Tuesday, August 22, 2017


"President Donald Trump has revealed a new strategy for Afghanistan that commits to maintaining US forces in the war-torn country and increases pressure on Pakistan to crack down on havens used by terrorists. In a prime-time speech on Monday night, Mr Trump said his instinct had been to withdraw from Afghanistan but that he changed his mind because of concerns about creating a vacuum for terrorists. But he stressed that US support was not a “blank cheque” and that Americans were “weary of war without victory”. “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists — including Isis and al-Qaeda — would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11,” Mr Trump said at Fort Myer outside Washington. Explaining his reversal, Mr Trump said Isis had emerged because the US withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and that America “cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq”. He did not say whether he would deploy additional forces to bolster the 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan but stressed that he would give the military the flexibility to produce an outcome “worthy of the tremendous sacrifices” made in the country. In June, Mr Trump gave James Mattis, defence secretary, the authority to deploy several thousand more troops in Afghanistan, but Mr Mattis wanted to hold off on any decision until the administration had agreed on a strategy. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy,” Mr Trump said. “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.' " 
Demetri Sevastopulo & Kiran Stacey, "Donald Trump warns against hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan". The Financial Times. 21 August 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Based on its interests, the United States' primary objectives should be to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government, to target terrorist and insurgent groups that threaten the United States and its core interests, and to improve the capacity of the Afghan government and local allies as much as is feasible. Washington should set a more realistic goal: to ensure that the Taliban doesn't win. These objectives are and should remain limited. The Afghan government is weak and poorly functioning—and is likely to continue to be so for the foreseeable future. The United States should thus not expect the Afghan government to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield over the next four years of the administration. Instead, Washington should set a more realistic goal: to ensure that the Taliban doesn't win. In order to do this, Washington could take several steps. First, U.S. diplomats need to continue encouraging governance reform in the country, including helping organize transparent elections and undermining large-scale public corruption. U.S. policymakers should also encourage diplomatic reconciliation with the Taliban. Since World War II, there have been roughly 181 insurgencies. Nearly three-quarters have been won on the battlefield. But of the roughly 30 percent that ended in a draw, most settled into a stalemate where neither side assessed that it could win. The Afghan war is at—or close to—a stalemate now. So negotiations may be the most likely path toward ending the violence given the inability of either side to win. Second, the United States should continue to keep at least the current number of 8,400 forces in Afghanistan, although more non-combat troops could be useful for advising Afghan army forces below the corps level. John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has requested several thousand additional troops from the United States and partner nations to train and advise Afghan forces—what some U.S. commanders have referred to as “thickening” advisory efforts. This is a reasonable request, although it is unlikely to break the stalemate".
Seth Jones, "How Trump Should Manage Afghanistan". The Rand Corporation. 21 March 2017, in www.rand.org.
One does not have to be an admirer of President Trump (do such creatures exist any longer?) to agree with his (or should one in fact say that of Generals McMaster & Mattis?) newest strategy for the Afghanistan war. It is the case in fact that a premature withdrawal of American and other Western forces would have been a disaster of the very first-order. That sans American and other Western boots on the ground, it would very much be the case that the Afghan government forces would have faced tremendous pressures from the Taliban. It being the case, that however disagreeable, it is a empirical fact that the regime in Kabul is not yet prepared to stand on its own two feet without Western assistance. Raising the question as to what was in the mind of the prior administration when it talked so freely about a complete withdrawal of all American (and inevitably) all Western forces by 2016? As Anthony Cordesman one of America's premier defense analysts recently noted:
When the U.S. withdrew combat forces in 2014, senior commanders realized all too clearly that the Afghan force was hollow with many units having little more than basic training and limited combat experience. This was due to rushed efforts to mix Afghan forces with police and army to take on the entire military mission of defeating the Taliban and other insurgents. That effort had only really begun to be fully funded in 2011, and many of the required advisors were only present in 2012-2013. It was clear that the Afghan Air Force was years away from having the strike, lift, and medevac capabilities it needed, and the Afghan government—including the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior—lacked core competence and were deeply corrupt. Senior U.S. commanders recommended a train and assist and combat support mission of some 20,000 troops—a mission that could aid the Afghan security forces down to the combat unit level and help it go from a force with basic training to one that could actually fight 1.
In an ideal universe the errata of the prior American administration would have been reversed on day one or two of the current American administration as Cordesman points out. However, it is a truism in this case that 'better late than never'. With the new strategy in effect, one can hope that the minimum, necessary goals of the Western forces in Afghanistan: keeping the Taliban out of power and on the back foot as much as is possible becomes more achievable. Au fond of course Afghanistan is not an important local in and of itself. It is (in the words of Sir Anthony Eden): 'a road to nowhere'. Still, given our truncated world, even atrocious places like Afghanistan have the (negative) merit that one cannot safely ignore them. As the Americans did to their eventual cost from 1990 to 2000. The 'Trump Strategy' for Afghanistan guarantees that this will not occur anytime soon.
1. Anthony Cordesman, "How the Trump Administration is Losing Afghanistan". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 2 August 2017, in www.csis.org


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