Small Wars Journal

The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan

SWJ has received an advance copy of a new Center for a New American Security (CNAS) report entitled Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Andrew Exum, Nathaniel Fick, Ahmed Humayun and David Kilcullen. As soon as CNAS posts the full report we will provide a link. Until then here is an excerpt from the introduction which serves more as an executive summary:

The United States and its allies are in the eighth year of a war in Afghanistan that has no end in sight. Making matters worse, the security situation in Pakistan—always a safe haven for the insurgents against whom the United States and its allies have fought—has also declined precipitously.

The strategic consequences of the extremist advance are severe... Failure in Afghanistan would mean not only a possible return of pre-9/11 safe havens, but also a sharp blow to the prestige of the United States and its allies... An al Qaeda victory in Pakistan would galvanize global support for the radical Islamist movement, provide a safe haven for al Qaeda, and substantially increase the threat of nuclear terrorism...

The president and his advisers have elected to pursue a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan while encouraging the government in Islamabad to do the same in Pakistan.

To implement this strategy effectively, the United States must rapidly triage in both countries. For the United States, NATO, and the governments involved, winning control over all of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the coming year is not a realistic objective; setting priorities is paramount. But because populations in civil wars tend to side with whichever group exercises control, protecting the population must take precedence over all other considerations. What counts, for now, is controlling what we can with the resources we have. Thus, this paper recommends that the United States and its allies pursue an ink blot" strategy over the course of the next 12 months on both sides of the Durand Line, securing carefully chosen areas and then building from positions of strength.

This paper is divided into three parts. The first section outlines the current situations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with particular focus on Pakistan since the situation there is both graver and less well understood. These situation assessments highlight two trends that threaten the administration's stated objectives of promot¬ing a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan and enhancing a stable, civilian-led, constitutional government in Pakistan: decreasing government control and increasing civilian casualties. In Afghanistan, Taliban influence has displaced government control in large sections of the country, while the government and the coalition have been unable or un—to guarantee security for the people. In Pakistan, extremist control in the northwest has spread with alarming rapidity and now threatens traditionally stable areas in Pakistan's Punjabi heartland. In both countries, civilian casualties resulting from military opera¬tions have been increasing.

The second section provides two operational recommendations for Afghanistan and two for Pakistan. These four recommendations seek to address the most pressing dangers identified in the situation assessments, and to further progress toward meeting the benchmarks that matter.

In Afghanistan:

Adopt a truly population-centric counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes protecting the population rather than controlling physical terrain or killing the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Use the civilian surge" to improve governance and decrease corruption in Afghanistan. Place civilian expertise and advisers in the Afghan ministries and—to a lesser degree—the provincial reconstruction teams, rather than in the embassies.

In Pakistan:

Strictly curtail the counterproductive drone strikes on non-al Qaeda targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). The expansion of the approved target list for U.S. drone attacks to include non-al Qaeda individuals should be reversed.

Strengthen the Pakistani police, with an emphasis on areas—such as Punjab and Sindh—where the Taliban has not yet exerted control.

The third and final section examines the question of metrics. Since momentum is crucial in counterinsurgencies, accurate metrics are necessary to reinforce what works and to change what does not. Measurement of progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan has focused excessively on inputs, rather than outcomes; when measurement has focused on outcomes, they have often been the wrong ones. We suggest different metrics for tracking, and adjusting, the implementation of the administra¬tion's new strategy, with particular emphasis on measuring the peoples' perception of their own security and the government's ability to exercise legitimate control.

For more see Spencer Ackerman's commentary on Triage at The Washington Independent.