During President Obama’s December speech announcing a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, he noted that the effort was finally getting the resources it needed. During the previous administration, Obama said, “commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive.” “In early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, in Iraq,” Obama said, and “for the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention.”
Former Bush administration officials fired back, claiming the Iraq war did not deprive resources from Afghanistan. Former White House adviser Karl Rove said “the United States had, at the time what the military felt was an appropriate level of resources.” Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Obama’s comments a “bald misstatement, at least as it pertains to the period I served as Secretary of Defense.” Later, Rumsfeld spokesperson Keith Urbahn turned up the heat, accusing Obama distorting the facts.
Unfortunately for Rumsfeld, Rove and their neo-con allies, the Army’s official history of the first four years of the war completely contradicts their claims. The New York Times reported this week that according to the official history, as early as late 2003, the Army historians assert, “it should have become increasingly clear to officials at Centcom and [the Department of Defense] that the coalition presence in Afghanistan did not provide enough resources” for a proper counterinsurgency campaign. Paraphrasing the history, the Times notes that American forces were “hamstrung by inadequate resources” and thus “missed opportunities to stabilize Afghanistan during the early years of the war.”
“A Different Kind of War,” the title of the account, to be published this Spring, is written by a team of seven historians at the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth and covers the period from October 2001 until September 2005. Rumsfeld was secretary of defense during this entire time. The Army writes such reports after major military engagements in order to train future commanders.
Contradicting Rove and Rumsfeld, the historians blame the Iraq war for the lack of resources in Afghanistan, as well as top Bush officials and the president himself:
The historians say resistance to providing more robust resources to Afghanistan had three sources in the White House and the Pentagon.
First, President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had criticized using the military for peacekeeping and reconstruction in the Balkans during the 1990s. As a result, “nation building” carried a derogatory connotation for many senior military officials, even though American forces were being asked to fill gaping voids in the Afghan government after the Taliban’s fall. [...]
Third, the invasion of Iraq was siphoning away resources. After the invasion started in March 2003, the history says, the United States clearly “had a very limited ability to increase its forces” in Afghanistan.
The historians also note that, as was the case in Iraq, Bush officials had neglected to properly plan for what to do after the government fell. “[T]here was no major planning initiated to create long-term political, social and economic stability in Afghanistan,” the historians write. “In fact, the message from senior D.O.D officials in Washington was for the U.S. military to avoid such efforts.”
Despite Rove and Rumsfeld’s attempts to salvage their legacies, it’s widely accepted that the Bush administration neglected the Afghan war. But as the Times notes, these new findings are “notable for carrying the imprimatur of the Army itself.”