THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN AFGHANISTAN: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday replaced the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan and picked a former special forces commander to oversee President Barack Obama's military strategy against a growing Taliban insurgency.
Gates asked for the resignation of Army General David McKiernan less than a year into a command that normally would last 18 to 24 months after concluding the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan required fresh military thinking.
Gates recommended Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, a former Green Beret, to take over command of the 45,000 U.S. troops and 32,000 other forces from other NATO countries now in Afghanistan.
McChrystal, the director of the U.S. military's Joint Staff, must be nominated by Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate before he can take up the post.
Gates also named Lieutenant General David Rodriguez as deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Rodriguez was lauded by Pentagon officials for a counterinsurgency effort he led in eastern Afghanistan while commanding the Army's 82nd Airborne Division".
"Pentagon Replaces top Afghanistan commander," 11 May 2009, in www.reuters.com
"The US is discovering that its present force posture has serious resource limits in fighting asymmetric or irregular wars, and conducting armed nation building. At least for the next few years, the US will have to fight the Afghan-Pakistan conflict war with a force posture whose land component is limited to the ability to fight one major regional contingency involving asymmetric or irregular war.
It also is far from clear when these resource limits will change. While Secretary Gates has talked about the need to change US force structures, no one has as yet advanced any clear plans for making such changes or even convincingly described the architecture of such a force. Simply training and/or assigning more civilians does not necessarily create any major improvement in real world US capabilities for armed nation building, and calling for smart power does not make power smart. The necessary changes may come, but it is unlikely that they will come before the end of President Obama’s present term of office.
Accordingly, US strategy must accept the fact that this is a limited war fought for limited objectives where the cost can exceed its value. The US cannot afford to become overcommitted to either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Its strategy must consider options that limit future US commitments and that focus on containment – undesirable as those options may seem. The US may well be able to win – particularly if the Afghan and Pakistani governments become more effective partners – but it cannot let a limited war fought for limited purposes become the central focus of its strategy and actions – even at the regional level.
Anthony Cordesman, "Is the Afghanistan-Pakistan Conflict Winnable: the broader strategic context," 29 April 2009, in www.csis.org
"Le Marechal dreams of a political [military] victory," Clemens von Metternich talking of Field-Marshal Graf Radetsky, circa 1847.
The announcement made today by the American Defence Secretary, Mr. Gates that he is replacing prematurely the top American commander in Afghanistan, General McKiernan, with a former Green Beret, and one of the top commanders in the Iraqi front, is another indication that the Pentagon and indeed the White House, are seriously concerned about the not so favorable trends in the conflict. Both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. It would appear, that on the surface at any rate, that the replacement of General McKiernan, would be a victory for the type of counter-insurgency warfare favored by the overall, theatre commander General Petraeus. The author of the tactics which to a considerable degree, helped to stabilize to an good degree Iraq in 2007-2008. On the other hand, it is less than clear that General Petraeus vision of a possible military 'victory', in Afghanistan is something that his political master's back home in Washington, DC., are willing to back to the hilt. According to the American online journal stratfor.com, the real meaning of the replacement of General Mackinnon is as follows:
"Ultimately, Petraeus is charging that Obama and Gates are missing the chance to repeat what was done in Iraq, while Obama and Gates are afraid Petraeus is confusing success in Iraq with a universal counterinsurgency model. To put it differently, they feel that while Petraeus benefited from fortuitous circumstances in Iraq, he quickly could find himself hopelessly bogged down in Afghanistan. The Pentagon on May 11 announced that U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David McKiernan would be replaced, less than a year after he took over, with Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal. McKiernan’s removal could pave the way for a broader reshuffling of Afghan strategy by the Obama administration.
The most important issues concern the extent to which Obama wants to stake his presidency on Petraeus’ vision in Afghanistan, and how important Afghanistan is to U.S. grand strategy. Petraeus has conceded that al Qaeda is in Pakistan. Getting the group out of Pakistan requires surgical strikes. Occupation and regime change in Pakistan are way beyond American abilities. The question of what the United States expects to win in Afghanistan — assuming it can win anything there — remains.
In the end, there is never a debate between U.S. presidents and generals. Even MacArthur discovered that. It is becoming clear that Obama is not going to bet all in Afghanistan, and that he sees Afghanistan as not worth the fight. Petraeus is a soldier in a fight, and he wants to win. But in the end, as Clausewitz said, war is an extension of politics by other means. As such, generals tend to not get their way".
George Friedman, "The Strategic Debate over Afghanistan", 11 May 2009, in www.stratfor.com
The above analysis, while cogent and indeed accurate in some ways, obscures one important factor which make the opposition between Petraeus and his political masters back home in Washington, DC., more than a bit reductionist. Specifically, the ongoing instability in Pakistan, makes the idea that at a certain point in the future, the Americans and their allies, tutti quanti, could simply quit the country, tout `a coup, more than slightly unreal. One does not need to know very much about either country to surmise that if the Americans were to leave a Taliban controlled Afghanistan, while Pakistan was still contending with its own Taliban insurgency, then the likelihood of the latter country following the former into the hands of the insurgents, would increase exponentially. Even someone who is as skeptical of 'over-investing', in the 'Af-Pak' theatre as Anthony Cordesman, has also recently noted that:
"Strategically, the overall stability of a nuclear-armed Pakistan has the highest priority, and no victory in Afghanistan, or Afghan-Pakistan border area, can be meaningful if Pakistan slides towards chaos or jihadist rule".
Quoted in: "Obama tests Afghan, Pakistan Stragegy," 5 May 2009, in www.nytimes.com
The upshot of the above strategic fact is that the Americans and their allies (such as they are...) are stuck in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. The logic of the situation calls for either a 'surge' strategy, but on a much grander and larger scale, than what was attempted and achieved in Iraq (say adding not 20,000 troops, but, more along the lines of 100,000 to 150,000) or conversely, sticking with a minimal increase in forces, and, hoping that via the use of air power, and, Petraeus's counter-insurgency tactics that two, three or four years of efforts will result in, if not 'victory', then at the very least, something approaching the beginnings of a stabilization `a la Iraq in mid to late 2008. It would not be too difficult to hazard a guess which particular path Marechal Graf Radetsky would favor.