THE AFGAHANISTAN CONUNDRUM: A COMMENT
"Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing it could lose it. Resourcing communicates commitment, but we must balance force levels to enable effective ANSF partnering and provide population security, while avoiding perceptions of coalition dominance. Ideally, the ANSF must lead this fight, but they will not have enough capability in the near-term given the insurgency's growth rate. In the interim, coalition forces must provide a bridge capability to protect critical segments of the population. The status quo will lead to failure if we wait for the ANSF to grow.
The new strategy will improve effectiveness through better application of existing assets, but also requires additional resources. Overall ISAF requires an increase in the total coalition force capability and end-strength. This 'properly resourced' requirement will define the minimum force levels to accomplish the mission with an acceptable level of risk."
NATO-AMERICAN FORCE COMMANDER AFGHANISTAN, GENERAL STANLEY MCCRYSTAL, 30 AUGUST 2009, in 'Commander's Initial Assessment',
"Gen McChrystal is asking for more troops to carry out an effective counterinsurgency strategy, which he claims will focus on protecting civilians. This argument presupposes that the Afghans need to be protected, that the US should prop up the Karzai regime and that the insurgency is a direct threat to US interests.
Yet why should the US prop up Hamid Karzai? Some argue that if the US does not defeat the Taliban, they will take over the country as they did in the 1990s and provide a safe haven to terrorists. There is no clear evidence the Taliban have enough support to do so. Even if they could control large parts of Afghanistan, the US could conduct drone-strikes and special forces raids against training camps and leaders. This is not comparable to the 1990s counter-terrorism strategy when the CIA and US military had a minimal presence. Moreover, counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is a rallying call for global jihadists, just as the Soviet occupation engendered a new generation of anti-occupation fighters. In this regard, counterinsurgency is counter-productive to US security interests....
Finally, there is Pakistan. If Mr Obama is concerned about radical Islamist movements and their potential to capture a nuclear weapon, or use territory to plan terrorist activities, why focus on Afghanistan? If the true security concern is Pakistan then we should focus on Kashmir, tensions with India, nuclear weapons, development aid and cultivating civil society. Moreover, if Pakistan is able to control its borders and radical Islamist movements within its territory, there would be no need to fear a Taliban take-over of Afghanistan because they could not bleed into Pakistan.
The debate about troops lacks a focused rationale and is fuelled by myths associated with counterinsurgency as the best tool to protect our national security interests as if it is the cure for our problems. This view is unfortunately engrained in the highest echelons of the US military and national security community. It is time America developed a new strategy for dealing with those who represent a true threat to its national security: bin Laden and al-Qaeda".
Tyler Mosselle, "Obama must shift the debate about a troop surge." 22 October 2009 in
The first of the above quotes is by the American c-in-c in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, and, represents a precis of his by now publicly stated argument that sans, more forces (up to perhaps 80,000, according to some reports), the war in Afghanistan cannot be won, and, therefore, con ipso is being lost. For the last month or so, there has been active consideration within the American administration of the general's request. As of this time, it would appear that some troops, but, as to actual numbers no one is quite certain yet, will in fact be sent. Whether the American administration chooses to accept in total, its field-commander's recommendation, or merely 'split the difference' is not yet known.
