Crunch Time in Afghanistan-Pakistan

(This is an edited version of my statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan, chaired by Senator John F. Kerry, on 5th February 2009).

Senator Joseph Lieberman made a timely and well-argued call, during his recent speech at the Brookings Institution, for a comprehensive political-military campaign in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AFPAK) region. Seven years into a long war, we need to be honest with ourselves about the harsh strategic choices we face. And we need to recognize that before we can expect long-term strategic progress, we first have to deal with an immediate, acute crisis that could derail the entire effort this year. Let me first discuss long-term strategic choices, then turn to the immediate crisis, and conclude with some remarks on Pakistan.

Long-Term Strategic Options

We need to do four things -- what we might call "essential strategic tasks" -- to succeed in Afghanistan. We need to prevent the re-emergence of an Al Qaeda sanctuary that could lead to another 9/11. We need to protect Afghanistan from a range of security threats including the Taliban insurgency, terrorism, narcotics, misrule and corruption. We need to build sustainable and accountable state institutions (at the central, provincial and local level) and a resilient civil society. Then we can begin a phased hand-off to Afghan institutions that can survive without permanent international assistance. We might summarize this approach as "Prevent, Protect, Build, Hand-Off". Let's call it "Option A".

Given enough time, resources and political commitment, Option A is definitely workable. But we need to be honest about how long it will take -- ten to fifteen years, including at least two years of significant combat up front -- and how much it will cost. Thirty thousand extra troops in Afghanistan will cost around 2 billion dollars per month beyond the roughly 20 billion we already spend; additional governance and development efforts will cost even more; in the current economic climate this is a big ask. The campaign will cost the lives of many American, Afghan and coalition soldiers and civilians, and injure many more. There are also opportunity costs: we have finally, through much blood and effort, reached a point where we can start disengaging some combat troops from Iraq. We need to ask ourselves whether the best use for these troops is to send them straight to Afghanistan, or whether we might be better off creating a strategic reserve in Central Command, restoring our military freedom of action and, with it, a measure of diplomatic credibility in the Middle East.

Is there an alternative? Some have recently argued for "Option B", where we would focus solely on the Prevent task, putting Protect, Build and Hand-Off on hold. We would conduct counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda, while doing the minimum development and population protection needed to enable those operations, and shelving long-term nation-building aspirations. After all, we might say, we went into Afghanistan to defeat Al Qa'ida, not to build a model state in the Hindu Kush.

The problem with Option A is that we may not be able to afford it. The trouble with Option B is much simpler: it just won't work.

Afghanistan is an independent sovereign state: why would it tolerate an approach that treated its territory as little more than a launch pad for strikes against Al Qa'ida, while doing little to alleviate poverty, institute the rule of law or improve health and education? What would be in it for Afghanistan? How would we gain the information needed for effective counterterrorism operations -- much of it derived from human sources, human terrain intelligence and close-access signals intelligence -- without maintaining a substantial coalition force in close contact with the local population? Why would that population cooperate with an effort which, in the absence of substantial development assistance and the creation of functioning responsive government, brought the people little but danger in return? Why would the Taliban obligingly put their insurgency on hold, if we ignored them to focus on Al Qa'ida? Wouldn't Option B accelerate the loss of popular confidence among Afghans, and make the insurgency even more likely to overthrow the government? And how would we finesse our failure to honor the pledges we gave our allies and the Afghan people in the Bonn agreement, not to mention the campaign promises of a new and popular President?

The reality is that, like it or not, the short-term counterterrorism task (preventing another 9/11) can't be separated from the long-term counterinsurgency and nation-building tasks (protecting the Afghan people and building sustainable institutions in preparation for hand-off to a viable Afghan state).

A middle option -- "Option A Lite" -- would be even worse: it would cost almost as much as Option A, and be just as likely to fail as Option B. No, the hard fact is that however unpalatable, Option A is a hill we simply have to climb if we seek anything worthy of the name "success" in Afghanistan.

The Immediate Crisis

These long-term strategic options are, however, largely questions for 2010 and beyond: in 2009 we have another more acute problem. Afghanistan is on the brink of failure. Violence is up 40% on last year and 543% on 2005. Large parts of the country, perhaps 70% of Afghan territory, are no-go areas for security forces and government officials. Narcotics production has coalesced into enormous tracts of poppy in Taliban-controlled areas, heroin production has spiked, government legitimacy is collapsing, food and water are critically short, the insurgency is spreading and intensifying, and the Afghan Presidential elections -- scheduled for 23rd August, at the end of what promises to be a fighting season of unprecedented intensity -- will bring everything to a head.

Whatever our long-term strategy, if we don't now stabilize the situation, stop the rot and regain the initiative, there will be no long-term. Once the situation is stabilized there will be time for the new administration to work through its strategic choices in concert with allies and the Afghan government. If we fail to stabilize Afghanistan this year, there will be no future.

To stabilize Afghanistan, we need a surge of political effort, we need a surge of civilian expertise and financial resources, and we need to re-focus the military and police on a single critical task: protecting the population ahead of the elections. The strategic aim for 2009 should be to deliver an election result that restores the government's legitimacy, and with it the credibility of the international effort. Which candidate gets elected matters less than ensuring the outcome meets international standards for transparency and fairness. This is a huge task. To do it we need to stop chasing the Taliban around, and focus instead on protecting Afghans where they live, partnering with the Afghan people in a close and genuine way that gives them a well-founded feeling of security, and ensuring fair elections that restore hope for a better future.

This is the critical task for 2009. If we regain the initiative, we're back in the game. If we fail, our long-term strategic options will be even more unpalatable than they are now.

The Pakistan Dimension

Afghanistan is, and will likely remain, our main military effort, because no significant American combat forces are deployed in Pakistan or are likely to be. Pakistan, however, as the central front of international terrorism and because of its size, nuclear status and regional importance, should be the main effort for diplomatic, political and intelligence activity.

