“The quickest way to end a war is to lose it.” –George Orwell
It should come as no surprise that this blog is not especially optimistic about the sustainability of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. A new blog at www.foreignpolicy.com doesn’t shake that pessimism.
Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason hit the nail on the head with their article “The Fog of Peace.” Discrediting any optimism embedded in the United State’s peace talks with the Taliban, they list three reasons why the optimism is not just unfounded but delusional.
1. There is no “Taliban” in the sense the proponents of talks envision it.
Just as the Knights of Malta did not agree on policy matters with the Knights Templar [in the First Crusade], and carried out radically different strategies in the Holy Land, so the various groups of the jihad often fundamentally disagree with one another on how to achieve their common goal of establishing religious rule over disputed territory.
2. The enemy is interested in pre-withdrawal concessions, not a settlement, in an alien culture in which seeking negotiations to end a war is surrender.
The motives of any such representatives simply do not now and will never coincide with our own. The Quetta Shura has no genuine interest whatsoever in any “peace talks” or negotiations except to gain concessions such as the release of their comrades in Guantanamo Bay.
3. No understanding with senior clerics in the Taliban movement has ever outlived the airplane flight back to New York.
The Taliban of 1996-2001, which was infinitely more centralized and controllable than it is today, never kept a single such agreement for more than a week.
Johnson and Mason strike a serious blow with a startling comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam. Noting that the Afghan National Army has maybe 100,000 under arms in a country 4 times the size of Vietnam, the South Vietnamese had 1,000,000 under arms with a modern air force and yet collapsed after just 3 weeks of fighting.
Afghanistan is like a boat; It’s just a hole the U.S. government is pouring money into.
On a nearby desk the magazine PRISM, a publication of the Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University, captured my attention for its numerous Afghanistan-related stories. One article from the December 2011 edition, “War Comes to Bala Morghab: A Tragedy of Policy and Action in Three Acts,” depicted ISAF as Keystone Cops when trying to influence Bala Morghab District in 2008-2009. The problem? ISAF completely ignored the ‘shaping’ aspect of the COIN strategy. Ultimately, they may have won a battle but lost a war.
In a second story, the magazine ‘shapes’ reader optimism via the finest of details. Representative of our struggles in Afghanistan is the caption–yes, the caption–to the feature “Negotiating Afghanistan” (likely a fascinating story but as yet unread). Below is the photo with caption as depicted in the print version of the magazine:
Nothing could more succinctly illustrate the beast created in Afghanistan. “Don’t let them fail” has been the battle cry; whether in training, equipping, personnel accountability, logistics, or operations, we have created a painful dependency.
For our best and brightest military thinkers, overlooking the details isn’t nearly as painful as it is revealing.
Walter E. Williams addressed the potential of Libya and other Middle Eastern countries turning into democracies in his recent article Democracy is Impossible. He points out that for most of human existence personal liberty, private property rights, and rule of law were never even considered until Western Civilization cultivated the ideas.
For all those that favor nation-building in the Middle East, Dr. Williams argues it is futile:
The key point to recognize is that Western transition from barbarism to civility didn’t take place overnight; it took centuries. More importantly, for the most part Western civility and its institutions were not transplanted; they emerged from within Western civilization. Where they were successfully transplanted, it was done through Western colonialism, such as in the cases of the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Countries feeding at the trough of international generousity are even less likely to create governments respectful of liberty. Since foreign investment enables the establishment to secure their own power, securing the liberties of the governed would only be counter-productive to their own interests.
James 3:11, “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”
. . . and can be very painful.
MG Fuller, NTM-A Deputy Commander for Programs, was in Washington, D.C. for the bi-annual Program Management Review (PMR) where NTM-A provides the Office of the Secretary of Defense an update on programmatic issues related to the billions of dollars dedicated to building the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The Politico’s article, “U.S. general: Afghan leaders ‘isolated from reality’“, has really stirred the hornet’s nest. The article captures MG Fuller expressing what most everybody has been thinking if not saying (at least the non-pollyannas in Afghanistan). But nobody expects a General to speak so candidly–especially when it makes so many look so clueless.
Of course, depending on who you talk to, the entire military establishment is detached from reality: Security has not improved!
Doesn’t matter what language you speak (fly-boy, grunt, or swab), the weather guessers are announcing winds of change: U.S. Exploring Faster Switch to Advisory Role in Afghanistan.
More “Hope and Change” on the way.
FIRE IN THE HOLE!
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.
One of the difficult things about construction for the ANA is finding suitable land. Much of the land has disputed ownership because, over the last 40 years, land has been given away by warlords, Russians, Afghans, and now much of it is squatted on my Americans or NATO forces. This Christian Science Monitor article captures the problem:
What may be a bigger threat to Afghanistan than insurgency? Land disputes.
Even corrupt ANA leaders, when they aren’t shaking down construction contractors, are selling portions of their garrisons, land that isn’t their’s, to make some money on the side. Often when we start construction, we’ll run into squatters living on the sites claiming ownership.
While we may have the “rights” to construct and kick the squatters off the site, it is complicated. In our counter-insurgency operation (COIN), our goal is to gain the trust of the citizenry. Offending the locals by simply moving in with brute force will not only give the construction contractor trouble later on but also be counter-productive to engendering confidence the U.S. and the Afghan government.
Posted in History, News
Tagged Afghanistan, Afghans, ANA, COIN, GIRoA, Land, NATO, Projects, Tribes, U.S., Warlords