A True Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Is Trump's Only Hope

A True Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Is Trump's Only Hope by John Nagl - The National Interest

Last night, Donald Trump became the third consecutive U.S. president to commit to a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He did not do so willingly; indeed, like President George W. Bush, Donald Trump had campaigned explicitly on the idea of abandoning nation-building campaigns like those conducted by his predecessor. But there are only three options when your enemy chooses to fight you as an insurgent: quit, conduct a scorched-earth campaign that kills everyone and destroys everything, or commit to counterinsurgency.

We cannot afford to quit. In the best two lines of his speech, President Trump laid out U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as is possible: “We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America. And we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us or anywhere in the world.”

Leaving Afghanistan would quickly result in the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, and the resumption of a safe haven for terror in Afghanistan, which cost us dearly on September 11, 2001. The United States cannot follow the Roman method of making a desert and calling it peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And so Trump, like Bush and Obama before him, chose a counterinsurgency strategy, not as his first choice, but as the least bad option available…

Read on.

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From our article above:

BEGIN QUOTE OF OUR AUTHOR -- LTC (RET) JOHN NAGL

In a counterinsurgency campaign, one goal is to kill or capture terrorists, as the president proclaimed. But the primary objective is to build a local government that earns the support of its people by meeting their needs.

END QUOTE

This suggested "primary goal of a counterinsurgency campaign ... to build a local government that earns the support of its people by meeting their needs;" this such thought/assertion would seem to be wrong.

Rather, the primary goal of counterinsurency campaigns -- yesterday as today (and, ideally, the primary goal of all foreign intervention, military or otherwise?) -- this would seem to be to better provide for the wants, needs and desires (i.e., the strategic interests?):

a. Not of the local populations. But, rather, the wants, needs and desires (to wit: the strategic interests)

b. Of the foreign intervening powers and of the states and societies that make up same.

Thus, once one comes to this understanding, to wit: that "counterinsurgencies" (as with all foreign interventionist activity?) is, or should be, designed to better provide for the wants, needs and desires -- not of the locals -- but, rather, of the foreigners,

Then, from this exact such "foreign powers' strategic interests" point of view -- re: counterinsurgencies -- that I provide above:

a. Do we agree -- or disagree -- with COL Maxwell's thought from his comment below?

BEGIN QUOTE FROM COL (RET) MAXWELL'S COMMENT BELOW

It is my belief that no external nation/military can conduct effective counterinsurgency in another country. An external military that conducts counterinsurgency becomes by definition an occupying power or a colonial ruler. Only the indigenous government and its security forces can conduct effective counterinsurgency.

END QUOTE

And also from this exact such "foreign powers'-centric" counterinsurgency viewpoint -- that I provide above --

b. Do we agree or disagree with the quoted "true counterinsurgency campaign primary objective" assertion made by LTC Nagl (see the top of my comment here)?

Yes the USA can quit. It will not be the first time the USA has decided to quit a quagmire after spending so much US$ and blood.

I do not only refer to Vietnam, from my limited historical knowledge the USA left several nearer Central American insurgencies awhile ago and the increasingly risky post-VJ Day intervention in China (with a USMC Corps ashore).

What keeps the USA in Afghanistan is partly domestic politics, the wider implications as a superpower - changing its mind and a fair amount of emotion. For having made such a huge contribution having persuaded itself and a number of allies it was needed - can it leave? Shades of another myth "Who lost China?"

The Afghans have their own way of life; negotiation before fighting and getting as much as possible from outsiders. Yes Afghanistan has changed, somehow I doubt much is built on solid foundations. Once the money, air power and more is gone they will make their own way. Sad. True.

It is my belief that no external nation/military can conduct effective counterinsurgency in another country. An external military that conducts counterinsurgency becomes by definition an occupying power or a colonial ruler. Only the indigenous government and its security forces can conduct effective counterinsurgency.

We also cannot build local governments. That is up to the indigenous population. (some of the words in the President's speech were important - we cannot create other countries in our image).

The question is can Afghanistan develop a sufficiently capable government that can direct all its elements of national power to wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign that threatens its existence? Or said another way, can Afghanistan be self governed in a way that is sufficient to maintain reasonable stability (as defined by Afghanistan) and prevent its territory from being used a a safe haven from which to plan, support, and conduct terrorist attacks around the world? But we are likely to never know this as long as we keep trying to do it for them.

We can of course conduct effective counterterrorism operations to capture/kill high value targets that seek to do harm to the US and our interests. But in terms of counterinsurgency the best we can do is to advise and assist a sovereign nation state in its internal development and defense programs to help them defend themselves against lawless, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism. We cannot do it for them.

And lastly I would say that war - with whatever characteristics - is the graduate level of war. We need to study and be proficient in the full spectrum of war.

" prevent its territory from being used a a safe haven from which to plan, support, and conduct terrorist attacks around the world."

It won't but neither can Germany, France, Belgium, Spain or the US for that matter. Put another way the standard you mention is the same as requiring a state to stop all organized crime. This is why invading Afghanistan to "stop terrorism" was such a fool's errand and continuing the mission pointless.

"We can of course conduct effective counter terrorism operations to capture/kill high value targets...".

OK as long as we're clear that the Taliban shouldn't be on the list but of course they (or people we think are part of them) make up the majority of HVTs. I suspect the total DA troops required for real CT as opposed to chasing after Afghans who object to foreign occupation, is about a platoon.

“We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America."

Nonsense. Since at least 40% of Afghanistan is in jihadi hands as well as much of Pakistan how has anything the US done prevented terrorists from threatening America? Are the valleys controlled by the Taliban over the last 15 years not conducive to learning how to build an IED or shoot an AK? Has the presence of US FOBs prevented anyone from getting a passport or an airline ticket. 2,000 odd dead US soldiers and ~ $ 1 trillion down the drain is conclusive proof that whatever the US has done in Afghanistan- preventing terrorism hasn't occurred.

The US invaded and occupied Afghanistan because it had to hit out at someone.
The public wanted revenge and Afghanistan was handy. Now more billions will being wasted and more troops will be put in harms way mainly to protect the egos of a handful of federal employees.