The critical problem is that Pakistan has so far been both unable to control its own territory and population, and unwilling to accept international assistance on the scale, or of the type, needed to do so. Meanwhile we have tended to focus what little attention we give to the region on Afghanistan, a problem that is far easier to understand although extremely difficult to address.

Because of Pakistan's size (173 million people) and military capacity (a defense establishment that includes 100 nuclear weapons and a well-equipped army larger than that of the United States) the notion that we could or should force an un—Pakistan to do our bidding is both unrealistic and extremely risky.

So we must first persuade Pakistan to become a —partner, and then (and only then) help build its capability. The first task is primarily diplomatic, the second a mainly matter of development and governance assistance, though there is a military and police training and assistance aspect also. (Note -- and I'll return to this point -- that unilateral strikes against targets inside Pakistan, whatever other purpose they might serve, have an unarguably and entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability. They increase the number and radicalism of Pakistanis who support extremism, and thus undermine the key strategic program of building a —and capable partner in Pakistan.)

A powerful faction within the Pakistani national security establishment (some elements of the Army, and parts of the intelligence service) persists in sponsoring extremists such as the Afghan Taliban, and tolerating terrorists like AQ and LeT. This long-standing pattern arises from three key motivations: religious radicalism within the younger generation of the officer corps, a desire to maintain extremist actors as a non-conventional counterweight to Indian regional influence, and a fear of abandonment by the international community (as happened in 1989 after the Soviet-Afghan war and, arguably, again in 2002 as our attention was diverted to Iraq).

We must either reduce this motivation (by reforming the military or convincing it that state collapse and extremist takeover, not war with India, is the real threat) or reduce the power of the national-security state to continue its sponsorship and tolerance of extremism, or both. This demands that we move our relationship with Pakistan away from a transactional basis and assuage Pakistan's fear of abandonment. This, in turn, requires that we involve regional actors -- primarily India, but also Iran and China -- in viable regional security arrangements. Again, we need to be honest with ourselves about how difficult this will be, how much it will cost and how long it will take. It will indeed be difficult -- but half-measures haven't gotten us anywhere.

All this suggests that the most appropriate diplomatic strategy is to identify, within Pakistan, our friends and allies (civilian democratic political leaders, some officials, and much of the Pakistani people) and our actual enemies (primarily, factions within the Pakistani national security establishment, religious radicals and terrorists) and act to increase the number and influence of our friends while reducing the power of our enemies. Our first objective should be to help the democratically elected civilian leaders gain control over their own national security establishment, a state-within-a-state that currently operates virtually outside civilian control. We should then work with the Pakistan government to help it resolve the Baluch and Pashtun tribal uprisings, reduce Taliban influence and terrorist safe haven, counter religious extremism, and extend a legitimate and effective presence throughout the country.

While ever al Qa'ida remains active and can threaten the international community from bases within Pakistan, the need to strike terrorist targets on Pakistani territory will remain. But our policy should be to treat this as an absolute, and rarely invoked, last resort. Our first preference must be to help Pakistan extend its writ across its whole population and territory, so as to close the terrorist safe haven rather than just strike the terrorists in it. In practice, this would mean that our preferred option would always be to respect Pakistani sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deal with terrorists by helping the Pakistani government gain control of its own national-security agencies, its territory and its population (including by bringing the FATA under effective and regular civil administration, channeling targeted economic assistance to Pakistan and sponsoring key governance reforms).

In those limited areas where Pakistan has proven unable or un—to establish government control (and therefore, in fact, areas that lie outside its effective sovereignty even though they may lie within its geographical boundaries) the international community would still need to reserve the right to unilaterally strike terrorist targets, but this must be a last resort, based where possible on consultation with Islamabad, applied only with the specific knowledge and approval, on a case-by-case basis, of President Obama, and only to targets that met all four of the following selection criteria:

1) The target in question poses a threat to the international community (not solely to U.S. forces or interests in Afghanistan); AND

2) It is located in an area outside of effective Pakistani sovereignty (e.g. in a non-controlled area of the FATA or in a micro-haven elsewhere) AND

3) Pakistan has tried but failed to extend its sovereignty into the area, or to deal effectively with the target on its own; AND

4) The target is positively identified and clearly distinguishable from surrounding populations, reducing the risk of collateral damage to a level acceptable to elected political leaders.

Some might argue that this sets an extremely high bar, so high that in practice such strikes would almost never be approved. I agree -- that's the whole point. Others might argue that there is no guarantee of success in this diplomatic strategy. Again, I agree -- but would respectfully suggest that there are no guarantees in any strategy, military or otherwise, and that the current approach is having a severely de-stabilizing effect on Pakistan and risks spreading the conflict further, or even prompting the collapse of the Pakistani state, a scenario that would dwarf any of the problems we have yet faced in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Conclusions

To conclude, it might be impolite but it's certainly not inaccurate to say that our policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan have, until early last year, been marked by woolly and wishful thinking, and a tendency to seek quick, neat solutions to intractable, messy and long-standing problems. The vital requirement now is to be clear-eyed about what we need to do, how much it will cost, and how long it will take. We need to be straight with the American people and our allies (including Afghans and Pakistanis) about this.

In Afghanistan, we have an immediate crisis to deal with. We need to stop the rot and regain the initiative before we can hope for long-term progress. That progress will come at a cost, and it will involve the four key tasks of preventing another 9/11, protecting the Afghan people, building sustainable institutions and then handing-off the effort to them.

In Pakistan, we need to stop asking ourselves the question "Is Pakistan an enemy or an ally?" Pakistan is NOT the enemy. But we have enemies -- as well friends -- in Pakistan. We need to identify those friends and enemies, and empower our friends to deal with our enemies. This is a classic diplomatic strategy, and an essential enabler for it is to build a —partner in Pakistan -- something that will mean, amongst other things, that we need to help Pakistani civilian politicians gain control over their own national-security establishment, and we need to impose a much more stringent set of limitations on strikes into Pakistani territory.

