Small Wars Journal

Afghanistan Options: Leave, Increase, Stand Pat, or Cut Back?

Afghanistan Options: Leave, Increase, Stand Pat, or Cut Back? By Bing West - Hoover Institution

After 17 years on a treadmill, obviously no good option exists. But to pull out our troops would be to repeat Saigon in 1975. The consequences to America’s credibility would be crushing. Unlike in the Vietnam case, no domestic political movement is dedicated to insuring a total, humiliating withdrawal. Conversely, no American power center, bureaucratic or political, is lobbying to increase our force numbers.

Similarly, no influential groups are lobbying to cut back at this time in our domestic electoral cycle. Our casualties are low, few American journalists remain in Afghanistan, and our expenditures there are small in comparison to our gargantuan appetite to spend money our children will have to repay.

So, at least until the next American presidential election, we will stand pat in Afghanistan. A stalemate is likely to continue for the next several years. Our electronic and overhead intelligence, coupled with our air and artillery, will attrite the Taliban whenever they mass. The Taliban are mostly Pashto, and the Afghan National Army is mostly non-Pashto. ANA soldiers lack the spirit and incentive to patrol in small numbers in the rural areas. So we are deploying advisers to patrol with the ANA soldiers. This will insure a modest improvement. In the net, the Taliban are too weak to seize the cities and too tenacious to be driven from the countryside along the Pakistan border…

Read on.

Comments

Bill C.

Thu, 03/08/2018 - 1:38pm

In reply to by Warlock

Warlock: Above you said:

"You are still assuming that any government forming a relationship with the U.S. is automatically at odds with the wishes of its population."

Question:

If we assume the opposite of this -- for example -- that many/most governments forming a relationship with the U.S. automatically have the support of their populations.

Then, in that such context -- which you seem to prefer -- how do we explain why "internal defense" preparations and forces now appear to be mandated -- apparently across the "development" board -- these:

a. Preferably to be done "preemptively," i.e., BEFORE the destabilizing "internal development" phase begins (this making your "go find them" thought seem rather out of place?) but, in any case,

b. To definitely be achieved?

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

As to the nexus between "internal development" (to wit: political, economic, social and/or value "change?") and "internal defense" (having in place the proper military, police and intelligence forces needed to see these, often destabilizing, "joint" development projects through?);

As to this such nexus, the item that I provide above -- from Joint Publication 3-20, Security Cooperation -- this such item seems to:

a. Clearly support (and, indeed, clearly acknowledge, anticipate, and, thus, clearly mandate planning and preparations for) my "unwilling populations" scenario. And, accordingly, this such item seems to:

b. Clearly reject your "has the support of the populations" considerations, to wit: a scenario within which (a) an "internal development" and "internal defense" nexus and (b) such things as mandated -- and preferably "preemptive" -- internal military, police and intelligence preparations; these (c) become much more difficult to explain. Yes?

Warlock

Thu, 03/08/2018 - 8:38am

In reply to by Bill C.

You missed the part that says, "It focuses on both security and building viable civic, social, and economic institutions that respond to the needs of that nation’s population." Focus on the last part of that sentence.

You're still assuming that any government forming a relationship with the U.S. is automatically at odds with the wishes of its population. I've given you a question to illustrate your point. I've even said you'll find a few cases illustrating local governments forcing changes on parts of its own population. Historically (although neither is current) two driven by U.S. policy. Go find 'em.

Bill C.

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 4:01pm

In reply to by Warlock

Warlock: Perhaps this will help:

BEGIN QUOTE

Internal defense and development (IDAD) is the full range of measures taken by a nation to promote its growth and protect itself from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to its security. It focuses on both security and building viable civic, social, and economic institutions that respond to the needs of that nation’s population. Ideally, IDAD represents a preemptive strategy. A foreign nation establishes an IDAD strategy in collaboration with the USG to combine internal defense with other needed developmental efforts and then implements that strategy through an IDAD program. US involvement may vary from simple military engagement and routine SC activities up to a complex foreign internal defense (FID) program. For example, SC activities for security force assistance (SFA) to build a PN’s capacity for CT support the US global campaign against transnational terrorists or SC activities for SSA to build capacity for counterinsurgency (COIN) developing a PN’s executive, generating, and operating functions in anticipation of an identified insurgency. If SC activities are not enough and the threat to a PN becomes overwhelming, then a USG FID operation may be required. In any case, execution of an IDAD program requires a collaborative effort by the US and PN governments. Likewise, foreign assistance can support routine SC activities or a FID program for HN IDAD.

