Tag Archives: Armed Forces Journal

Truth, lies and Afghanistan

Armed Forces Journal publishes another reality-check for the war (or whatever we are doing) in Afghanistan.  LTC Daniel L. Davis writes the latest feature, “Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down.”

There are plenty of good news stories in Afghanistan but even the PAO’s best efforts can’t keep up with the bad-news stories.  LTC Davis sobers up the most optimistic American by reviewing conditions on the ground 10 years after our war in Afghanistan started.  First hand accounts demonstrate that the Afghans are far from taking over security in any meaningful way but one wouldn’t know any better from the open-source reporting.

Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies is quoted by Davis with the following: 

Since June 2010, the unclassified reporting the U.S. does provide has steadily shrunk in content, effectively ‘spinning’ the road to victory by eliminating content that illustrates the full-scale of the challenges ahead. They also, however, were driven by political decisions to ignore or understate Taliban and insurgent gains from 2002 to 2009, to ignore the problems caused by weak and corrupt Afghan governance, to understate the risks posed by sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to ‘spin’ the value of tactical ISAF victories while ignoring the steady growth of Taliban influence and control.

Politics theoretically stop at the water’s edge.  Clearly politics is driving how and why we continue in Afghanistan.  Certainly there are other factors at play such as our ability to keep Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan long after we “leave.”  But, as asked by Davis, at what price?  Is the full price even recognized?  Put yourself in the shoes of this officer’s shoes:  “How do I look [my soldier’s] wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?”

The Afghans recognize the price that will be paid and are taking action.  From one advisor, “Already all across this region [many elements of] the security forces have made deals with the Taliban.  [The ANSF] won’t shoot at the Taliban, and the Taliban won’t shoot them.”  For those that can’t flee the country, survival takes on many different forms.  Is anyone surprised by the self-preservation? 

Davis completes his essay with the following:

When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be.  U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.

Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose.  That is the very essence of civilian control of the military.  The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years.  Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

Generals will be quick to point out, “Hope is not a plan.”  If so, why is it the only logical thing that explains the current conditions?

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Afghans: Obama wasting time talking to terrorists

Pay attention, it’s tought to keep up with all the twists and turns in this plot:

Afghans: Obama wasting time talking to terrorists – Washington Times.

A brief recap (which admittedly probably includes many more subplots not captured here):

  1. President Obama wants to talk to terrorists.  According to Secretary of State Clinton, this is ‘to test whether the terrorist groups “have any willingness to negotiate in good faith.”’  Negotiating with Terrorists.
  2. U.S. says Pakistan’s ISI is supporting terrorists (former CJCS says the Haqqani Terrorist Network is a “veritable arm of the ISI.”
  3. Pakistan says any U.S infiltration of Pakistan is a violation of their sovereignty.
  4. President Hamid Karzai says they will stand with Pakistan against the U.S.
  5. Mr. Hamidzai, chairman of the Afghan parliamentary committee on internal-security affairs, says we

This ought to be interesting.  The Afghans have caught up to the previous administrations’ policies of not negotiating with terrorists.  In another 5-10 years, the Afghans will embrace the current administration’s policy of negotiation.  In the meantime, President Obama wants to accelerate the turnover of security responsibility to the Afghans and the removal of forces.

Sounds like we have a surefire plan for success or failure — depending on your definitions of “success” or “failure.”

The new fighting season

Even as everyone is letting down their guard with the apparent end of the annual “fighting season” over, the Taliban reasserted itself with one of the largest attacks in years happened in Kabul:  Kabul attack kills 13 Americans.  The common perspective is that the war is about won and the recent attacks are the last gasp of a desperate foe.

Regardless of your personal position on Afghanistan, anyone would hope that the U.S. government’s plans for the country would compliment the stated desire to build-up Afghan National Security Forces, the rule of law, and governmental legitimacy. 

My belief that current drawdown plans do not support the stated positions on Afghanistan are expressed in Negotiating with the Taliban (Armed Forces Journal, October 2011).  A few excerpts will best articulate the conflicts between what we say and what we do:

There has long been a central tension in the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy: The “necessary war” had an arbitrary withdrawal timeline. This tension has led to strategic ambiguity: The president rejected a troop increase of 80,000 troops, which would have been used for a strategy focused on success, and simultaneously rejected a strategy of only using targeted counterterrorism strikes, a policy of withdrawal. By attempting to politically reconcile both approaches, which are militarily complementary and not necessarily in tension, he signaled a willingness to do more but not enough to prevail. In other words, he sent more troops to war but not to victory.

The latter [June 22, 2011 President Obama] speech was taken as evidence that the president saw the killing of Osama bin Laden as a reason to leave Afghanistan more quickly, not an opportunity to double down and prevail. More evidence, in Afghan eyes, is the effort to hand over the security mission to local forces. Increasingly, the Taliban think they are winning.

[I]f the U.S. and Afghan governments offer political compromises such as power sharing, new elections or reconciliation opportunities, the Taliban will be inclined to agree, if only to accelerate their long-term return to power. Reintegration efforts that allow Taliban fighters to renounce violence in exchange for money and jobs are an excellent way for the Islamist movement to rest its military force until U.S. troop numbers shrink to the point that the Taliban can confront the Afghan government more openly.

The Taliban also have no incentive to provide the U.S. a face-saving withdrawal and every incentive to humiliate the U.S., if only to diminish the likelihood the U.S. will ever intervene in Afghan affairs again.

The Armed Forces Journal article is a stern warning of what is to come.  Nothing could be more direct than the concluding thought:

As the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, the Taliban will reassert themselves slowly but persistently, until we wake up one morning and realize the country’s been lost.