Things aren't hopeless, but they are extremely serious. This is the critical year: the situation is still salvageable, but we must act now to put the AFPAK enterprise onto a sound footing before it's too late.

Dr David Kilcullen, a partner at the Crumpton Group and author of The Accidental Guerrilla, is the former Special Advisor for Counterinsurgency to the Secretary of State and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy in 2005-6 and 2008. In 2007 he was the senior counterinsurgency advisor to General David Petraeus, in Baghdad.

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I wonder if Pakistan hasn't now become the dog being wagged by the tail Afghanistan? An obvious major key to any success in Afghanistan and the tribal areas is Pakistan.

Getting Pakistani cooperation will be daunting: convincing Pakistan that the threat to it lies internally as opposed to India will be a hard nut to crack. Most officers still see India as the country's greatest threat.

This perception is reality, and is integral to the Pakistani worldview, dating back to the founding of the nation and the partition from India in 1947.

Additionally, Pakistanis hold a very dim view of America. We can send all the money, arms, handbooks, advisors, and such. But we'll never make them do what we want or they say they're going to do effectively.

Pakistan is certainly not our enemy, but they are not our friend - their agenda for Afghanistan is not our agenda and needs to be reconciled soon.

On an editorial note: we have a lot of recent Afghan experts. We well might want to find as many on Pakistan.

Worst times have arrived therefore Mr. 10% (ten percent) have become leaders of our beloved country. I will not go into the details how corrupt our leaders are. Along with corruption they don't care if poor people live or die. Zardari and his government have sold our country for few dollars and now our national interests are also on sale by him. When I think about the situation in Pakistan my heart really goes, looking at the necessity which Pakistani nation does not have, such as Sugar, Wheat flour, Electricity, Gas, jobs, clean drinking water and there is huge list of other necessities which Pakistani nation does not enjoy. However leaders of Pakistan have turned a blind eye to the problems of poor people. I always wonder that why Pakistan does not utilizes 18 billion people and produce various items which can later be sold in international market such as Airplanes, Fast Trains, Weapon technology and various other items. Leaders of Pakistan have pledged to neglect this nation and they are extremely busy filling their own pockets with stolen poor people's money. I pray to God that the injustice vanishes soon and we see a real and authentic leader who can lead us through prosperity and happiness. I believe the leaders of Pakistan have failed to look after their country and they have failed to show care. We as a nation should unite together and raise against the ignorance we face today. Thank you

Much too much is made of the differences between "modern" and "tribal" societies. The differences are largely ones of degree, and modern societies are full of "tribal" subcultures to varying extents. Furthermore, not all characteristics of tribalism are undesirable or incompatible with democracy. E.g., the Philippines and Indonesia are both highly tribal societies today, and are democracies.

However, there are some undeniably bad characteristics of tribalism, and there's nothing racist about saying so, since tribalism is not a race. The use of women purely as breeders of male warriors and female breeders is one such bad feature.

However, I would like to raise the topic of drug legalization, to ask: Why it has not been more seriously proposed as part of the solution to winning the war on terror? By the estimates I've seen, about half the funding for terrorism in the world comes from illegal drug sales, and drug prohibition acts as a price support program for black market drug traffickers. (It also greatly exacerbates crime rates and the costs of the criminal justice system.)

Andrew:

I did not say or imply "

...the other ethnic groups, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Tajiks, by themselves have a political majority strong enough to challenge the Pashtuns at the ballot box or, in my opinion, on the battlefield."

I merely mentioned the raw numbers. Nor, I hope you notice, did I say the other groups were not tribal -- they just aren't as subservient to the Tribe as are the Pahtun. As for coalescing, I believe if you'll skim anything I've have written here or elsewhere about Afghanistan, I think you'll see that I hold out less hope for such an event than do you.

You also said"

...acknowledge that things have changed in this country, but your example doesnt hold water. Were not a tribal society. "

Probably true, though I suspect the average anthropologist might disagree with respect to some parts of even today's south. Still your point is valid; it was a bad comparison for me to use with the pedantically inclined.

Equally valid is your point:

"In the end though, we have a national identity, another uniquely western concept. Afghanistan has never had this, even under the Duranis of the mid 18th century. People in Afghanistan still base their identity on their tribe (and in some cases subtribe) first, their faith as a Muslim second, and, maybe if were lucky, as an Afghani as a distant third."

Certainly can't argue with that.

However, I can dispute this:"

You may be right in your belief that tribal society will change enough to allow us to succeed (what ever that means) in Afghanistan, but I think I have history on my side when I say its a losing proposition."

On two levels. First, I did not say the society would change fast enough for us to succeed -- didn't even say we'd succeed. What I did say was: "The important questions, I believe are how fast will that change be and will we assist or deter the change. I think we do not yet know the answers to either question and we have embarked, rightly or wrongly, on an attempt to bring some change without really knowing how much change we want or what might be achievable... I personally doubt that a strong central government will exist in Afghanistan for a great many years but I also believe it possible to reach an accommodation of sorts between somewhat idealistic western goals and the hard reality that is Afghanistan..."

I don't think you and I are really in as much disagreement as you seem to believe. Perhaps it's a glass half full / half empty thing. I see no sense in throwing up our hands and saying it's too much trouble simply because it isn't easy.

Secondly, on the losing proposition, that really depends on what the proposition is, does it not? Kilcullen's view and mine differ, yours obviously differs from either and what the exact proposition is has yet to be determined. So how can you say 'it's' a losing proposition. Mayhap we should wait until we know what the proposition is before we shoot it.

Further, as to history on your side, so too had all those who talked of the "graveyard of empires," the terrible Afghan winter and such like in 2001. It isn't over yet, so you and they could be correct -- but I doubt it. No way for us to sort that, we'll just have to wait and see.

Mr. White,

Reference your last response to my posting, You correctly point out that my emphasis on the Pashtuns does not take into account the "60% of the current estimated 33M or so Afghans ethnically in other groupings that, while tribal, are not nearly as much so as the Pashtuns."

