Small Wars Journal

Confusion in Afghanistan

Confusion in Afghanistan - Ehsan Ahrari, Khaleej Times opinion.

As President Barack H. Obama is edging toward making up his mind about accepting, partially accepting, or not accepting General Stanley McChrystal's advice to insert more troops in Afghanistan, I hear an abundance of metaphors flying. One metaphor used by Obama during the presidential campaign, when he described starting the war in Iraq to driving a bus into ditch. That metaphor is being reprinted (recently by the New York Times). Rory Stewart, a Professor at Harvard and an opponent of the option of increasing the troops is using the metaphor "driving off a cliff". Steven Biddle, a Fellow at CFR, calls it "a war that is worth waging, 
but only barely." John Nagle, who built his reputation by being one of General David Petraeus' assistants, and a person whose doctoral dissertation was on counter-insurgency (and a very good read), calls the war in Afghanistan "a better war."

The debate within the Principals Committee in the White House is reported to be waging along the lines of COIN or counter-terrorism. What is missing from all these metaphors and depictions is what should be our strategy 
in Afghanistan. If the United States is committed to remain in Afghanistan for the next 20 years, we need to add more troops. Even as we do that, our focus ought to be nation building, not in the sense of how this phrase is used among the US Special Forces. What I mean by nation building is a massive process of institution building for the purpose of establishing democracy in Afghanistan, along with a huge campaign against counter-drug operations, crop substitution, educational reforms, a colossal campaign of building civilian infrastructures, etc...

More at The Khaleej Times.


hotaruSTAR16 (not verified)

Sat, 10/24/2009 - 2:35pm

Whether or not the U.S. sends more troops is going to create an uproar from the opposite side. Asia Chronicle has been providing good insight on the situation.

solution wonk (not verified)

Wed, 10/14/2009 - 9:40pm

The strategy in afghanistan should be a multi-national south asian force able to hold the peace and build a nation with us for decades.
This force should be able to go across the border between afghanistan and pakistan and fight AQ and taliban. This force should be able to do that because it would compromise of military personnel from pakistan and india and srilanka and bangladesh and china if willing. The force should be at 200,000 strong. The force will be large enough to implement the COIN strategy.

But how do we get both india and pakistan on-board. It is simple the terrorists inside pakistan not only pose a danger to pakistan (now) but also to india. The as is situation would be a continuation of the cross border terrorism in india and in border terrorism in pakistan.

Carrots/sticks approach needs to be used. If Pakistan doesn't come on-board then we will increase military co-operation with india on a very high level giving the pakistanis no choice to be part of the solution. India has to be waived the carrot of more military arms supplies, visas and business co-operation and nuclear co-operation to the stick of cutting of the co-operation that we have already and putting the indian economy at risk because us/india economies are very co-dependant.
There has to be many other ways we can strong arm these two countries in contributing troops and to the idea of joint counterinsurgency/anti-terrorism force.

Second leg of the strategy requires creating an pashtun government independent of hardcore taliban and allied with both afghan/pak central government. This government should be able to sent representatives to both afghanistan/pakistan central government and be able to enforce law and order across the border regions. Law and order can be based on sharia law/tribal law whatever the pashtun populace votes for. The idea for the long-term being a creation of ASEAN union like the european union with strong democracies supporting and economically uplifting the weak.

The current strategy is bound to fail because it relies on pak military destroying taliban/AQ from the pakistani side. Its doing a half-ass job, because as long its doing a half-ass job we will be contributing money. They do not want to fight their own country-men and know that our appetite to stay in afghanistan is low. Pakistan military is defined by its conflicts with india and will funnel the money that we give to its military interest in fighting india. Once we leave they will go back to fighting proxy war in afghanistan and india via the taliban/AQ/Pak terrorist nexus. The truth is that the pakistan military cannot fight the taliban alone and there are not enough troops to implement the COIN strategy on the afghan and pakistan side.

We have to convince pakistan the only war worth fighting is the one within its border and india that it has to support pakistan's civilian government. It should be a part of a greater regional strategy that eradicates terrorism by using the regional powers and our influence.

Rigs (not verified)

Tue, 10/13/2009 - 7:28pm

<i>What I have in mind as a suggestion for the US involvement in Afghanistan has no precedent (no, not even Japan or West Germany, for they were advanced polities before the war, while Afghanistan has never been one). That is the only way of winning in Afghanistan.</i>

I wonder if the APCSS conducts drug testing, because this guy's pushing a pipe dream.

<i>The abruptness by which the United States left Afghanistan after the redeployment of the Soviet troops in 1989 leaves them no reason to believe that we are likely to stay there. This time there is no much difference. All they have to do is to watch the current debate regarding Afghanistan inside the United States.</i>

It doesn't much matter whether we draw a line in the sand and say we're staying in Afghanistan while waging a giant PR campaign in support of that message. We will be staying to support the government of Afghanistan, which is the ultimate target of the insurgents. Take away all the appeal of the "infidel occupier" schtick and you still have the massively corrupt and unpopular regime composed of a cobbled together alliance. Unpopular in Afghanistan doesn't mean 'oh, we'll get him next election,' it means 'oh, we'll shell the hell out of Kabul until we can install our own government.' If we are to engage in unprecended institution building to create a functioning state where there has never been one, we have to push the reset button and try again. The Taliban will continue to exploit various different motivations of disaffected populations to fan the flames of the insurgency, and they will reap the benefits of that chaos.

blert (not verified)

Tue, 10/13/2009 - 7:20pm

It is financially and logistically impossible for Ahrari's approach to work.

His pitch is the ultimate in mission creep.

The reality is that the total price tag for his gambit would be in the many trillions of dollars and last fifty years.

Over involvement by non-muslim troops in muslim lands brings blow-back. Take note of the hostility among the Pakistanis for the USA: it's wide and deep.

It suits AQ well to have ISAF ( Intentionally Strung-out Anglospheric Forces ) dotted all over the landscape at great expense achieving nothing while inflaming the locals.

A strong central government in Kabul is exactly what the tribes don't want. Further, the Karzai faction is almost devoid of Pashtuns. ( Ironic, no? )

Our beef is with AQ. We have no mandate to re-culture Afghanistan.

BTW it is of note how Karzai 'suddenly' became corrupt exactly when NATO became frustrated. The fact is that there is NO faction that would met our standards. Look at our own corruption WRT the financial crisis.

NATO forces are useless mouths that disrupt the normal commerce of the Afghans. French traffic disruption alone is 'Monty Python' worthy.