Reliable source Max Boot [Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations] lays out the options very clearly. The good news is that McChrystal has come down on the side of a counterinsurgency strategy.
Posts Tagged 'Afghanistan'
Michael Yon just emailed the following:
Afghanistan is in a sad state. Some folks are worried about “disturbing trends” in Afghanistan. I was concerned about disturbing trends back in early 2006. But that concern is over. My concern is more grave; that we will completely lose the war if we set expectations too high. We should downgrade our expectations for Afghanistan, and what we are willing to invest there. The world is a big place and there are other problems at hand. Iran just launched a satellite to orbit, for example. Afghanistan is such a sorry place that it will require at least decades severe effort to become half-way presentable, and likely a century to bring to anything respectable.
In Iraq, the light at the end of the tunnel was always bright (except during the civil war), and now Iraq is already out of the tunnel and blinking in the light of a new day. But Afghanistan is a national Humpty Dumpty. The best I see is the very distant, very dim, twinkling of a star. Or maybe it’s just a phosphene and not a star at all. My humble recommendation is to downgrade all expectations for Afghanistan. Treat the patient as best we can, and concern ourselves with more important matters while striving not to allow Afghanistan to again become a launching pad for international terror. President Obama should not stake our national reputation on the idea that we will achieve our current more ambitious goals. Decrease expectations, and work on more important matters such as the world economy and other more serious military threats. Afghanistan is not worth so much effort when most of NATO has no heart and is virtually worthless. Eventually we’ll likely end up alone, or mostly alone, holding the bag, while Europe goes home to its wine and beer.
Please read: “Afghanistan is a Gaunt, Thorny Bush.”
Michael Yon just posted a report from security contractor Tim Lynch — where you can get a peek at out how things really work there.
Michael Yon emails
The outcome of the upcoming U.S. elections will have a profound impact on the war. Meanwhile, the day to day fighting continues. If Senator Obama is elected, I expect to spend a great deal of time covering the fighting. Judging by his words, Senator Obama must be watched closely or we might see some terrible decisions. I expect 2009 to be the worst year so far in the Af-Pak war, which has serious potential to eventually become far worse than Iraq ever was. If Senator McCain is elected, I’ll breathe easier in regard to the war.
And please don’t miss Michael’s latest Afghanistan dispatch.
…The woman above was begging beside the highway. And she was not the only one. I was a passenger driving through Taliban country in a pickup truck when I took her photo. Car bombs detonate on that road all the time. Americans and others die there. And this woman, covered as most women in Afghanistan whom I see are, probably a widow, was begging just beside a police checkpoint, which, sooner or later, likely will get attacked. She might get blown to pieces by a car bomb. She apparently has no money, probably no family, nowhere else to go, and no other way to live. Still, she endures.
The world economy is having its problems, but it’s going to come back sooner or later. Meanwhile, those of us in America, and throughout the west, should count our blessings. We have our families. We have governments which, for all their flaws, at least are reasonably functional, or in many cases, highly functional. We have hope. Or at least we have reason to hope.
Don’t miss Michael Yon’s latest dispatch:
Afghanistan is like time traveling. Vast expanses of rugged landscape, mostly unadorned by man-made structures, all framed by stories of savagery and conquest, create a picture of forever. A sense that human and geologic changes occur at nearly the same pace. Many of the people remain arguably “pre-historic” in the sense that illiterate people do not chronicle their knowledge and experience into writing or durable art. Moving around the countryside, a man could half expect to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex come stomping over a ridge.
My friend Tim Lynch, a retired infantry officer who has lived four years in Afghanistan, had mentioned there are caves near Jalalabad, and when the sun sinks, bats take flight by the thousands. That sounded fun to watch; I did some caving (amateurs call it “spelunking”) in North Carolina and Tennessee, and was always amazed at the swarms of bats down in the bowels of earth. In Florida, I would sometimes venture onto the campus of the University of Florida, just as the squawking flocks of white ibis were settling into their rookery on Lake Alice. The night shift would come out and tens of thousands of bats would take flight right over my head, then over the lake, while the alligators began their evening hunt.