What your statistics do not point out is that none of the other ethnic groups, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Tajiks, by themselves have a political majority strong enough to challenge the Pashtuns at the ballot box or, in my opinion, on the battlefield. Letting our hopes rest on the possibility of a nonPashtun coalition forming is wishful thinking. While these nonPashtun groups cooperated to a degree in the fight against the Soviets, they were unable to coalesce to form a functioning government once the Soviets left. Nor were they able to come together in a military alliance capable of stopping the Taliban from taking control in the mid 90s. This is why I predict with a great deal of certainty that upcoming elections, if they occur at all, will result in a Pashtun being elected. Our only hope is that hes a westernized royalist like Karzai, ripe for manipulation.

You also state "As you point out, changes to tribal dynamics are inclined to occur over lengthy periods. You also said that changes to those things that make up a groups identity and often define their way of life are very rare. I'm less sure of that. In my own short 75+ years, I've seen major change in virtually every aspect of socialization and culture in this country. I was born in the 'old South' -- trust me, it's gone."

I acknowledge that things have changed in this country, but your example doesnt hold water. Were not a tribal society. Sure, we may have our differences on politics, religion, or football; and people from different regions of the country may not like or respect each other, but at the end of the day, when it really matters, were capable (even if only for a short time) of looking passed our differences because were all Americans. Have we had our problems? Undeniably. In the end though, we have a national identity, another uniquely western concept. Afghanistan has never had this, even under the Duranis of the mid 18th century. People in Afghanistan still base their identity on their tribe (and in some cases subtribe) first, their faith as a Muslim second, and, maybe if were lucky, as an Afghani as a distant third.

You may be right in your belief that tribal society will change enough to allow us to succeed (what ever that means) in Afghanistan, but I think I have history on my side when I say its a losing proposition.

John:

Thanks for the response. Just offering alternative viewpoints. As an old airborne type I'm familiar with the alternative use of bail out and have left many a perfectly good airplane in the rapid egress mode. I always liked the probably apocryphal tale of a Gurkha Battalion asked to undergo airborne training. A surprisingly small number number of volunteers climbed rapidly when it was explained that parachutes would be provided. One presumes you have also calculated a parachute of some sort for your proposed bailout...

Coincidentally, I too am a student -- well, a practitioner, really -- of complexity science. Er, well, I was. I'm now retired but for a number of years I was a soldier and that gets sorta complex on occasion. So, complexity I can handle. Even enjoy. Revel in it, in fact. Risk keeps one young...

You said:

"What the science tells us it that 'complex adaptive systems ... cannot be precisely predicted or controlled..."

Very true, practically and realistically as well as scientifically (as you know those three things are not the same). You use that lever to push to very valid hypotheses that could well be 90% correct:

"the prestige / deterrent capability of the US may be damaged far more by overstretch in Afghanistan than by withdrawal...Or spirited away by a brilliant covert op."

Yep. All possible. The international media, most politicians, scholars and the many nations and groups in this world that have been irked at the US (since at least 1947 in my view) will see or say they see damaged deterrent capability by the US at any opportunity. However, that damage will not be seen by anyone with any real knowledge who might seriously think of challenging that capability.

As for prestige; ours is due to size and economic clout and very little more. Most others in the world do not see us as many here seem to think they do. Thus concerns about deterrent capability or prestige are sort of off base IMO.

You then get to a very correct statement:

I think were pretty good at detailing what we dont want, and as you say, how to deny the other guys something, but bad at defining what we really want. And, sadly, even worse at figuring out how to get there. The results of US foreign policy in my lifetime seem mostly to be serious unintended consequences and massive blowback."

I agree with two reservations. Based on my probably longer lifetime and thus having seen more of our faux pas first hand, I'd remove the words 'serious' and 'massive' from your quoted statement.

Unintended consequences are a fact of life in all human endeavors; most of ours on the national policy stage have worked out for the good in the long run. We've had lots of blowback; almost none of it massive. One bit of blowback was the seizure of the Embassy in Tehran in 1979. We compounded that by failing to react adequately. We had four Presidents in a row who failed to react properly to a number of provocations from the Middle East for 22 years. Iraq was the response to that and it was to be and will be -- is -- effective at sending the message that we don't want attacks on US Soil.

Afghanistan was a different message. As you know, it isn't in the ME. The message there was we want no further attacks on US interests worldwide. You may or may not have noticed that other than pro forma and to be expected protests of victimization from the ME, there was remarkably little protest over either of our actions from Asia -- that's because they understood the messages even if most in the west totally missed them.

Thus, the message was sent and received. Our initial plan, I'm quite sure was not to stay in Afghanistan. We changed our minds for various reasons, not least to help out Pakistan who helped us out at great cost. In any event, our option now is to stay or, as you said, bail. Having been around when we told the Viet Namese we would stay -- and did not; When we told the Kurds we would stay -- and did not; When we told the Iraqi Shia to rebel against Saddam and we would help and did not; When we told the Afghans "We left you before; we will not do that this time..."

One of the reasons our prestige is non-existent is because we have in the last 36 year gotten a really bad reputation for abandoning our friends when it becomes inconvenient. This time, my vote is that we should not leave until we have at least tried...

"To enhance the operation of a CAS, you clarify its strategic vision (Identity) and optimize its goal-seeking behavior. Goals, objectives and priorities then evolve over time. This is why the vast majority of strategic plans fail - theyre simply too rigid to adapt to the dynamic, non-linear world we live in."

Add to that the US political system absolutely abhors long range planning. We have significant policy shifts at two, four, six and eight year intervals. That's one thing that has led to the unintended consequences and blowback you've noted. Be happy -- it will continue to do so. ;)

"Since, in my estimation, we lack that strategic vision, we cannot effectively apply that goal-seeking behavior. If we were truly adaptive, the most intelligent course of action might very well be to bail ASAP, or to contract to option D - the limited presence I mentioned in the above post."

Well, we are adaptive, it's really what we do best. We are, however, sort of slow about it -- big bureaucracy.