END QUOTE

https://fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/jp3_20.pdf (See Page I-10.)

Based on the above, I suggest that it is not I -- but rather the U.S. government and the U.S. military themselves -- that appear to have now made the assumption that any government friendly with or cooperating with the U.S.:

a. May, indeed, be complicit in trying to force political, economic, social and/or value transformation on some unwilling portion of the population. And that, accordingly,

b. The U.S./the West -- and its "friendly" local governments -- in full acknowledgement of this such reality -- must, today, plan for and prepare (for example, see "preemptive strategy" above); this, to deal with these such, now fully acknowledged, and indeed now fully anticipated, "unwilling to be so transformed" populations.

(We don't want to get caught with our pants down again; herein thinking, as we did until recently, that "unwilling to be transformed" -- more along modern western lines -- populations; these such populations, post-the Old Cold War, were now a thing of the past. This, given that such things as "universal [western] values" -- and "the overwhelming appeal of our way of life" -- these had become the "universal population beliefs" that now ruled the day.)

Warlock

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 1:11pm

In reply to by Bill C.

You've made the automatic assumption that any government friendly with or cooperating with the U.S. is complicit in trying to force transformation on an unwilling population. As opposed to a terrorist group of between a few hundred and a few thousand members (in most cases), who may or may not be indigenous to the region (many are not).

Tell you what: excluding nationalist groups such as the IRA, ETA, LTTE, or any of the Palestinian groups seeking the elimination of Israel, find and describe a couple of these groups who so valiantly hold the population apart from the social atrocities their governments inflict upon them. (If you look hard, you'll find a few...but most are not in places with heavy U.S. engagement.)

Bill C.

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 5:01pm

In reply to by Warlock

My point is that -- contrary to your initial suggestion above --

a. Our National Security Strategies do seem to talk about "transforming the unwilling by force;" this,

b. In their statement that "The United States will stand beside any nation determined to build a better future by seeking the rewards of liberty for its people."

(The deployment of our military forces -- throughout much of the world today -- this to be seen, significantly, in exactly this such light?)

And, given that these such "friendly" (to the Soviets back in the day; to the U.S./the West today) local governments often seek to transform their states and their societies more along -- alien and profane -- political, economic, social and/or lines;

Given these such matters, then one cannot assume that these such "friendly" local government are, in fact, "supported by their populations desiring something different."

(Such a suggestion would not seem to explain the "endless war" that the Soviets/the communists faced back-in-the-day; nor would it seem to explain the [understandably similar?] "endless war" that the U.S./the West appears to be facing today?)

Warlock

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 3:46pm

In reply to by Bill C.

What's your point? That armed terrorists with the stated objective of returning the political and cultural map to the 7th century (which somehow leaves them in charge) have more legitimacy than recognized governments supported by their populations desiring something different, simply because the former represent your theory, and the latter do not?

Bill C.

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 3:00pm

In reply to by Warlock

Warlock: Above you said:

BEGIN QUOTE

So far as your interpretation of the 2002 NSS, you missed the line in the preface that says, "The United States will stand beside any nation determined to build a better future by seeking the rewards of liberty for its people." While that NSS and all subsequent have some language about promoting democracy and market economies, it's all implemented through international organizations and foreign aid.

END QUOTE

Thought:

As we all know, U.S./Western military forces operate, throughout the world today, to support friendly local governments; this, for example, with their efforts to promote democracy and establish viable market economies. (And, indeed, to protect same.)

