Guest op-ed: Bill Connor - "Candidate Obama" or "President Obama" on Afghanistan?

Today's guest op-ed comes from Lt. Connor Bill Connor. Connor is an Afghan vet and a Midlands GOP activist who ran for Lt. Governor last year, finishing a close second in the June GOP runoff.

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On June 23, President Barack Obama declared the phased US withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has promised the departure of 10,000 US troops by the end of this year and 33,000 by the end of 2012. According to details of the plan, by 2014 all combat troops will be gone and security transferred to the Afghans. This comes on the heels of the Administration’s recent decision to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” allowing open homosexuality among the Armed Forces. As Obama begins his campaign for reelection, we are likely to see more of this political pandering. Clearly, these pronouncements are a way to divert attention from the nation’s dire economic plight. However, despite a public perception of the “endless war” in Afghanistan, the President is making a costly mistake which threatens to derail so many gains over the past few years.

The current Afghan “surge” began in 2009 upon the recommendation of General Stanley McChrystal. The majority of the 30,000 surge troops were deployed to the Southern Region of Afghanistan, particularly Kandahar and Helmand Provinces. Having served as the Senior US advisor to Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan in 2007-2008, I had unique insights into the need for a US surge to that region. As some may remember, when I returned from Helmand, I wrote articles in The State and Times and Democrat about the need for a US surge to the South.

The importance of Kandahar City to the war in Afghanistan cannot be overstated. The Southern Region was the heartland of the Taliban movement. Mullah Omar began the Taliban movement from Kandahar Province. He never moved his personal headquarters from Kandahar City, even after the Taliban conquest of Kabul in 1996. The Southern Region holds significance to the Afghans beyond what a map might indicate due to being the historic capital of the Pashtu people. Control of the Southern Region has always been the key to defeating the Taliban insurgency and allowing Americans to leave Afghanistan for good.

Despite being the most violent and critical region of Afghanistan, the previous European “ISAF” command of the Southern Region just wasn’t working. Virtually non-existent Unity of Command was the unfortunate state of affairs. This changed with the massive influx of American troops under unified American command. Unlike allies, these are troops were not restricted by “caveats” on the use of force. Almost a year ago, after the surge was firmly in place, General Petreus told reporters the Taliban were beginning to reach out to the Karzai regime. Taliban came to the realization the coalition was determinated to regain control of Kandahar. This control has directly influence our ability to target and neutralize Al Qaeda leadership in the region.

As an example of success of the surge, at the beginning of “Operation Dragon Strike” (meant to take back Kandahar last year), CBS reported: “some of the fiercest fighting has been in Zhari, a neighborhood to the west of Kandahar. There has been heavy fighting there for weeks as U.S. troops prepared for the assault. Zhari is on the main highway to Kandahar. From there, insurgents can control a major supply route into the city, something U.S. troops want to stop.” In 2007-2008, when South Carolina National Guard troops were operating in the Kandahar area, Zhari and Panjwey were infested with Taliban. It’s where we lost our first South Carolinian Killed in Action, SSG James Bullard. That area is now under coalition control, as is much of Kandahar and Helmand Provinces. This came through much hard work and sacrifice.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s decision to publically announce early withdrawal threatens our gains. In the near term, the direct loss of US combat power will be minimal. From credible sources, the first 10,000 troops to go will be non-combat troops primarily from the secure base of Bagram Airfield (north of Kabul). As the Presidential election is in 2012, Obama may very well go back on his word to remove the remaining 33,000 surge troops (just as he went back on his word to close the Guantanamo Bay prison after the 2008 election).

The problem comes with the signal President Obama sends to coalition allies, Afghan leadership, and the Taliban/Al Qaeda. Most of our current allies have far less of a political will for the persistence required in Afghanistan. The US provides the backbone of will to keep the coalition together. Perceived wavering on the part of the US will likely cause allies to lose all political will and withdraw quickly. No nation will want to be the last out. The announcement will cause the Taliban and Al Qaeda to build their strategy around the announced withdrawal. They have waited 10 years and can wait 3 more years before their won surge. The Afghans will likely accelerate talks with the Taliban and may build relationships with anti-US regimes.

Though it’s tempting for candidate Obama to declare victory in Afghanistan and “nation building” to fix the economy at home, it violates the duties of a President. Despite “war weariness”, his job is to sell the success of the current surge and the reason we should not accelerate redeployment. Few will argue Afghanistan is not connected to 9/11. After the attack, we had to fight there as much as we had to fight Japan after Pearl Harbor. As we near the 10th Anniversary of that day of infamy, we should be proud of what the US has accomplished. Due to our success in Afghanistan, we had the base to destroy Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Osama Bin Laden. We ended the barbaric Taliban movement from seeking a worldwide Caliphate. We put our collective faith in God and we have made it from darkness to coming so close to the light. It is time to see the mission through to its completion so we never face another 9/11. President Obama, don’t allow electioneering to undermine our national security. We’ve fought too hard to stop before the finish line.

4 Response to "Guest op-ed: Bill Connor - "Candidate Obama" or "President Obama" on Afghanistan?"

  1. Cicero 11/7/11 14:08
    Ah, Connor must be gearing up for another run at office.
  2. Bill Connor 11/7/11 16:44
    Cicero,
    Interesting comment. Would be nice if people would have the courage to sign with actual names. Look, I wrote editorials for 8-9 years before running for office. Received some criticism about taking a break from writing after the run for office. Now that I'm weighing in again (on a position that has little to do with political posturing) I'm attacked again by an anonymous operative. After volunteering to leave family and risk life for 15 months for certain cause. After seeing men fight and sacrifice and die for that cause. Did it ever occur that I might have an interest in speaking out against Obama playing politics over that cause? Sola Fide,
    Bill Connor
  3. Still in uniform 11/7/11 21:34
    Bill are you still in uniform? If you are then you better hope the administration does not get a hold of your rant. You can be prosecuted under the UCMJ as Obama is the commander in chief in case you forgot.
  4. Anonymous 11/7/11 22:52
    I appreciate Bill's candor. Having been over there, he has more real insights than the ... President does. I also appreciate Earl giving him this forum. Earl was not a Connor supporter last year and it's big of him to allow Bill to be heard via his blog. Still - you STILL don't get it!

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