On the rest, depends on what we set out to do, doesn't it? We didn't set out with a grand strategic vision (we rarely if ever have any of those -- haven't in my lifetime, anyway), we set out to disrupt -- we have done that so we could leave with most of that job done fairly well. However, in the act of disrupting, we had an attack on conscience and said we'd try to fix what we broke. We, as a nation have done a lot of dumb things in my lifetime. Saying that was not really very intelligent. Perhaps we should not have said that -- but we did...

Hey, Ken:

Thanks for your response. As I suggested in my opening sentence, the purpose of my comment was to provoke discussion, and perhaps to offer a different perspective.

So let me see if I can clarify my thoughts in reference to yours.

For semantic clarity, I was using 'bail in terms of what we do when the aircraft is no longer operable - as in bail out. What I was suggesting might be appropriate to throw out of Astan is ourselves. I seriously question the political will of this, or any western country to stay focused and pay the painful price Dr. Kilcullen has outlined over the term he suggests will be necessary. Hence my question of whether it might not be better to leave now.

As to the downsides I outlined, lets assume that your summation, 'H: all the above do happen is accurate. My question is, are those outcomes necessarily any more or less likely if were there or if were not?

I confess, Im a student of complexity science. My work is helping groups and institutions learn to self-organize to enhance their effectiveness - to become 'constructive networks capable of continually reconfiguring themselves to adapt to emerging opportunities and threats. I see security issues and responses through a lens of applied complexity, so please forgive me if I run off into jargon-speak.

What the science tells us it that 'complex adaptive systems (CAS, which include all biological systems and all human organizations, whether nation states, the US military, the Taliban or the LA Lakers) cannot be precisely predicted or controlled. The behaviors and outcomes manifested by the system emerge from the complex interaction among the 'initial conditions (which continually 'refresh), the rules of the system, and the relationships among the members of the system.

So my point is, the prestige / deterrent capability of the US may be damaged far more by overstretch in Afghanistan than by withdrawal. Al Qaeda may become irrelevant even if we leave, or may flourish because of events far from Afghanistan. The Taliban may win simply by outlasting us. (Remember, we have to win. They only have to not lose.) Or it may lose because our departure has robbed it of legitimacy as a resistance group, and whats left is a band of thugs that the tribes unite to eradicate. The Pakistani government may fall because of our support or for lack of it. Or it may simply implode from its own internal inconsistencies. The Pak nukes may be captured by the OGs in the collapse, or they may be covertly handed over by the ISI in its ascendance. (Remember A Q Khan?) Or spirited away by a brilliant covert op.

None of these outcomes necessarily emerge because of our presence or because of our absence. Other than the question of our staying or departing, they are not really within our control. I would point out the observation of Jay Forrester, the father of system dynamics, who said people intuitively recognize leverage points, and just as intuitively they push them the wrong way 90 percent of the time. So far, our operations in Afghanistan seem to me to be pretty consistent with that observation.

As to the question of a strategic vision, that is a very different thing than strategic thinking. A strategic vision is a clear picture of a desired future state. I think were pretty good at detailing what we dont want, and as you say, how to deny the other guys something, but bad at defining what we really want. And, sadly, even worse at figuring out how to get there. The results of US foreign policy in my lifetime seem mostly to be serious unintended consequences and massive blowback.

To enhance the operation of a CAS, you clarify its strategic vision (Identity) and optimize its goal-seeking behavior. Goals, objectives and priorities then evolve over time. This is why the vast majority of strategic plans fail - theyre simply too rigid to adapt to the dynamic, non-linear world we live in.

Since, in my estimation, we lack that strategic vision, we cannot effectively apply that goal-seeking behavior. If we were truly adaptive, the most intelligent course of action might very well be to bail ASAP, or to contract to option D - the limited presence I mentioned in the above post.

Then to learn, unlearn, relearn and adapt.

David.

Good questions all. My belief is that each of the four can be realistically answered at this time with "We don't know." Those answers are perfectly acceptable to me.

I understand it is proposed to attack the heroin production and smuggling. If that occurs, it will be an escalation as the current 'pay the Talibs to keep up their disruptive efforts to distract attention from us' by the smugglers will elevate to a more intense and better focused fight to protect their profits.

That would likely change the answer to question 1 to 'Probably' while that for number 4 goes to 'probably not, as those in the government whose profits are being cut will try to sabotage the plan.'

Still, I agree with you:

"...A positive outcome is not impossibly remote."

That's not to say it will be easy. Nor does it mean we will get what we want in the end; rather, the Afghans will most likely get what they want. What is not clear is which Afghans will be the ones getting what. Or precisely how much of what we want we will get (we already have some of that...). That's acceptable to me.

Andrew:

I said in response to your earlier post: "You are correct in your assessment of the easily shifted alliances and the other cultural problems with respect to many in Afghanistan but I do not believe that attitude is universal and I do believe it can be changed -- acknowledging that will take time -- and, further, that the attitude is in fact changing."

In order, most of the dynamics you cited are attributable to the admittedly majority Pashtuns. That still leaves about 60% of the current estimated 33M or so Afghans ethnically in other groupings that, while tribal, are not nearly as much so as the Pashtuns.

As you point out, changes to tribal dynamics are inclined to occur over lengthy periods. You also said that changes to those things that make up a groups identity and often define their way of life are very rare. I'm less sure of that. In my own short 75+ years, I've seen major change in virtually every aspect of socialization and culture in this country. I was born in the 'old South' -- trust me, it's gone.

As to the longer period for Afghan society -- and the Pashtun in particular -- to change; what date should we use for a start date in measuring such change? I submit that the amount of change in the area in the last 40 years has been significant and is accelerating. When my brother was there 45 years ago, there were virtually no females in school and there were few schools. Now, according to most reports I read, the most frequent request is for schools -- and they let the girls go to school. Even encourage them to do so. Add to that exposure to the foreigners. There are probably more of those now in Afghanistan that Afghans can actually talk to than there have ever been. Globalization has arrived. Add the internet and television which are also there (not to mention Cell Phones -- the cell phones the villagers use to report Taliban efforts nearby...) and cultural change is a given.