Example:

BEGIN QUOTE

Why the U.S. Military is in Somalia:

The U.S. response to the challenges in Somalia has been to work with the Federal Government and the Federal Member state administrations, in coordination with the African Union, the United Nations, and other partners working toward a common goal: to support Somali-led efforts to stabilize and rebuild their country along democratic and federal lines.

END QUOTE

http://www.africom.mil/media-room/article/30125/why-the-u-s-military-is…

This being the case, not only in Somalia but in other areas of the less-developed world also, then should we not agree that -- on a fairly large scale -- and indirectly if not directly:

a. "Force" is indeed being used (for example: against the Islamists -- and the members of the local populations supporting same -- in the Greater Middle East and Africa?]; this:

b. To support these such, shall we say, "joint" development projects; projects which often do have -- if not a democracy promotion element -- then certainly a market economy promotion element?

"Transformative" projects which are often challenged by members of the local populations -- and/or by other states and societies -- and who, accordingly, often require "force" to be used; this, to see these such projects through?

(Note: Much as with the case of the Soviets/the communists of old, likewise with case of the U.S./the West today, one should not confuse the fact of a "friendly local government;" this, with a desire of the local population to be "transformed -- either along communist -- and/or along modern western -- political, economic, social and/or values lines.)

Warlock

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:26pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Not bad...you ignored the caveat at the beginning, where Lake states, "I do not presume today to define the Administration's entire foreign policy vision," but given his position at the time, it's certainly an indicator of thought going around at the time. Of course, you also ignored the details below. When it came to fostering democracies and market economies, Lake said, "...our efforts must be demand-driven -- they must focus on nations whose people are pushing for reform or have already secured it." And true to strategy, the Clinton Administration maintained containment of Iraq started by his predecessor, and deployed additional troops primarily for humanitarian assistance - Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia.

So far as your interpretation of the 2002 NSS, you missed the line in the preface that says, "The United States will stand beside any nation determined to build a better future by seeking the rewards of liberty for its people." While that NSS and all subsequent have some language about promoting democracy and market economies, it's all implemented through international organizations and foreign aid. If you equate that with forced transformation, then only hard-core isolationism will satisfy you. Nowhere does this or any other NSS talk about transforming the unwilling by force.

As far as convergence between RC and me, you quoted me correctly, and we both seem to have what the adversary laid out in public.

From our article above:

BEGIN QUOTE

America simply cannot uproot the three main causes of the never-ending war. The first cause is the tribal competition inflamed by the Taliban’s rabid Islamist religiosity. ... The second cause is Pakistan’s support of the Taliban. ... The third cause is the economics of opium.

END QUOTE

As to COL (ret.) West's such "main cause" suggestions above, both myself -- and indeed Warlock/RantCorp below -- have made (singular rather than multiple like COL West) "main cause" alternative suggestions; these, to explain our never-ending war in Afghanistan (and elsewhere?). These such "main cause" alternative suggestions being:

a. Bill C: U.S./Western (imperial-like?) efforts to transform (more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines) and to incorporate (more into the U.S./Western sphere of power, influence and control) the outlying states and societies of the world. And:

b. Warlock/RantCorp: "They attacked us because we continued to maintain forces in Saudi Arabia, pursuing a containment (not transformation) strategy in the aftermath of Desert Storm, and because UBL was also hoping this would destabilize the Saudi government." (Guys: Did I get this right -- did I do you justice here?)

As can possibly be seen here -- from viewing these two such "alternative main cause" suggestions together -- these two such alternative main cause suggestions may not be mutually exclusive.

Herein, the Warlock/RantCorp "main cause" suggestion; this, helping to explain why the U.S./the West -- post-the 9/11 attack -- would:

a. Adopt a "weak, failed and/or failing states" thesis and, accordingly,

b. Make the decision to implement -- by force now instead of only by other means -- its clearly announced (by the U.S. in 1993 no less) post-Cold War decision to transform and incorporate the outlying states and societies of the world?

From then-National Security Advisor Anthony Lake's announcement of the 1993 Bill Clinton National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement:

BEGIN QUOTE

The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement -- enlargement of the world's free community of market democracies.