Wildlife watching is to war correspondence what a body massage is to a hundred lashes with a bullwhip. I was ready for a bat-adventure.
Before you leave Michael’s site, support the next dispatch.
Tim Lynch and Shem Klimiuk: if you need to go somewhere in Afghanistan, these are the men to call. Unarmored, low profile. Dangerous.
Don’t miss Michael Yon’s latest dispatch. Excerpt:
The Wilds, Afghanistan
Since leaving the British embed, I’ve gone unilateral. I flew back and forth between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, drove around and talked with people down south, then flew up to Kabul. In Kabul, I met Tim Lynch and Shem Klimiuk (a retired USMC and ex-Aussie paratrooper, respectively), and we drove in an unarmored truck east to Jalalabad. The canyon-filled drive would be dangerous even if there was no war, but there is a war – a rapidly growing one — and Tim pointed out burnt spots on the road where ambushes had occurred. I was unarmed, and counting on the military experience of my two guides as well as their combined seven years experience in Afghanistan. In the weeks that I would spend with Tim and Shem, we drove more than a thousand miles up and down Afghan roads without the slightest drama, except that Tim scares me with his driving. If you are rich and want the adventure of a lifetime, contact Tim Lynch. You might die. But if you live, you’ll come back with a new perspective on Afghanistan.
…As we drove along the road between Kabul and Jalalabad, Tim stopped the truck near Sarobi, where we could see the village in the valley below. Tim said that Sarobi is “HIG” country, and that it was actually HIG who killed the French. Not the Taliban. HIG, or Hizb-I Islami Gulbuddin, was founded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord who hates the U.S. HIG is a terrorist group and a faction of Hizb-I Islami, all with ties to al Qaeda and Bin Laden. Hekmatyar offered homestead to Bin Laden more than ten years ago. Collectively, we call these groups (and others) “Taliban,” but that blanket term is not completely accurate. The Afghanistan/Pakistan insurgency is a complex, distributed and hydra-headed network of different people fighting for different reasons. Sometimes they work together, sometimes they don’t. If they “succeed” in kicking us out of Afghanistan, they will probably end up fighting each other. Some of the people we call Taliban are al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. Others are local insurgents fighting for revenge, self-respect, or because they’re simple, ornery mountain folk who have traded in their spears and torches for AKs and RPGs. Iraq is a few decades behind the west; Afghanistan is practically on a different planet.
There are many incredible photos.
Tags: Afghanistan, Iraq
Just received an email from Michael Yon from Bangkok:
I have just left Nepal and landed in Bangkok, en route to Kabul. My plan is to spend some time in Afghanistan, head back over to Iraq in late September, then possibly return to Afghanistan before the year’s end. In any case, I plan to keep my boots in Iraq and Afghanistan through the U.S. elections.
Meanwhile, Michael just put up a dispatch which begins:
By now, no credible person denies the dramatic success that continues to manifest itself in Iraq. No doubt, there will be years of political dramas ahead for that country, and when they occur, we will blame ourselves for them, as is our habit. Americans have a tendency to blame ourselves nearly everything from wildfires to genocidal wars on the other side of the globe. And what we don’t blame ourselves for, others will. Some might see our ability to take initiative and shoulder responsibility as naiveté. I think it’s one of America’s greatest strengths.
Many people around the world see America in decline. As someone who travels a great deal, I see the opposite. America is just getting started. Yes, we face enormous challenges and dangerous enemies. But the soul of our country, the initiative of our people, and the depth of the collective intelligence are all far stronger than our critics, and even many Americans, imagine. Al Qaeda thought that America would fall to her knees after 9/11. They were wrong. Today we hunt them like jackals.
Of course, the Iraq war has led some to think that the United States has committed a tragic imperial overreach. Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant, a truth widely accepted by the international community. Yet the international community can do little about evil tyrants. They leave that up to us, complaining when we do nothing and criticizing when we take action.
However history finally judges him, President Bush will be remembered for two decisions. In 2003, he invaded Iraq. And in 2006, he did not surrender.