Thus I said that the problems you cited aren't universal -- they're pretty much restricted to the South and East. Any cultural norm can be changed -- but I did acknowledge that takes time (and have now asked when 'time' began...). Lastly, I submit that reading reportage on interface with Afghans today by any number of soldiers, reporters or NGO people show that the culture is changing -- and the pace of change is accelerating.

I agree with Johns assessment and suggestions, though maybe not with his choice of the word "bail." The only thing I would add to his suggestion is to make sure the United States maintains a permanent military garrison in Afghanistan. The job of this force would not be to assist the Afghan government in any way, but to position ourselves for future contingencies in the region. These could include such things as strikes against terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, a guard against Iranian adventurism, and a reminder to the Government of Pakistan that we can and will reach out and touch them should their continued double standard towards terrorist groups result in an attack on the U.S. or U.S. interests. I think these things, not the idealic creation of a functioning and vibrant democracy in Afghanistan are our longterm interests.

Mr. White, Im curious as to what leads you to draw the conclusion that the tribes are either interested in modernizing or have shown some progress towards that goal? These things were speaking of, tribal dynamics, shifting alliances, disdain for outsiders, are part of tribal culture and society. Im not saying it cant happen, but changes to those things that make up a groups identity and often define their way of life are very rare and if they happen at all, occur over a very long period of time.

Dr. Kilcullen gives a concise summary and makes a strong case against half-measures in Afghanistan. But the next twelve months there do not seem as urgent to me as the next thirty-six, in which we seem likely to follow a strategy along the lines of his Option A. Four questions come to mind:

1. In the next three years, can the enemy improve his effectiveness or increase his numbers to offset the 30,000 U.S. troops that we plan to add to the U.S. forces already in Afghanistan?

2. Can the situation in Afghanistan improve if Pakistan does not curb the use of its territory by the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida?

3. Will 30,000 more U.S. troops be enough to give the majority of Afghan villagers who do not want the Taliban back the security they need to stand up to the Taliban? If not, can and will we commit the number of U.S. troops required to provide this security until Afghan forces can take over?

4. Does the pace of improving the size and effectiveness of the Afghan army need to be accelerated? If so, can it be accelerated?

Afghanistan governed itself peacefully without needing foreign aid until the early 1970s. The Pashtuns of Pakistan were led for much of the twentieth century by the moderate Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Vanni Cappelli's "The Alienated Frontier" in Orbis (Fall 2005) explains how things subsequently fell apart but also reminds us that things haven't always been this bad. A positive outcome is not impossibly remote.

But the four questions above need acceptable answers before we escalate the present Afghan war.

John:

Bad day? Seems like it. Starting with your key word: bail. That's a transitive verb as you used it and it is generally used to allude to clearing excess water from a boat by throwing the excess over the side. What do you propose to throw out of Afghanistan?

Your list of potential down sides ignored one effect -- you should add: " H. All the above. "

Your request for the strategic vision is appropriate but, unfortunately, as this article (LINK) states: "It is not that strategic thinking is absent: if anything there is too much of it going on in too many different places." Penalty of the diplomatic success of getting NATO involved. Coalitions are messy. Always have been so that should not be a surprise though it often appears to be.

Still, there are a lot of 'strategies' about, also a lot of suggestions about what to do. Most miss the point.

The US has been sticking its long nose into others affair for many years. We do it not to bring peace and comfort but to disrupt competitors and threats. We're good at it. The problem is that the end game is not always apparent and a lot of folks with no liking for unknowns or seemingly pointless expenditure or who are just lacking in stamina come up with plaintive "Are we there yet" cries.

No, we aren't

Just for the sake of provocation . . . How about Option C - Bail immediately?

How does a continuing US / Nato commitment in Afghanistan support our strategic vision? (Could someone please explain what our strategic vision actually is?)

Afghanistan is not a failing state. It is a non-state - a confederation of tribes that alternately compete and collaborate. It is a landscape of 'sink holes into which our idea of governance has fallen. The window to shift that reality (if it ever truly existed) has certainly closed with the onset of the current economic implosion that will soon require significant cuts in all external 'social investment for all democracies. Even if the economic shift hadnt occurred, the scenario outlined in A will almost certainly die of 'donor fatigue and overstretch as other hot spots flare. (And, yes, I confess, I thought until about a year ago that we could pull it out. But alignment requires shared identity and vision, and Afghanistan lacks that.) So, is it not better to cut the losses and leave now?

What is the downside of an immediate departure?
Loss of prestige? We have none to lose with any the groups were attempting to defeat.
Loss of deterrence? As Israel will discover, misapplied force encourages rather than discourages resistance. (Didnt some guy named Galula say that about 50 years ago?)
The Taliban take over? Let them. As with Hamas, the only avenue to a positive outcome for us is to let them attempt to govern. If they succeed and create development and stability, we win. If they fail and destroy their popular support, we win. Admittedly, it will be difficult for some of the Afghan people, but lets tell truths - we didnt care about them before 9-11, and our actions have pretty well demonstrated we havent really cared since. And, honestly, would you rather have to wear a beard / burka, or get smoked in an air strike?
That al Qaeda will flourish? Its more an identity than an entity, and we cant defeat ideas with firepower. External events will determine al Qaedas viability.
The instability in Afghanistan spills over into Pakistan? Too late. We pretty much assured that when we underwrote the original mujahedeen back in the 80s and then walked away after the Red Army bolted. As to the scenarios recommended regarding Pakistan, wont they work as well or even better if were not in Afghanistan?
The Pakistan government falls and loses control over its nukes? Were not sure such control exists today. Nor that our assistance to that government is not destabilizing. Nor that the two issues are necessarily conflated.
That heroin will flood the world? Legalize drugs and kill their funding source. (And that of the cartels.) (And we can shift the DEA budget to development work.)
That it will become a training ground (again) for terrorists? As long as there is a sea of disaffected people for them to swim in, terrorists will exist and their camps will be somewhere. True counterterrorism is social work - police, intel, development. The solution is social justice, not combat.

