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Competing Strategies, Blind Faith in Af/Pak

Posted by Steve Hynd on July 2nd, 2009

Bob Woodward’s piece for the WaPo, in which he recounts national security advisor Jim Jones telling military leaders that any further calls for more troops in Afghanistan would occasion a “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment” from Obama, has both COINdinistas and contraCOINers discussing prioritization of the (still benchmarkless) strategy’s confusing components in Afghanistan.

Marine general Lawrence Nicholson is quoted by Woodward as having a mission of “Protect the populace by, with and through the ANSF,” where “killing the enemy is secondary.” By contrast, Obama back in his March Af/Pak stratergy speech said that “These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan Security Forces and to go after insurgents along the border.” Pretty much everyone agrees that there aren’t enough troops on the ground – whether they be U.S., allied or local Afghan forces – to cover all the bases; to both secure population centers in a COIN “clear, hold and build” operation and to go after the insurgency in its own rural and border territory. Something has to give – and it looks like it will be the latter.

No matter what Obama may have said in March, the military and the CNAS-propelled Obama administration foreign policy team have set the strategy as a COIN-based one. That means a loooong war, at a cost of upwards of a trillion, as the US pursues a chimerical dream whereby Afghanistan one day (no one will guess when) emerges as a nation where economic development and reconstruction defeat the Taliban, albeit with a heavy occupation presence of foreign troops. But will that presence be heavy enough? At the CNAS blog, “Ibn Muqawama” writes in a post entitled “Repeating Mistakes?” that insufficient force was what hampered Iraq all those years and that:

if we are committed to our current strategy in Afghanistan, it seems pretty darn important that we’re confident we have the force levels necessary to establish that minimum level of security. Otherwise our “civilian surge” and reconstruction initiatives seem likely to be DOA. That’s not a call for the administration to reflexively throw in more troops without a rigorous analysis of strategic costs and benefits, but it does suggest that it needs to double-check to ensure that its ends, ways, and means in Afghanistan are are all aligned.

Hang on, the “mistake” wasn’t to try to make an invasion based on lies and a years-long occupation turn out a “victory” for US interests in the first place? Apparently not – for CNAS is neoliberal interventionism at its very worst. “Can we invade it? Yes we can!” All of which leaves contraCOIN writer Michael Cohen very frustrated:

If I had my druthers the President would conduct … a cost benefit analysis and come to the right conclusion that the currently stated mission in Afghanistan is worth neither the blood nor treasure that are needed for it to be successfully achieved. Instead he has chosen a muddled course that pretty much guarantees the US won’t achieve his goals for Afghanistan. Personally, I think fighting a counter-insurgency in Afghanistan is the modern equivalent of fighting a land war in Asia, but if that’s the mission you decide upon then you have to give the military the resources to actually do it.

The President can’t have it both ways. Either you fight the war in Afghanistan to achieve the mission you’ve laid out, or you don’t. There isn’t really a middle ground here. History provides a pretty good road map for how that usually works out.

In the end, this whole situation reminds me of another old military expression: FUBAR

But the “civilian surge” is already in trouble too. As my friend and COINdinista-with-misgivings Spencer Ackerman notes:

The so-called “civilian surge” into Afghanistan isn’t happening. Proposals earlier this year for hundreds of new U.S. civilian officials to deploy to Afghanistan have given way to “triage” attempts at getting smaller amounts of key civilian personnel into advisory capacities to bolster Afghan governance.

Even if the “civilian surge” was sorted out, though, the whole “population-centric” strategy is based on the idea that economic improvement, reconstruction and reconcilliation would mean that the Taliban would lose their foothold in Afghanistan and be unable to regain it either by bullet or ballot box afteroccupying forces (eventually) leave. There’s no particular reason why this should be so and indeed real world evidence suggests that it’s simply bulls**t, but it’s taken as an article of blind faith by the COIN crowd. Neither Afghanistan or Pakistan are Iraq and the Taliban movement is not foreign in the way Al Qaeda was in Iraq. In fact, this blind faith underpinning of the entire COIN strategy for Af/Pak is most akin to believing, just because, that economic reconstruction and democracy would prevent the Sunni Arabs of Iraq ever again holding any kind of power in that country after US troops leave – a pretty unlikely proposition.

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  1. [...] Competing Strategies, Blind Faith in Af/Pak Competing Strategies, Blind Faith in Af/Pak [...]

  2. Diane Dillon says:

    maybe a better cost effective way of dealing with the situation in afghanistan with respect to the people of that part of the world would to go in not as military but as peacemakers. to occupy by means of peace. to help rebuild and help the people find their lives again so they can have communities, health care and education with respect to their culture. PUT DOWN THE WEAPONS AND PICK UP TOOLS OF PEACE AS AN EXAMPLE TO THE REST OF THE WORLD.

  3. Diane Dillon says:

    maybe a better cost effective way of dealing with the situation in afghanistan with respect to the people of that part of the world would to go in not as military but as peacemakers. to occupy by means of peace. to help rebuild and help the people find their lives again so they can have communities, health care and education with respect to their culture. PUT DOWN THE WEAPONS AND PICK UP TOOLS OF PEACE AS AN EXAMPLE TO THE REST OF THE WORLD.

  4. [...] Competing Strategies, Blind Faith in Af/Pak posted on July 10th, 2009 at Rethink Afghanistan [...]

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