Different mission, same plan with a difference

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that, about a month into the discussions about what military strategy to employ in Afghanistan, the administration decided that the mission Gen. McChrystal had based his proposal on was not the right mission. Consistent with administration policy as of March, McChrystal’s view of the mission was to defeat the Taliban and protect the population. In October, however, the administration concluded that the first component of this mission is too ambitious, and that the objective should instead be to “degrade” the Taliban.
Today, the Post reports, however, that the change in the mission had little effect on the plan the White House ultimately decided to implement. According to Rajiv Chandrasekan and Greg Jaffe, McChrystal’s war strategy remained “largely unchanged after [the] three-month White House review.” In this account, the “new approach does not order McChrystal to wage the war in a fundamentally different way from what he outlined in an assessment he sent the White House in late August.”
This may be spin from an administration suddenly concerned that Obama will suffer if the war goes badly and he is perceived as having fundamentally altered the recommendations of his commander. However, the pieces of the emerging story hang together fairly well.
One would expect us to fight the Taliban in about the same way whether our mission was to defeat or just “degrade” it. But in the “degrade” scenario, we would probably commit fewer U.S. troops and leave sooner. Obama has acted accordingly.
In either scenario, though, a savvy administration would not let it become known that it was only out to degrade the enemy or that it will begin withdrawing from the battle field on a date both certain and soon.

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