing to wrap themselves with a vest packed with explosives and blow themselves up.
Holbrooke was blunt in his response. Washington’s knowledge about the Taliban and what motivates them is not where it should be, he said. Clearly it was a rebuke of the Bush administration’s strategy in the region.
Ever the optimist Holbrooke said the U.S. will do things better and learn more about the enemy.
Holbrooke said he was convinced that with more economic stability and security in the region fewer young men would join the Taliban.
Despite his optimism Holbrooke’s answer raises a lot of troubling questions.
Washington doesn’t know the Taliban? The enemy U.S. troops have been fighting for more than eight years? How do you beat the enemy if you don’t even know them?
Without knowing the mindset of the enemy how can the U.S. be so sure that adding more troops in Afghanistan and targeting militants in Pakistan with U.S. missile strikes from unmanned predator drones is not spawning more extremists?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but if U.S. military leaders don’t know the mindset of their enemy, then they don’t know the answers either and I just don’t find that very comforting.
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