Secret, CIA-run Afghan army taking the fight against al-Qaeda into Pakistan, new book reports

By Steve Luxenberg Washington Post Staff Reporter

Bob Woodward book details Obama battles with advisers over exit plan for Afghan war

President Obama urgently looked for a way out of the war in Afghanistan last year, repeatedly pressing his top military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him, according to secret meeting notes and documents cited in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Frustrated with his military commanders for consistently offering only options that required significantly more troops, Obama finally crafted his own strategy, dictating a classified six-page “terms sheet” that sought to limit U.S. involvement, Woodward reports in “Obama’s Wars,” to be released on Monday.

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.”

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

Woodward’s book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.”

But most of the book centers on the strategy review, and the dissension, distrust and infighting that consumed Obama’s national security team as it was locked in a fierce and emotional struggle over the direction, goals, timetable, troop levels and the chances of success for a war that is almost certain to be one of the defining events of this presidency.

“Obama’s Wars” marks the 16th book by Woodward, 67, a Washington Post associate editor. Woodward’s reporting with Carl Bernstein on the Watergate coverup in the early 1970s led to their bestselling book “All the President’s Men.”

Among the book’s other disclosures:

— Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

— The CIA created, controls and pays for a clandestine 3,000-man paramilitary army of local Afghans, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. Woodward describes these teams as elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens there.

— Obama has kept in place or expanded 14 intelligence orders, known as findings, issued by his predecessor,George W. Bush. The orders provide the legal basis for the CIA’s worldwide covert operations.

— A new capability developed by the National Security Agency has dramatically increased the speed at which intercepted communications can be turned around into useful information for intelligence analysts and covert operators. “They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally,” then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell explained to Obama at a briefing two days after he was elected president.

— A classified exercise in May showed that the government was woefully unprepared to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. The scenario involved the detonation of a small, crude nuclear weapon in Indianapolis and the simultaneous threat of a second blast in Los Angeles. Obama, in the interview with Woodward, called a nuclear attack here “a potential game changer.” He said: “When I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that’s one where you can’t afford any mistakes.”

— Afghan President Hamid Karzai was diagnosed as manic depressive, according to U.S. intelligence reports. “He’s on his meds, he’s off his meds,” Woodward quotes U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry as saying.

‘The cancer is in Pakistan’

Obama campaigned on a promise to extract U.S. forces from Iraq and focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he described as the greater threat to American security. At McConnell’s top-secret briefing for Obama, the intelligence chief told the president-elect that Pakistan is a dishonest partner, unwilling or unable to stop elements of the Pakistani intelligence service from giving clandestine aid, weapons and money to the Afghan Taliban, Woodward writes.

By the end of the 2009 strategy review, Woodward reports, Obama concluded that no mission in Afghanistan could be successful without attacking the al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens operating with impunity in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions.

“We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan,” Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009. Creating a more secure Afghanistan is imperative, the president said, “so the cancer doesn’t spread” there.

The war in Iraq draws no attention in the book, except as a reference point for considering and developing a new Afghanistan strategy. The book’s title, “Obama’s Wars,” appears to refer to the conflict in Afghanistan and the conflicts among the president’s national security team.

An older war – the Vietnam conflict – does figure prominently in the minds of Obama and his advisers. When Vice President Biden rushed to the White House on a Sunday morning to make one last appeal for a narrowly defined mission, he warned Obama that a major escalation would mean “we’re locked into Vietnam.”

Obama kept asking for “an exit plan” to go along with any further troop commitment, and is shown growing increasingly frustrated with the military hierarchy for not providing one. At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

In the end, Obama essentially designed his own strategy for the 30,000 troops, which some aides considered a compromise between the military command’s request for 40,000 and Biden’s relentless efforts to limit the escalation to 20,000 as part of a “hybrid option” that he had developed with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a dramatic scene at the White House on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, Obama summoned the national security team to outline his decision and distribute his six-page terms sheet. He went around the room, one by one, asking each participant whether he or she had any objections – to “say so now,” Woodward reports.

The document – a copy of which is reprinted in the book – took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy’s objectives, what the military was not supposed to do. The president went into detail, according to Woodward, to make sure that the military wouldn’t attempt to expand the mission.

After Obama informed the military of his decision, Woodward writes, the Pentagon kept trying to reopen the decision, peppering the White House with new questions. Obama, in exasperation, reacted by asking, “Why do we keep having these meetings?”

Along with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time, they kept pushing for their 40,000-troop option as part of a broad counterinsurgency plan along the lines of what Petraeus had developed for Iraq.

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] . . . unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Petraeus took Obama’s decision as a personal repudiation, Woodward writes. Petraeus continued to believe that a “protect-the-Afghan-people” counterinsurgency was the best plan. When the president tapped Petraeus this year to replace McChrystal as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus found himself in charge of making Obama’s more limited strategy a success.

Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying, “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

NOTE:THIS IS A CROSS POST FROM WASHINGTON POST

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Comments

  • Salman Abbasy  On September 23, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for the details of the disclosures. So the Americans believe some segments of Pakistan’s military establisment are hand-in-glove with the anti-US radicals. Have the national security ‘thekedars’ of Pakistan war-gamed a situation in which the CIA Afghans knock out an ISI field office in Peshawar? In fact, such a security office in the tribal areas was hit by ‘unidentified extremists’ earlier this year. Evidently, our experts are pondering the outcome.