During the Cold War, even children understood America's security mission; as they looked at those maps on their schoolroom walls, they knew we were trying to contain the creeping expansion of that big, red blob.

Today, at great risk of oversimplification, we might visualize our security mission as promoting the enlargement of the "blue areas" of market democracies.

END QUOTE

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/lakedoc.html

Thus, as we all know now, when 9/11 happens, and President George W. Bush adopts the (not limited to Afghanistan?) "we are threatened now more by weak, failed and failing states" thesis; this, in his 2002 National Security Strategy, then:

a. The gloves would come off and

b. "Force," indeed, would now be used -- not only in Afghanistan but also elsewhere -- this, in an announced effort to transform the Greater Middle East (etc.?) more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines?

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Re: the "main cause" of our never ending war in Afghanistan (and, indeed, our increased difficulties throughout the world generally?), the problem would seem to be that:

a. Even if we chose now to walk away from our "transform and incorporate" missions (for example in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Ukraine),

b. The "world instability," and the significant enemies, that we have already created -- these, via our earlier "transform and incorporate"/"use of force," etc., approaches -- these would still have to be dealt with. (The Pakistan "nukes" dilemma, now for example, to be understood more in these such "we screwed the pooch big-time and, thus, things are much worse than they previously were" terms?)

THIS, I suggest, is the "can of worms" hand that President Trump -- and indeed President Obama in large part before him -- has been/was dealt; this, re: Afghanistan, Iraq, the Ukraine, etc.?

RantCorp

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 3:23am

Warlock wrote,

'They attacked us because we continued to maintain forces in Saudi Arabia, pursuing a containment (not transformation) strategy in the aftermath of Desert Storm, and because UBL was also hoping this would destabilize the Saudi government. Read his writings instead of Huntington.'

Back in the day, when there were only dozens on the ground fighting the Fruitcake, I accepted how difficult it was for folks to understand this simple fact regards the UBL circus. But now, after all that has happened since 9/11, it is depressing to note how rarely this simple but fundamental observation is heard or read. UBL had a painfully obvious Messiah Complex that made him a laughing stock to all who weren't part of his paid-up entourage/circus.

Like many very rich non-Royals in the Gulf he wanted to be the King, and the Jihadi angle was a clumsy and painfully obvious mask he deployed to cloak his delusionary sense of his own political/spiritual magnificence.

I disagree with West's take on Vietnam but I do agree we must stay the course in Afghanistan (for completely different reasons to West I hasten to add). Tactical nukes being manufactured just over the way -by the world's biggest heroin dealers being first and foremost - by-the-by.

In Vietnam we attempted to counter a Revolutionary political movement as if it were a UW campaign waged by the Chinese (Domino Theory) in the first instance and then as a COIN when the natives didn’t seem as pro-Chinese as we'd initially convinced ourselves to be the case.

In Afghanistan (having learnt our Vietnam lesson) we refuse to accept outside forces are subjecting ourselves and our friends to UW and attempt to prosecute COIN against their proxies and wonder why it's not working.

We've all got one,

RC

C.E. Callwell, in his "Small Wars: Their Principles and Practices," seems to tell us that "small wars" -- essentially -- are simply the the cost of doing the empire's business in the various regions of the non-civilized/less-civilized world. And that, accordingly, the local populations, the various segments thereof and/or the local governments/governors; none of these, in truth, are to be blamed for these such conflicts.

Emile Simpson, seeming to embrace this "small wars are simply the cost of doing the empire's business" framework; this, in her recent "There is No War in Afghanistan" article in Foreign Affairs, seems to suggest that these -- not wars but, properly understood, "imperial policing"(?) missions -- that these such missions are often of long and, indeed, indefinite duration. (Herein, Simpson citing, as an example, the near-100 period of time that the British conducted such operations in the AfPak region back-in-the-day.)

http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/29/there-is-no-war-in-afghanistan/

If these folks are correct, and if this is indeed the case (to wit: terrorism, for example, is simply "the cost of doing the empire's business;" this, in various regions of the non-civilized/less-civilized world yesterday as today) -- if these folks are correct in this regard,

Then should we, accordingly, forego notions of, shall we say, either (a) "achieving victory" and/or (b) "going home?"

