June 27, 2008

Could Afghanistan Use a "Surge?"

Hatched by Dafydd

A new Pentagon report on the lack of progress in training up the Afghan army raises an important question; do we need to implement a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan? Many people glibly suggest just such a strategic change; but it's by no means certain it would work even if we tried it.

The Pentagon report was scathing about the lack of progress of the Afghan army:

The assessment was bluntly pessimistic as it described efforts to train the Army and police.

As of March, it said, just one Army battalion and a headquarters unit could operate independently, while 26 battalions, five brigade headquarters and two corps headquarters units could plan and execute counterinsurgency operations with the support of coalition forces.

In addition, as of the spring, the U.S. had provided only 44 percent of the nearly 2,400 trainers needed for the Afghan Army, and just 39 percent of the mentors for the Afghan police.

Development of the Afghan police is taking longer and has been hindered by "corruption, insufficient U.S. military trainers and advisers, and a lack of unity of effort within the international community," the report noted.

The recent deployment of 1,200 U.S. Marines to serve as trainers for the police has beefed up the totals, but when those troops leave in the fall, the need for 1,400 police mentors will remain.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates notes that a major motivator of the resurgence of the Taliban has been the steady loss of control of the Pakistan government by President Pervez Musharraf, in favor of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister, who favors negotiating with al-Qaeda and other insurgents, rather than suppressing them, which was Musharraf's policy:

A key to the deterioration there, he said, has been recent efforts by Pakistan to negotiate peace agreement with tribal leaders along the lawless border. Those talks, he said, took the pressure off insurgent groups and "they've therefore been more free to be able to cross the border and create problems for us."

The report concurs, calling the insurgents' safe havens in Pakistan's tribal areas along the border "the greatest challenge to long-term security" in Afghanistan.

So what about developing a COIN strategy for Afghanistan, similar to that which was so successful in Iraq? It may not be as easy to do as to say. For one major problem, the 32,000-troop strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) -- the NATO troops in Afghanistan -- currently has the lead for all combat and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The commander of the ISAF is, I believe, currently Gen. David D. McKiernan, USA; but the ISAF reports to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, in Belgium.

I don't think Gen. McKiernan's chain of command passes through CENTCOM; but the non-ISAF, non-NATO American forces there, as part of the continuing Operation Enduring Freedom, do report to CENTCOM -- which will mean reporting to Gen. David Petraeus, as soon as Senate Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 85%) finally gets around to allowing a confirmation vote. The 8,000 members of the OEF forces are responsible for anti-terrorist operations -- which sounds promising -- but also for training the Afghan army, which hasn't gone very well.

(I know it's confusing; just remember that there is a NATO-coalition -- that is led by the United States -- and there is a separate American-coalition; both these coalitions include many other countries.)

The biggest hurdle is that there would an inherent command conflict between the ISAF and OEF in the event of a COIN strategy: If we're really going to beef up the OEF in a significant way and use counterinsurgency strategy, a la Iraq, to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, that would completely nullify the transition of combat lead to NATO's ISAF.

The tempo of operations would shift away from NATO and back to the United States; and I guarantee the Europeans would scream bloody, blue murder -- echoed by the Democrats, who, in case you've forgotten in all the excitement, still control Congress and congressional war-funding.

It would doubtless be much easier for Congress to justify a vote to withhold funding in Afghanistan because we're "screwing NATO" -- than to withhold funding in Iraq because we're winning. Bottom line: We need some Democratic Party support... which means that if there is any COIN program, it would have to be primarily led by the NATO-coalition, not the American-coalition.

But I don't know whether the NATO-coalition would agree to a COIN strategy, since that would involve increasing their troop commitments... though we might be able to gain their approval if we supplied virtually all the "surging" troops ourselves; which would probably be better anyway, because we could bring them all from CENTCOM.

But even so, it's not necessarily going to work as well in Afghanistan as it has in Iraq, for a very simple reason: For two major reasons, we are deprived of the deep well of resentment and hatred of the terrorists that benefitted us in Iraq:

  • Iraqi Sunni comprised very civilized tribes that had always enjoyed some autonomy, but who had been ruled with an iron fist for two or three years, by the likes of Musab Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. That terrorist group committed such gruesome atrocities, wanton savagery, totalitarian religious dictatorship, and crimes against humanity, that many Sunni tribes were only too happy to rise up against them and go to war for their own liberation.

    Gen. Petraeus sent Col. David Kilcullen to many tribes, where the Australian counterinsurgency expert helped them set up "Salvation Councils" to ally with Coalition forces. Without those native counterinsurgents, we might not have won.

  • Iraqi Shia were (and are) spiritually led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who guided them away from Iranian dominance so strongly that Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was finally compelled to go to war against the Shiite terrorists and Iranian proxies... primarily the Mahdi Militia, led by Iranian puppet Muqtada Sadr. Again, without the enmity between Iraq and Iraq, Persia and Arabia, we might not have gained Shiite support... which was critical in making the counterinsurgency work.

Neither of these happy circumstances prevail in Afghanistan: The Taliban and al-Qaeda were kicked out in 2001, so it's been nearly seven years since anyone had to live under that rule. Out of sight, out of mind.

And there really is no bitter rivalry or jealousy between the tribes in the south and east, which span the border bewteen Afghanistan and Pakistan; the Taliban and al-Qaeda are still strong and growing stronger in the latter country, and that is the source of the continued insurgency in Afghanistan. The tribes on both sides the border speak the same languages, believe in the same sect of Islam, and see themselves politically as superceding the artificial border -- which was drawn by the United Kingdom in the 19th century -- in the superstate of "Pashtunistan."

I'm not saying that a counterinsurgency cannot work in Afghanistan, but it's going to look very, very different from the one that was so successful in Iraq. And it almost certainly would have to cover all of "Pashtunistan," including the part that lies in the geographical state of Pakistan. That's a very wobbly tightrope to walk, and I suspect it will have to wait until we have a new president.

Assuming, of course, that the new president is the old coot, not the callow youth.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 27, 2008, at the time of 7:02 PM

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The following hissed in response by: TerryeL

Afghanistan is also more backward than Iraq. And then there is the whole opium thing.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2008 4:38 PM

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