Small Wars Journal

Saved round....

Missed an important op-ed this morning by Pete Mansoor and Max Boot - Winning in Afghanistan in the Los Angeles Times. BLUF: "The buildup of U.S. forces, completed only this fall, is already having a considerable positive impact, although public opinion hasn't caught on yet."


"Stabilizing Afghanistan may very well prod Pakistan to cut loose its proxies as a bad bet."

-- from the op-ed piece.

The above statement presumes that Pakistan has other pressing concerns such as governing and bringing development to itself, rather than back jihadist proxies.

A history of Pakistan strongly suggests that the country has consistently put nation-building in the backburner, while advancing the cause of jihad and sharia.

One would hope that somewhere they teach the history of Pakistan. Newcomers, it appears, would benefit much from that.

One would hope that somewhere they teach the history of Pakistan. Newcomers, it appears, would benefit much from that.


Thu, 12/16/2010 - 8:51pm

The comparison, almost certainly intentional, is with the New York Times Op-Ed of July 30, 2007, by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, on Iraq entitled "A War We Might Just Win."

Among the first words of the 2007 article were: "The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administrations critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place." Among the first words of the Mansoor and Boot article in the Los Angeles Times are: "But in any far-off guerrilla war, perception back home often lags battlefield reality by several months."

Both articles point to the same elements in both countries: the gradual but growing effectiveness of the regular army, the continuing disaster of the country's national police, the standing up of local police, the unpopularity of America's enemies, and an emphasis on local government and civilian reconstruction. The Mansoor and Boot article observes success in two southern provinces of Afghanistan this fall and argues that this success will spread.

Those with more immediate knowledge can write with greater insight here but three differences seem to me in need of comment.

First, Mansoor and Boot note the deficiencies in the Afghan central government and these obviously are critical in the long run. The question in my mind is whether a strategy of building up local government can really succeed without a tandem improvement in the central one. Mansoor and Boot seem to be saying that most of the Kabul regime can be bypassed to build up local government and local security forces and that the Afghan army can be managed out of the central ministry of defense. This may be possible but I don't know if it is realistic and I believe it is different from what happened in Iraq.

Second, and more seriously in the short run, the surge in Iraq was a stay-and-hold operation over the most violent parts of the country. In Afghanistan, the recent results in the south are striking but they only cover two provinces and consume most of our surge force. Unless the Afghan army can take much more of our place very soon in these areas, it is hard to see how our present force can enlarge the secured area of the country during the next four years that NATO and Karzai have agreed to give the effort.

Finally, third, the existence of sanctuaries in Pakistan make the Afghan war different from Iraq, but here I think Mansoor and Boot may be right to challenge conventional wisdom that lays emphasis on this fact. There are two separate questions here.

One is the actual significance of Pakistan. Since the Taliban draw their replacements mostly from Afghanistan, the advantage to the Taliban of having Pakistan as a sanctuary is mainly tactical. The adjacent country problem is not strategic because neither Pakistan's own armed forces have been committed to the war nor can other recruits to the Taliban and al-Qaida from outside Afghanistan substitute in numbers for those coming from inside it. I think Mansoor and Boot are right in arguing that the real war is in Afghanistan itself, as it was in Iraq.

The other question, though, is that to reach a strategic resolution under these circumstances, an Afghan army and government must in fact secure and control the population on their side of the border. In the summer of 2007 it was possible to identify changes in Iraq that pointed to such an outcome there. In the winter of 2010-11, there are changes underway in Afghanistan that deserve to be noted, but they are much more tentative and seem likely to require much greater change in a short period of time to be sustained.