Whether or not the first decision was right seems difficult to answer definitively without falling back onto ideological bias, partisan politics, or wishful thinking. Reasonable people likely will disagree about that decision for as long as the event is remembered. If Iraq falls apart or again becomes a tyrant state, then Bush was a brash, imperialistic President invading a sovereign nation without cause, who made things worse and spent lots of money and lives in doing so. If Iraq becomes a stable and prosperous nation even vaguely similar to the United Arab Emirates or Qatar, then most fair-minded people likely will judge Mr. Bush as a little-understood visionary who paid a moderate price to dramatically improve an important region of the world.
But few reasonable people who have been paying attention can disagree that the second decision was correct. In January 2007, one prominent Senator predicted that the Surge would only deepen the sectarian conflict in Iraq. “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there: In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”
Now it’s difficult to tell exactly what Senator Obama thinks about the Surge, for each remark he makes on the subject seems to veer in a different direction without ever actually going anywhere.
Tags: Afghanistan, Iraq
Military historians will likely say things like “the enemy always gets a vote”, and “wars almost always are punctuated by mistakes”. Both very true, but I have concluded that all of the NATO militaries need new missions and thus new structures. I believe that Tom Barnett got it about right in The Pentagon’s New Map — that to help the remaining “Gap” countries to join the globalized “Core” we need a structure that would substitute the “SysAdmin” force for very roughly half of traditional military spending.
For example, when the next generation of historians write objective histories of Afghanistan and Iraq, I speculate that they will argue that much of the the Bush Administration’s supposed ineptness is due to a nearly complete absence of SysAdmin-type nation-building forces. In the existing, traditional structure the SysAdmin function is supposed to be performed by the Department of State. Anyone following closely the post 9/11 efforts will have noted that “State” failed to show up for duty. Fortunately the U.S. military has learned and adapted to pick up some of State’s responsibility — else both Afghanistan and Iraq would have no chance of long-term success. But funding, training and promotion-incentives have all worked against that transition — so even after five years of learning the actual SysAdmin capability is much weaker than required.
For more, see this 2006 post, and these posts and articles on the SysAdmin function. For a short summary of the critical importance of this “Unified Action” concept, see this post on Austin Bay’s interview with Rumsfeld — excerpt:
â€¦Undeterred, I decided to ask a question that goes to the heart of Americaâ€™s ability (or inability) to win long-term, multidimensional 21st century wars.
My question: â€œMr. Secretary, based on our experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the limited interagency and non-governmental organization (NGO) participation in that operation, how do you see â€˜Unified Actionâ€™ evolving for future conflicts?â€
Forgive the military jargon â€” at one time I was Col. Bay â€” but the question is essential. It also altered the luncheon ambiance. As I asked it, I saw our very steady chairman of the joint chiefs, Gen. Peter Pace, pass Rumsfeld a careful stare.
â€œIâ€™ll tell you weâ€™re better at it now than we were five years ago,â€ Rumsfeld replied. He acknowledged that â€œchallenges remainâ€ in achieving Unified Action and that effective Unified Action is critical to winning 21st century wars.
Heâ€™s right â€” we are better at it than we were. However, I know we arenâ€™t as good at it as we need to be.
The politically deft SecDef finessed the question â€” and it was finesse, not dodge. The military jargon masked a heavy political hand grenade I was rolling toward the Beltway. You think Harry Reidâ€™s land deal or Mark Foleyâ€™s messages are big stories? How about a stinging pre-election turf battle between Defense and the departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Commerce and Agriculture, complete with zinger accusations of who is or isnâ€™t contributing to the war effort?
I know, thatâ€™s quite a claim, which is why I need to translate the mil-speak: Unified Action means coordinating and synchronizing every â€œtool of powerâ€ America possesses to achieve a political end â€” like winning a global war for national survival against terrorists who hijack economically and politically fragile nations and provinces.
People understand the role of soldiers and cops in a war, but in 21st century wars where economic and political development are determinative, an arborist at the Department of Agriculture and a Commerce Department trade consultant can be powerful contributors to â€œUnified Action.â€
No one can return from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I recently did, without believing that these are wars that can still be won. They are also clearly wars that can still be lost, but visits to the battlefield show that these conflicts are very different from the wars being described in American political campaigns and most of the debates outside the United States.
