WASHINGTON, June 26: The Pentagon sent thousands of US troops to the wrong province in Afghanistan and “squandered more than a year of the war”, claims a book released on Tuesday.
The book — “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan” — also shows how the White House national security staff blocked the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke from negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban.
After reading the revelations, Congressman Frank Wolf wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to remove retired Lt-Gen Douglas Lute from his post on the National Security Council for blocking Mr Holbrooke’s peace plans.
In February 2009, President Obama agreed to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and another 30,000 later the same year.
But more than 50 per cent of the initial 17,000 ended up in Helmand instead of the Taliban nerve-centre of Kandahar.
“Can someone tell me why the Marines were sent to Helmand?” Gen Stanley McChrystal, the then US commander in Afghanistan, reportedly asked upon his arrival in Kabul in June 2009.
Gen McChrystal regarded Helmand to be of “far lower strategic significance” than Kandahar.
If the first batch of surge troops had been deployed to Kandahar, it could have obviated the need for a full 30,000 surge later that year, US military officials who served in Afghanistan told the author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post.
A deployment in Kandahar could also have granted US commanders “the flexibility to combat insurgent havens in eastern Afghanistan much sooner”, the book states.
Gen McChrystal’s 34-year career ended in June 2010 when a Rolling Stone magazine article quoted his subordinates ridiculing President Obama.
The book details how the infighting between Mr Holbrooke and Gen Lute — and then-National Security Adviser James Jones — thwarted efforts to seek a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war.
At one stage, Gen Jones tried getting President Obama to fire Mr Holbrooke but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prevented it.
NSC officials would schedule key meetings when Mr Holbrooke was out of town, refused to allow him to use a military aeroplane and tried, unsuccessfully, to exclude him from President Obama’s Oval Office meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
President Obama “could have ordered a stop to the infighting” because, he too favoured a negotiated end to the war, like Mr Holbrooke, but “his sympathies lay with his NSC staffers”, the book notes.
The president did not like Mr Holbrooke’s “frenetic behaviour”, which was the antithesis of Mr Obama’s ‘no-drama’ rule, Mr Chandrasekaran writes. “The president never granted Mr Holbrooke a one-on-one session in the Oval Office, and when he travelled to Afghanistan in March 2010, he took more than a dozen people” except Mr Holbrooke.
In July 2009, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia sent a personal message to President Obama asking him to dispatch someone to meet Taliban emissaries who were communicating with the Saudi intelligence service.
Mr Holbrooke figured the overture was worth pursuing but the NSC showed little interest.
In the spring of 2010, the NSC eventually expressed support for reconciliation but with a twist: Gen Lute suggested that a UN envoy, former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi, should negotiate with the Taliban.
Gen Lute’s plan relegated Mr Holbrooke to a support role.
This infuriated Secretary Clinton who thought the NSC was asking a UN envoy to run America’s foreign policy.
When Gen David Petraeus replaced Gen McChrystal in Afghanistan, he shelved peace moves and tried to subdue the Taliban in the battlefield, as he had done in Iraq.
In a letter to President Obama, Congressman Wolf, notes: “Ignoring policy suggestions simply because of personal differences prevented the full consideration of all ideas for achieving success in the region.”
Mr Wolf, who is a member of the House Appropriations Defence subcommittee, urges Mr Obama to act now.
“Since you chose not to quash this petty squabbling while it was occurring, I believe the only solution now is to remove Gen Lute,” he writes.
Such behaviour, he says, is “unacceptable, especially when the lives of America service members are on the line”.