If we must stay in Afghanistan to save face, how about scenario D - a 'strategic redeployment to enhance / maintain security in the less volatile areas and help the Afghans create the infrastructure and institutions there that they desire. Aid workers are a lot cheaper than warfighters, and the rising expectation of Pashtuns, driven by the awareness of their neighbors prosperity, will become an existential threat to the Taliban.

Dr. Kilcullen,

You've done some great work on Iraq, but I think your analysis here carries several faulty assumptions:

1. Our options are not limited to the two you provide. Our main goal for Afghanistan is one rooted in our counter-terrorism strategy - denial of an AQAM haven. There are more than two ways to achieve that.

2. It's important to correctly understand Pakistan's important role in all this. Pakistan does not want any kind of independent Afghan state that Pakistan cannot control. They fear the border areas will go the way of Bangladesh and they could well be right. Pakistan has, for its entire existence, administered most of the non-Punjab areas of Pakistan more like colonies than equal provinces within the Pakistani state. They have always lived in fear that a strong, independent Afghanistan would peel those border "colonies" off, resulting in another civil war and a very small Pakistani state with no strategic depth. This is the reason the Pakistanis have been such limited allies and why they will continue to help us only up to the point where we start to succeed.

3. There's another lesson Pakistan teaches us. A viable central government does not mean that government can control its territory and deny haven to AQ and other global terrorist groups. If Pakistan is unable to control its provinces , what makes anyone think a nascent centralized Afghan state will do any better? Maybe in a few generations with sustained US assistance on par with Korea, Japan, etc., but it is doubtful the American population will commit to such a project over the necessary term, even if success were guaranteed, which it obviously is not.

In short, while I agree that policies up to this point have been full of wishful thinking, I think the same criticism can be made against your essay here.

Carl, I ran across this about a week ago that Ive been reflecting on...

cross-post comment from Tom Ricks blog on the Wanut incident.

http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/01/30/inside_an_afghan_battle_...

J. Thomas posted this:

"The 15-6 mentions a body found wearing camouflage under man jammies, with some evidence found on the body that indicated foreign citizenship.

So they had at least one visitor.

AAF, as they are called in an endless string of acronyms we've given our enemies... when I was there it was ACM (Anti-Coalition Militia,) refer to militias such as the Taliban or HiG that are mostly comprised of locals.

This is what bothers me.

These guys are playing politics, and they play with a vengeance. A political misstep can get them dead, not just out of office. A patchwork quilt of local politics. Taliban is less like the GOP than the Southern Baptist Convention. Individual churches can switch from one convention to another whenever they dare, It would seem like if we want to weaken Taliban we should try to split off groups from them.

It doesn't work well to make comparisons between nations, but without going into tedious detail it might be the best we can do. Imagine that a Communist coalition had successfully invaded the USA. And they announced that it's OK to be a Christian provided you don't really believe and you don't really practice. They don't mind people being religious, but they don't want to catch anybody following th Ten Commandments. How would that go over with US Christians?
And they announced that they're at war with the Southern Baptists, and they try to run things by edict even while they say they're setting up a communist democracy, and whenever they find somebody opposing them they declare that the opposition is Southern Baptist? Or perhaps AAF, Anti American Forces?
It's absurd for us to tell afghans we don't like Taliban's religion. That helps US public opinion but it has to hurt us in afghanistan. It puts everybody who has that kind of religion against us whether we like their politics or not.
We have the disadvantage, too, that while we intervene in all this violent local politics anybody who allies with us has got to figure we'll be gone in less than 10 years. And they make a lot of enemies by choosing to be our lackeys.
I can't help but think we'd do better with some entirely different approach."

Regarding Adam's statement that the Taliban is immensely popular in Afghanistan; I wonder how true that is.

An ABC News poll of Afghans published in the last few days contains the statement:

"The Taliban are far from achieving popular support - across a range of measures the
group still is shunned by large majorities of Afghans."

Now there wasn't much detail regarding that statement but the main point is clear, those guys aren't well liked.

Dear Mr. Kilcullen

Sharp and realistic notes on the US-Pakistan desirable link, indeed. On the meisterplan for Afghanistan,everything is debatable, starting with the difference between several actors public and private (even hidden) agendas.
I see you evaluate negatively the Predator AUAV attacks, at least as long as they cause loss of hearts and minds, and allienate the - let's say like that - "positive elements" in Islamabad security and defence institutions.
What if they become more accurate and less indicriminate, produce little or no collateral damages, result from solid intelligence from local residents, and, last but not the least, are coordinated (in public or behind close doors) with the Pakistani State?

Regards

Nuno Rogeiro
Lisbon
Portugal

Enacting meaningful reform within the Pakistani military/intelligence services will require the support of one of the main 'camps' of officers. Creating incentives for either of these camps to support reform will be a complex dance between the interest of purist, Islamist officers and their secular, more business minded counterparts.

The reality is slightly more nuanced than these two caricatures but they provide a useful model for considering incentive structures.

The 'traditionalist, secular leaning' camp comprises of officers who view the military as a means of advancing social status, gaining a position in a military run business, acquiring retirement benefits (which include real estate in plush neighbourhoods of Karachi and Rawalpindi). They are moderately religious, deeply suspicious of India, mainly Punjabi ethnicity,not ill inclined towards Western culture but are essentially undemocratic and perceived as susceptible to corruption and favouritism.

Any incentives for this group to accept reform would require a range of assurances and protections which would risk replicating the Musharraf era policies towards the military.

The 'radical Islamist' camp, would favour a state that if not Talebanesque would ceratinly develop the Islamist reforms of the 80's Zia Al Haq regime. They probably joined the military to defend Muslims in Afghanistan or Kashmir, are anti western and anti Indian but less likely to be involved in domestic business or corruption cases. There political vision for a Sharia Pakistan is a possible (even likely?) outcome of future democratic elections. They would probably only accept reform within the context of a greater application of Sharia values.

