Officially, the U.S. is not nation-building in Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean that isn’t what’s happening. Past ISAF Commanders state and CNN acknowledges as much in a recent blog by Fareed Zakaria introducing the book Can Intervention Work by Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus (W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., August 2011).
Nation-building aside, the book’s short excerpt on the CNN blog paints a fascinating history of our intervention in Afghanistan:
Each new general in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2011 suggested that the situation he had inherited was dismal; implied that this was because his predecessor had the wrong resources or strategy; and asserted that he now had the resources, strategy, and leadership to deliver a decisive year.
In attempting to demonstrate how disjointed, dysfunctional, and, ultimately, self-contradictory our efforts are, Can Intervention Work documents each ISAF leader’s assessment of the situation inherited and the resultant predictions summarized below:
2002, General Karl Eikenberry (future Ambassador): “The mandate was clear and it was a central task, but it is also fair to say that up until that time there had been few resources committed.”
2003, General Dan McNeill:
- Inheritance: “We had nothing in any book.”
- Outlook: “Most parts of the country will soon begin to realize some reasonable degree of security and stability” and “Without question [2004 would be a] decisive year.”
2004, General David Barno:
- Inheritance: “There was no major planning initiated to create long-term political, social and economic stability in Afghanistan.”
- Outlook: “What we’re doing is moving to a more classic counterinsurgency strategy here in Afghanistan. That’s a fairly significant change in terms of our tactical approach out there on the ground.” General John Abizaid, GEN Barno’s commander, thought 2005 would be a “decisive year.”
2005, General Eikenberry (2nd tour):
- Inheritance: “The institutions of the Afghan state remain relatively weak.”
- Outlook: “Our longer-term goal of strengthening good governance, the rule of law, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, and economic development.” Per Can intervention Work?, the General was confident that 2006 would be a turning point.
2006, General Sir David Richards (UK):
- Inheritance: “Close to anarchy.”
- Outlook: His “new strategy” was “establishing bases rather than chasing militants” and predicted 2007 would be the decisive year for the Taliban.
2007, General McNeill (2nd Tour):
- Inheritance: A position defined by “shadows cast by former power brokers or warlords . . . lack of effective governance . . . a lack of unified effort amongst the international community and lack of effective police.” “We’re not trained, we’re not equipped, we don’t have the requisite number of helicopters, and we’re not manned to do [counter-narcotics].”
- Outlook: “. . . a shift to a more ‘kinetic strategy’ including aerial bombardment. ” Norwegian Foreign minister Espen Barth Eide predicted that 2007 would be “a decisive year.”
2008, General David McKiernan:
- Inheritance: A position in which “we are seeing an increase in violence . . . there are unacceptable levels of corruption,” and the Afghan government “is ineffective in many areas of Afghanistan.”
- Outlook: More counter-insurgency–“The fact is that we are at war in Afghanistan. It’s not peace-keeping. It’s not stability operations. It’s not humanitarian assistance. It’s war.” General Champoux (CAN) predicted 2008 would “be a decisive year.”
2009: General Stanley McChristal (following the firing of General McKiernan and more political intervention)
- Inheritance: A “resilient and growing insurgency . . . weakness of Afghan government institutions.”
- Outlook: “The new strategy will improve effectiveness through better application of existing assets, but it also requires additional resources.” The Canadian ambassador, Ron Hoffman, predicted that 2009 would be “a decisive year.” General David Petraeus, CENTCOM Commander, stated, “For the first time we will then have the tools and what’s required in place to carry out the kind of campaign that [is] necessary here with our Afghan partners.”
- Assessment: McChristal stated, “The Taliban . . . no longer has the initiative. . . . We are knee-deep in the decisive year” (then he was fired for various reasons not directly related to the mission).
2010, General David Petraeus:
- Inheritance: a position characterized by insurgent attacks on coalition forces spiking to record levels, violence metastasizing to previously stable areas, and the country’s president undercutting anti-corruption units backed by Washington.
- Outlook: A new strategy, back to a more kinetic approached combined with counterinsurgency. UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, predicted that 2010 would be “a decisive year.”
- Assessment: Hired as CIA Director.
2011, General John R. Allen:
- Outlook: “I really think that for all the sacrifices [of the troops], the reality is that it is paying off and that we’re moving in the right direction. . . We’re winning this very tough conflict here in Afghanistan,” SECDEF Leon Panetta in USA Today.
- Assessment: TBD. . . want to venture a guess?
Mel Brooks would be proud; History repeats itself. . . but I repeat myself.