(This, given that "victory"/"going home" -- it would seem -- would require that the outlying states and societies of the world -- sometime in the far off future -- would somehow become "civilized;" that is, become adequately organized, ordered, oriented more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines?)

Vicrasta

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 4:06pm

In reply to by cammo99

BEGIN:

"My point is, that at this moment the longest war is the least impacting on American life."

END

In the last 16.5 years, when was this not the case?

I guarantee when those "mid-thirties" you mentioned are 50, the world will be a different place. The "exporting security" and keeping America safe lies will be gone and buried. At mid-thirties, some of them have served or are still serving. Waiting to retire and take up another torch. Congress, industry...whatever. We have time and will bring the younger demographics with us. They include the teenagers you see of tv speaking about against a variety of injustice.

"The Millennial Generation, those roughly 87 million men and women born between 1980 and 1997, now represent one-quarter of the U.S. population. With those on the leading edge of Millennials now hitting their mid-thirties, this cohort is becoming increasingly influential."Millennials in U.S. Foreign Policy
Posted by Cameo Cheung. I found this quote when I was looking for back ground on Colonel Goepner, a man I do not agree with but probably states the millennial point of view on the Endless War.
First we should acknowledge that it was not a peace movement that brought the US military to a halt in Vietnam, it was the draft resistance movement, and like fathers and sons mothers and daughters and all the other hypothesized sexes. An antipathy for the military was handed down. Explaining in part, why there have been no organized or even unorganized anti-war protests.
What may be the most discouraging aspect of the long war is that it has involved the least casualties of any war let alone the longest, not to belittle our dead and wounded service and sacrifice. Goepner estimates the war has cost 1.8 to 4 trillion. President Obama increased the deficit 9 trillion. Mostly to fund social programs.
My point is, that at this moment the longest war is the least impacting on American life.
But lets look at that figure of 87 million, According to new data released only 71% of them are even fit for military duty. A failed education system, Drugs, gang tattoos, a plethora of ailments like asthma, ADHD, etc. Obesity, criminal records. The Winter Olympics was possibly one of the most disappointing in my life time public school athletic programs are in part blamed for the poor showing.
And we still hear congressional reps complain the only reason people select military service in time of war is for the money?
If 71% of our millennial population can not serve what is the effect on their sense of supporting American military institutions? What is their stake in it, they become apathetic even hostile to the idea that any money is being spent to upgrade or maintain a defense that precludes the possibility of another 9-11. You don't get that assurance by retreating from the world and ignoring the Taliban an Islamic extremist group that practices crimes against humanity as religious acts. We can note the Taliban is mostly Pashto the Afghan Army not and the world might be a different place if the British had not divided the Pashtos by an international border. What does that even mean? In terms of a war that began because the Taliban ran Afghanistan.
Last year 60,000 Americans died from heroin abuse 90% of the heroin in the world is grown in Afghanistan. The Soviets had a similar problem with heroin deaths after its Army left Afghanistan.
Yet it is not the explosion in poppy production in Afghanistan that is the main reason people are dying en masse from opiade use, it is the addition of fentanyl added to cocaine and heroin. Despite the most abundant production of heroin in Afghanistan, the bulk of American's heroin comes from Guatemala, Mexico and he fentanyl from China.
It is a peculiar circumstance America is best placed to police the poppy trade afflicting the worlds heroin addicts from Afghanistan perhaps because it does not pose the same threat to America in terms of exports even though the Taliban is doubling its crops and funding the war with poppy penny's. Mexico continues to pour heroin across our border and despite the recent scandal San Francisco had revealing about 20 miles of streets that will cost 30 million dollars to sanitize of human feces and dirty needles it remains a sanctuary city and advocates continue to push an open border policy despite the opiate death crisis and the openly decadent life styles that pose a health crisis.
I would like to see America rise and stand tall again.
I would like to believe that we could have an Olympics where the featured stories aren't the Gold medals not won and the Olympians who turn down invitations to be honored by the White House. But I am afraid our under educated over weight drug addicted millennials can't rise from their couches.
How are such people ever going to have an interest in much of anything let alone a strong military that they probably feel inadequate maybe even humiliated by the fact they may never serve. But they can throw on Call of Duty and maybe one day they will begin issuing DD-214s to the best of the competitors.
Sorry Mr. West having one of those days, love your books. Thank you for your service.