The second of the above quotes, represents, a growing bien-pensant 'mood' and or state of mind (one hesitates in characterizing it as an 'opinion', much less an 'informed' opinion), concerning the Afghan War. It is of apiece with many such insofar at the commentator is: a) not an Afghan expert; b) advocates a policy which was in fact, for all intents and purposes followed by the Bush regime from 2002 to 2005. Id est., maintaining a minimal troop presence in the country and much of that fixated on locating and destroying Al-Qaeda and to a lesser extent the Taliban leadership. Any notions of 'securing' the countryside, or making (in a real sense) the country 'safe' for Democratic development were strictly not on the agenda (for the Bush regime's early strategy in Afghanistan see: Kathleen Knox,"Afghanistan: Renewed fighting raises question of U.S. 'Exit Strategy', March 4, 2002, in www.eurasianet.org). And, while it was very comme il faute by bien-pensant types to criticize American policy during the Bush years, for precisely these reasons (Afghanistan being viewed as the proverbial 'good war', as opposed to the war in Iraq, which was very much viewed as the 'bad war'), with a new bien-pensant regime in power in Washington, things are now viewed quite differently. Or as the late, great Sir Harold Acton, once put it: 'plus ca change, mais plus c'est la meme pose'
For those of us, who are viewing or trying to view events on the ground in Afghanistan from a more judicious and discerning eye, what is one to make of the conundrum found there, and, the implications for American policy? For my part, while not being in the least an 'Afghanistan expert' (id est., like ninety-five percent of all who offer an opinion on the subject...), I do think that there are some basic aspects of strategy & policy that needs to be remembered and ideally followed, by the Americans and their allies in NATO. First, is that the 'Biden approach', which is merely a variant of the Bush approach, mach 1 Afghanistan policy, circa 2001 to 2005, has been tried and it has singularly failed. Left to themselves, it is all but certain that in the absence of the Americans and their allies, the Taliban would take over the country, pur et simple. The existing Afghanistan Army is in no position as of yet, and, indeed for quite awhile to come, to offer up forces that can independently fight and win on the ground vis-`a-vis the Taliban. As one of the leading experts on the country, the writer Ahmed Rashid, recently noted in the New York Review of Books:
"Across the region many people fear that the US and NATO may start to pull out of Afghanistan during the next twelve months despite their uncompleted mission. That would almost certainly result in the Taliban walking into Kabul. Al-Qaeda would be in a stronger position to launch global terrorist attacks. The Pakistani Taliban would be able to "liberate" large parts of Pakistan."
Ahmed Rashid, "The Afghanistan Impasse," 8 October 2009, in www.nybooks.com
Second, there is General McCrystal approach which calls for something between muddling through and a 'plan for military victory'. However even with the addition of say sixty thousand troops, that will not be enough to ensure that sufficient numbers of troops are on the ground to impose themselves on the Taliban. As the American online, intelligence journal, Stratfor.com notes, even the American commander, cannot be of the opinion that his proposed troop increase will be enough to ensure victory by itself:
"The point of these troops is not to occupy Afghanistan and impose a new reality through military force, which is impossible (especially given the limited number of troops the United States is willing to dedicate to the problem). Instead, it is to provide infantry forces not only to hold larger areas, but to serve as reinforcements during Taliban attacks so the use of airpower can be avoided".
George Friedman & Reva Bhalla, "The U.S. Challenge in Afghanistan," 20 October, in www.stratfor.com
To use a demotic expression, the American commander considers the deployment and usage of the additional troops as a psychological and to a lesser extent militarily a 'game changer'. Since, with these additional troop strength 'in-country', as it were, he will be able to change the balance of forces on the battlefield. And, by doing so, hope that this will result in an ever increasing avalanche of Taliban defections, `a la Iraq in 2007 and 2008. That at any rate is the theory. Whether it will be successful or not, is impossible to say. At the very least, if can be said with some confidence that, it will not immediately result in changing conditions on the ground. That is most definitely something that will be highly unlikely to occur.
What can be said at this point, is that any premature American withdrawal from the country will have the upshot of not only seeing the Taliban in power, but, it will also have severely destabilizing effects in Pakistan and possibly in parts of Central Asia as well. Not to speak of the possibility of Al Qaeda being able to re-establish itself `a la 1999-2000. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that any success in the Afghan conflict will be year away, something which I pointed out on this site, four months ago. As the British academic Paul Cornish noted back in 2002, the effort was going to be a long and hard one:
"We'll need to spend a long time in Afghanistan proving the rule of law and promoting good governance and training the military and the police and all sorts of things that we used to do in the Balkans. That's going to take a long time and a lot of effort. That burden is currently mostly being done not by the U.S., because the U.S. is continuing its campaign against terrorism. So in some ways it's not a question of exit strategy that worries the Europeans, it's a question of keeping the U.S. engaged in the longer-term project to rebuild Afghanistan."
To posit anything else is mere moonshine cher amis.