  • The Editors  On September 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    This news story is not as simple as it appears. A 3000 strong “CIA Army” isn’t just going after Al-Qaeda, which the CIA now claims is composed of a few dozen people.

    Rupee News and Pakistan Patriot have always called this “CIA Army” the TTP which has rained murder and mayhem on Pakistan and Pakistanis by detonating bombs in mosques, imam-baras and in hospitals–sometimes posing at the BLA. Our contention has now been verified by the WikiLeaks and by Bob Woodward’s latest book “Obama’s Wars”.

    Editor Rupee News
    http://www.rupeenews.com

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    ““I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.””

    but they are………………………….spending still closer to this amount on seeking new targets, now out of Afganistan and Iraq.

    new day……………………….new destinations……………………new strategies.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    ““I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.””

    but they are………………………….spending still closer to this amount on seeking new targets, now out of Afganistan and Iraq.

    new day……………………….new destinations……………………new strategies.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    ““Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint.”

    yeah. ……………………..enter the drones zone.

    aerial shooting…………no footprints…………no worries.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it,”

    yeah………….absorb a terrorist attack………..even if it is an inside job.

    and yeah…………….they’ll do anything to prevent it, even if they have to lie, start a war, and turn a whole country to rubble, if thats what it takes.

    “Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?””

    call it a loser’s perspective of losing a war, and still denying the reality staring in the face.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    “The CIA created, controls and pays for a clandestine 3,000-man paramilitary army of local Afghans, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams.”

    C.P.T…………………………..more like terrorism spreading teams. as can be observed in one after another wave of death and destruction in pakistan. most recently being the one near ISI offices in Sargodha??? (the details are yet to come……….it was being reported over some channel)

    “14 intelligence orders, known as findings, issued by his predecessor,George W. Bush. The orders provide the legal basis for the CIA’s worldwide covert operations.”

    provide “legal” basis to the “illegal” operations. what length a cruel government goes to get rid of their opponents.

    pure justice…………………….just like the 76 year imprisonment to a Dr. Afia.

    no guilt of how she was abducted, or by whom. no prosecution regarding that. pure justice system of the US.

    “We will find what suits us…………and we will pursue it with no respect to any other nation, religion, and without any regrets.”

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    “They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally,”

    and THAT’s how they are able to catch all the culprits called al qaeda and ttp (claimed to be their enemies, and still……….with all this NEW TECH, somehow unable to catch them.)

    “Obama, in the interview with Woodward, called a nuclear attack here “a potential game changer.”

    so the next attack from within for them will be this??? and blame it on Pakistan (most likely) to once again begin a war…………..which will end in what?? a kick at the right parts after 8 or 9 years, with a new president introducing an Exit strategy??

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    “Afghan President Hamid Karzai was diagnosed as manic depressive, according to U.S. intelligence reports.”

    and yet we’ll still put him there…………..in the power (NOT) seat. to easily manipulate the president (if he is) of a country.

    “‘The cancer is in Pakistan’” —- Obama

    and it was brought here by……………………????? the US. in the form of every corrupt politician/bureaucrat put together to form governments in the sovereign state of Pakistan.

    so according to this………………….US = cancer spreader.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    “Creating a more secure Afghanistan is imperative, the president said, “so the cancer doesn’t spread” there.”

    cancer started to spread there and here in Pakistan, when the US started plans of disturbing the peace of this region, by landing here in the first place.

    they didnt want nothing to do with Osama……………or they would have given proofs of his involvement to the THEN taliban government. which they never did. just like the fake vids that have kept finding their way in media. and the fake wmd intel reports in Iraq.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    “Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant.”

    yeah. “enormous” is the key word here.

    in Saddam’s era, the horrific attacks at this level and in this number didnt occur. but after the invasion on iraq over a lie, the attacks have become a tradition and culture of the iraqi civilization.

    long live the Freedom/democracy champions of the world = US.

  • Faisal Malik  On September 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.””

    there you go. the answer to the “exit” plans from Afganistan.

  • Asad Durrani  On September 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    The moral of the story is that it takes the likes of Seymour Hersh and Woodward for us to take notice. When natives talked about the “rogue groups” (planted by our adversaries), it was called “living in denial” and “conspiracy theories”. The need to distinguish between home grown and foreign policy related militants was encountered with “they are all the same”, and some over-here trying to protect their “strategic assets”. And indeed some nobodies from over-there can provoke lengthy discourse amongst our intellectuals. Our ruling classes have sold their souls but our intelligentsia has outsourced its thinking.
    I do not know if there are 3000 in CPTs or more, but that they have existed all along was never in doubt. That is how these “games” are played, and they are always “double” or more.

    • pakpotpourri2  On September 25, 2010 at 3:20 am

      Well stated Sir.
      Woh kiya hai na….we have this “gora mentality”….when our masters tell us something,we understand better.No Gen Durrani?
      🙂
      YAA

  • Asad Durrani  On September 25, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Indeed, Yasmeen; but it could also be “GHAR KI MURGHI DAL BRABR”!

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