A 'DECENT INTERVAL' STRATEGY FOR AFGHANISTAN?
"President Obama revealed his long-awaited plan for Afghanistan on Tuesday, announcing that a residual force of 9,800 U.S. troops will remain there for one year following the end of combat operations in December. That number will be cut in half at the end of 2015, and reduced at the end of 2016 to a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy. The plan, despite White House warnings early this year of a possible “zero option,” is largely in line with what the U.S. military had requested. It also is in line with what NATO and other international partners said was necessary for them to retain a presence in Afghanistan. “We’re finishing the job we started” more than 12 years ago, when the United States embarked on a war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan following the September 2001 attacks against this country, Obama said in brief remarks in the Rose Garden. “It’s time to turn the page” from the conflicts that have dominated U.S. foreign policy for more than a decade, he said of the timetable that would end direct U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan at the end of his second term in office. The residual force, based at various locations around Afghanistan in 2015, will include troops to train and advise Afghan security forces and a separate group of Special Operations forces to continue counterterrorism missions against what Obama called “the remnants of al-Qaeda.” Beginning in 2016, about half that force will go home, while the rest will be stationed only in Kabul and at Bagram air base north of the capital. At the end of that year, the force will shrink to the size of a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales, under the authority of the U.S. ambassador".Karen DeYoung,"Obama to leave 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan". The Washington Post. 27 May 2014, in www.washingtonpost.com.
"President Obama announced troop levels for Afghanistan on May 27th in ways that make no effort to present a real plan or strategy. He simply set dates certain for the elimination of a meaningful U.S. military presence in 2015 – ignoring the fact that leaving half of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in 2016 is too small in enabling capability to meet Afghan needs....He also ignored the fact that by setting dates certain without a hint of conditionality, he effectively told the Taliban, other insurgents, and the region that the United States will not reinforce Afghan forces in an emergency. Like his earlier deadline of 2014 for ending a U.S. combat presence, he has given the enemy a clear promise that all they have to do is wait, hitting Afghan forces where it is easy, and seeing all U.S. (and allied) forces gone by 2016. He did not provide any strategic explanation of his decision, or meaningful assessment of the risks. He did not explain how the remaining U.S. forces will be organized, based, what they will do, or what they will cost. He did not assess any of the risks in his decisions or the relative value of staying in Afghanistan in the way his decisions call for. All he did was provide a set of empty generalities".Anthony Cordesman, "President Obama’s Announcement on Troop Levels in Afghanistan: No Plan, No Transparency, No Credibility, and No Leadership". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 28 May 2014, in www.csis.org.
"We are ready to withdraw all of our forces [from South Vietnam] by a fixed date and let objective realities shape the political future. . . .We want a decent interval. You have our assurance".Henry Kissinger hand written comments in a Briefing book for his first trip to Peking, circa July 1971, in www.shafr.org/passport/2001/sep/interval.htm#66 With the Financial Times headline of to-day stating that the American Administration is seriously considering raining down American airstrikes on the Islamic militants of ISIS more than two years after the Americans have fully withdrawn from that country, it is with some pertinence that one gives greater degree of attention to the American Administration's proposed phased withdrawal from Afghanistan 1. I will not repeat the harsh criticism made of the same by such biased commentators as Max Boot, but will instead focus on those offered up by a much more objective and what is more important, intelligent military commentator, Anthony Cordesman 2. In a scathing series of remarks, Cordesman, mentions among other things that the American President's declared policy in Afghanistan:
"ignore the fact that ISAF figures do not show any of the gains from the surge in Afghanistan that occurred from the surge in Iraq, and UN casualty data show that the situation sharply deteriorated in 2013. They talk about narrow missions, but it is unclear how a counterterrorism mission will take place if the United States cannot use drones to attack targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and now that President Karzai has effectively crippled Afghan Special Forces. They do not address the fact that Afghan forces have been rushed forward and have not met most of the goals necessary to fully take over the fight, and the Afghan Air Force was never supposed to be ready before 2016. He made no mention of the Italian and German forces that have been a key part of NATO/ISAF deployment plans, or that senior U.S. commanders have been forced to keep cutting the recommended total troop presence down from a level of 13,500 – which was then seen as an absolute minimum to provide assistance at the Afghan Corps level with virtually no ability to help or enable in any emergency. Once again, his timing effectively leaves a meaningful advisory presence for only one year at a time when both Department of Defense and SIGAR are reporting major issues about the quality of even the army portion of a total force that is more than 40% notoriously corrupt police 3".In short, if the drawn-down of American and other forces were to indeed occur as outlined on the 27th of May by the American Administration, then there is indeed a very good possibility of Afghanistan heading for another Kissingerian 'decent interval' scenario with all that implies in terms of future chaos in that country. Which one could indeed argue is mere a matter of tant pis, and that per se, Afghanistan does not merit, strategically speaking all the resources that the Americans and the other Western powers have been putting into it. Fair enough. However, given the ability in our globalized world for events in small countries which are very very far away, to impact on the other side of the globe, one would have to have a great belief in the good will of the Bon Dieu to suppose that if Afghanistan does become another failed state or for that matter a safe harbor for terrorist groupings, that nothing amiss will result from this. At the very least, what Afghanistan requires from both the Americans and the other Western powers can be summarized as: i) on site air power back-up in case of extreme need; ii) advisors and support, both in the field and throughout the army command and parts of the civilian bureaucracy; iii) financial support. In retrospect, it appears to have been the case, that the original Rumsfeldian, 'light-foot print' policy for Afghanistan, was the correct one. And that the introduction of large numbers of American and other forces into the country from 2006 onwards was a major mistake. With that being said, it defies logic of the past twelve years of conflict in Afghanistan to argue that the policy outlined by the American Administration will not eventually result in a collapse similar to the collapse seen in Iraq in the past few weeks and months or for that matter South Vietnam circa 1975. But it would appear in fact that logic does not really matter to the American Administration. In the words of the late, great British poet, Philip Larkin:
"Next year we are to bring the soldiers home / For lack of money, and it is all right. Places they guarded, or kept orderly / Must guard themselves, and keep themselves orderly. We want the money for ourselves at home / Instead of working. And this is all right. It's hard to say who wanted it to happen / But now it's been decided nobody minds. The places are a long way off, not here / Which is all right, and from what we hear / The soldiers there only made trouble happen. Next year we shall be easier in our minds " 4.1. Geoff Dwyer, Simeon Kerr and Borzou Daragahi, "Obama considers military action in Iraq". The Financial Times. 13 June 2014, in www.ft.com. 2. Max Boot, "Obama’s Split-the-Difference Foreign Policy". Commentary. 27 May 2014, in www.commentarymagazine.com. 3. Anthony Cordesman, op. cit. 4. Philip Larkin, "Homage to a Government". In The Norton Anthology: English Literature Eighth Edition Volume 2. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2006, pp. 2571-2572.