Of the critics of nation building in Iraq, Anthony Cordesman of CSIS [Center for Strategic and International Studies] is arguably the most objective and well-informed. I’ve been reading Cordesman’s studies since 9/11, finding them a good source of insights, generally objective and frank. In this op-ed for the Washington Post he reports on his most recent tour of the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq.
…The military situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are very different. The United States and its allies are winning virtually every tactical clash in both countries. In Iraq, however, al-Qaeda is clearly losing in every province. It is being reduced to a losing struggle for control of Nineveh and Mosul. There is a very real prospect of coalition forces bringing a reasonable degree of security if decisions such as Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s announcement Friday to extend his militia’s cease-fire six months continue over a period of years.
The piece closes with:
…What the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have in common is that it will take a major and consistent U.S. effort throughout the next administration at least to win either war. Any American political debate that ignores or denies the fact that these are long wars is dishonest and will ensure defeat. There are good reasons that the briefing slides in U.S. military and aid presentations for both battlefields don’t end in 2008 or with some aid compact that expires in 2009. They go well beyond 2012 and often to 2020.
If the next president, Congress and the American people cannot face this reality, we will lose. Years of false promises about the speed with which we can create effective army, police and criminal justice capabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot disguise the fact that mature, effective local forces and structures will not be available until 2012 and probably well beyond. This does not mean that U.S. and allied force levels cannot be cut over time, but a serious military and advisory presence will probably be needed for at least that long, and rushed reductions in forces or providing inadequate forces will lead to a collapse at the military level.
The most serious problems, however, are governance and development. Both countries face critical internal divisions and levels of poverty and unemployment that will require patience. These troubles can be worked out, but only over a period of years. Both central governments are corrupt and ineffective, and they cannot bring development and services without years of additional aid at far higher levels than the Bush administration now budgets. Blaming weak governments or trying to rush them into effective action by threatening to leave will undercut them long before they are strong enough to act.
Any American political leader who cannot face these realities, now or in the future, will ensure defeat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Any Congress that insists on instant victory or success will do the same. We either need long-term commitments, effective long-term resources and strategic patience — or we do not need enemies. We will defeat ourselves.
That sounds much like John McCain — and very definitely not what I hear Obama and Clinton saying. I highly recommend the associated 9-page PDF report VICTORY AND VIOLENCE IN IRAQ: Reducing the “Irreducible Minimum”, which supplies important detail absent in the op-ed. In particular, the report notes that:
(1) the “surge” troop levels were still too small, but were able to achieve the level of success we have observed due to the unexpected Sunni Awakening and Moqtada al Sadr’s ceasefire.
(2) the civilian aid/development teams supposed to be supplied by the Department of State never showed up — so DOS continues its near perfect record of non-performance.
(3) disappointment is due those expecting complete elimination of the shocking suicide bombings much-loved by media. Personally I find it hard to imagine a future time when motivated suicide bombers can be completely suppressed [unless Iraq adopts a Saddam, Soviet-style police state approach].
The US needs to accept the fact it will probably have to deal with significant levels of AQI violence for at least several years to come, and quite possibly through the life of the next Administration. We need to be patient enough not to have our policies and position in Iraq driven by residual, low-level attacks. In practice, this means timing further US reductions to match proven increases in Iraqi security force capabilities; using a US presence to help ensure political stability in areas where AQI and other extremists have been defeated; keeping large numbers of embedded trainers in the army and police; and providing continuing support in the form of air strikes, artillery, armor, and sustainability.
…The present successes of the US “win and hold” strategy will be difficult to sustain in the greater Baghdad area and western and central Iraq after the coming reduction to 15 brigades. They will be even more difficult to sustain if US forces are reduced beyond this level before Iraqi forces and political accommodation create the conditions to make such reductions less risk-prone.
(4) the present central government is “corrupt, incompetent, and ineffective in moving money even to Shi’ite areas”.
The associated PDF The Situation in Iraq/ A Briefing from the Battlefield provides more visuals — maps and slides.
Lastly, Cordesman’s recommendations on Afghanistan are summarized in this letter to Gen. Rodriquez.