Warlock

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 3:58pm

In reply to by Bill C.

No.

Bing West is wrong -- he needs to stop refighting Vietnam within Afghanistan. We CAN walk away. Certainly that would be a blow to the factions within Afghanistan who rode U.S. assistance into Kabul and declared themselves a ruling government. But Afghanistan isn't Vietnam. Afghan "society" is fragmented by clan, by ethnicity, by geography. Only a fraction of this polyglot recognizes the government in Kabul as anything other than a set of hands to be paid off. The small collection of newly-minted Afghan expats would wail if we left...the rest of the country, for the most part, wouldn't care, and wouldn't follow.

You're wrong -- you need to stop hammering your square peg into not-square holes by twisting any convenient phrase into something supporting your preconceived conclusion. AQ didn't attack us to combat some grand strategy of transforming the rest of the world into us. They attacked us because we continued to maintain forces in Saudi Arabia, pursuing a containment (not transformation) strategy in the aftermath of Desert Storm, and because UBL was also hoping this would destabilize the Saudi government. Read his writings instead of Huntington.

We are victims of our desire for neat endings. We'd have been far better off in 2001/2 if we'd simply destroyed the infrastructure supporting AQ, told whoever held Kabul we'd be back with more explosives if they let terrorists set up shop in their territory again, and concentrated on quietly finding and eliminating UBL. We'd have been far better off in 2003/4 if we'd settled for helping sweep the rubble to the curbs, whoever claimed to rule from Baghdad what would happen if they set themselves back on trying to be a regional nuisance, and concentrated on minimizing Iranian influence in the aftermath. But those are messy and inconclusive, and politicians can't hold such endings up as reasons for re-election.

From our article above:

BEGIN QUOTE

America simply cannot uproot the three main causes of the never-ending war. The first cause is the tribal competition inflamed by the Taliban’s rabid Islamist religiosity. ... The second cause is Pakistan’s support of the Taliban. ... The third cause is the economics of opium.

END QUOTE

Have you ever noticed that -- here as in many/most of our articles -- the U.S./the West -- and what we are actually doing in the world -- that these two such items do not seem to exist.

And, indeed, if our existence -- and/or what we are actually doing in the world -- if these are actually acknowledged -- in some minor way -- then these such matters are NEVER suggested as, for example, (a) one of (or indeed THE) "main causes of the never-ending wars" and, thus, (b) one of (or indeed THE) ways that we can go about trying to "fix" things.

Un-Flipping-Believable.

Compare this to, for example, how "small wars" were viewed in C.E. Callwell's time:

"Small wars are a heritage of extended empire, a certain epilogue to encroachments into lands beyond the confines of existing civilization and this has been so from the early ages to the present time. ... The great nation which seeks expansion in remote quarters of the globe must accept the consequences. Small wars dog the footsteps of the "pioneers of civilization" in the regions afar off."

(The quotes around the "pioneers of civilization" are mine.)

So, in an effort to rectify this matter, let me first (a) paraphrase Bing West above and, via this approach, (b) attempt to find an answer to our "what to do" questions:

PARAPHRASING BING WEST:

America CAN uproot the main cause of these never-ending wars. This such main cause is the U.S/the West's post-Cold War attempts to transform (more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines) and incorporate (more into the U.S./Western sphere of power, influence and control) the outlying states and societies of the world.

END PARAPHRASE

So:

If we address the "main cause of these never-ending wars" -- as C.E. Callwell does more generally in his "Small Wars" -- and as I do more specifically in my paraphrase of Bing West above --

Then is there, indeed, something that we might do; this, in an effort to facilitate the end to these such (otherwise) never-ending wars?