What's Behind the Convenient Timing of the Afghanistan Mineral Story?
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The latest polling shows a noticeable erosion of support for Washington's commitment to the war compared to eight months ago, when President Barack Obama agreed to the Pentagon's recommendations to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bring the total U.S. military presence there to around 100,000 later this summer.
Moreover, what little support for the war remains among the publics of Washington's NATO allies - never as high as in the U.S. in any event - is also fading quickly. NATO and non-NATO countries, excluding the U.S., currently have about 34,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan.
On the eve of a NATO ministerial conference in Brussels last week, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates warned that Washington and its NATO allies had very little time to convince their publics that their strategy against the Taliban was working - a message that has since been strongly echoed the coalition's commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and by Petraeus himself.
Indeed, the administration is committed to a major review of its strategy in Afghanistan at the end of the year, and Obama himself has pledged to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July 2011.
Obama is already coming under pressure from right-wing and neo-conservative media - some of which have been cultivated by Petraeus, in particular - and Republican lawmakers to delay that date.
That view was seconded last week by former Petraeus aide, Lt. Col. John Nagl (ret.), a counterinsurgency specialist who is now president of the influential Centre for a New American Security.
Nagl worked closely with Petraeus in authoring the much- lauded 2006 U.S. Counter-Insurgency Field Manual, which stressed the importance of efforts to influence media perceptions in any counterinsurgency campaign.
"The media directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counter-insurgents, their operations, and the opposing insurgency," they wrote. "This situation creates a war of perceptions between insurgents and counter-insurgents conducted continuously using the news media."
In that respect, the appearance of the Times story Monday looked to many observers like part of an effort to strengthen the case for giving the counterinsurgency effort more time.
In an interview with Politico's Laura Rozen Monday, former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani said he had commissioned the assessment of Afghanistan's mineral wealth. "As to why it came out today... I cannot explain," he said.