Providing incentives for rational Islamist elements in the military may be the only possible course for achieving lasting military reform.

( Moderator- I am not sure if my earlier post got uploaded, please ignore if earlier post was accepted)

Adam.

You're welcome; thanks for the response. While I don't disagree with your point on affordability, I can think of a few other options that might provide Afghanistan funds, not least their probable mineral deposits. However, that's in the future as is whether Karzai remains in power or not.

The number of Soviet Battalions is not totally relevant -- different time, different aims. Plus, Karzai or his successor apparently have some international sponsorship at this time and it looks to be relatively stable for a few years...

Andrew:

Good points. I would suggest, however, that the Tribes are perhaps a bit more advanced than you presume and that some are inclined to welcome some changes and modernizing. I do agree with you that attempts to forge a 'strategy' with respect to Pakistan are highly unlikely to be successful but I also see no harm in trying. I do not expect much success from Holbrook, I think he'll try to bully them as he did Milosevic and that will not work with Afghans or Pakistanis. Still, one never knows when the old paradigm shift event might occur...

You are correct in your assessment of the easily shifted alliances and the other cultural problems with respect to many in Afghanistan but I do not believe that attitude is universal and I do believe it can be changed -- acknowledging that will take time -- and, further, that the attitude is in fact changing.

The important questions, I believe are how fast will that change be and will we assist or deter the change. I think we do not yet know the answers to either question and we have embarked, rightly or wrongly, on an attempt to bring some change without really knowing how much change we want or what might be achievable. That's as American as Apple Crumble; we barge in and shake things up with little clue what the end result will be. Been doing that for over 200 years -- and I doubt that will change much for a good many years. It's okay, it keeps everyone alert...

I personally doubt that a strong central government will exist in Afghanistan for a great many years but I also believe it possible to reach an accommodation of sorts between somewhat idealistic western goals and the hard reality that is Afghanistan. Having said that, Option A is about the only option open at this point other than just leaving; the wisdom in its execution -- or lack thereof -- can make a huge difference and that is to be determined. We'll see, as they say...

As an aside, I've read several of Sir Michael's books including The Lessons of History. As is true of all historians, he gets some things right and injects his own spin on others. One has to filter. Still, your final point is much the same as mine -- the tribal and religious dynamics; the decisions of the Afghans themselves are the true determinants of what will occur. We aren't...

The belief that option A is a viable solution to the AF-Pak problem is wishful thinking. Not because of resource constraints or any of the other reasons cited, but because it is based on a Western Judaio-Christian philosophy. The whole idea of Afghanistan being an independent and sovereign state is a misnomer; even under the Durani Empire in the mid 18th century, control did not extend beyond Kabul. Rule of the provinces was left up to tribal and clan dynamics. Concepts such as alleviating poverty, instituting the rule of law (unless you mean Islamic law), and improving the health and education of the population are completely foreign ideas and do not resonate with the tribes.
Extending this strategy to Pakistan, particularly the FATA, is equally ill-advised. Kinship ties, tribal intrigue, and the closely interwoven fabric of Pashtun identity and Islam cut across the Durand Line. We need only look at British efforts to "win hearts and minds" in the FATA during the 1920s and 30s to see how the strategy of building roads to promote economic development, building schools to improve education, and building hospitals to improve medical care failed to produce positive results.
I believe pursuing option A actually strengthens the message religious extremists are preaching in both Afghanistan and the FATA. These leaders consistently warn any who will listen that the Western infidels are planning to do away with tribal norms and practices and want to corrupt tribal society. I know this is politically incorrect, but Western initiatives to educate women and promote the role of women outside traditional tribal roles fuel the fire. Add this to the fact that these tribes are already xenophobic to the point of paranoia and you can see how pursuing option A is a recipe for disaster. Before Im assassinated for my criticism of our efforts to promote the role of women outside tribal tradition, ask yourself what gives us the right to say that our culture is better than that of the Pashtuns? Isnt that racism? If youre still not sure, I urge you to read Chapter 2 of Michael Howards book entitled The Lessons of History.
Anyway, we need to take into account the tribal and religious dynamics that confront us in this part of the world and learn to work within their framework. I agree that some combination of a political and military response is needed. What that combination might entail is beyond the scope of this response.

Excellent points...especially the final one - yes, the Afghans have a vote or more appropriately, a voice in the decision making process...in addition, AQ & Taliban have a vote / voice...

unfortunately in planning, 2 out of 3 is the same as 0 for 3...we are pursuing a course of action that in the long run is NOT supportable unless someone discovers HUGE mineral or oil deposits that are immediately exploitable in Afghanistan...they will simply NEVER be able to financially support the armed services that we are building unless they fund them through the sale of opium...not a good COA

As for feasible...I think that the Soviets maintained 75 to 91 maneuver BNs under the 40th Army in Afghanistan during the mid 80's and failed to accomplish their goals...although, the Communist gov't they left in place faired better than Karzai's might in the absence of an international sponsor

Thank you for your feedback

Interesting take, Adam.

I guess I applied more license to the verbiage than you seem to.

Preventing another 9/11 is an effort not directed specifically at Afghanistan -- or Hamburg; it is a worldwide effort that (and many others) apart from as well as including military forces. Not using Afghanistan as base for the development or support of international terrorism would be a slightly more precise statement if one wants to be pedantic.

Protecting Afghanistan from the Taliban is also a rhetorical twist. Precluding the Talibs from an armed assumption or resumption of power is probably more correct. As for a vote, possibly true -- who knows what time will bring...

That's two in which I think you are technically but not practically correct. On the third issue you cite, you are emphatically correct in all aspects. The Afghan government will not be able to sustain such forces currently. Unless, of course, they are supported by grants in aid from the West or from the sale and taxing of the Poppy crop. Most people seem inclined to opt for the former method at this time. Thus, while your assumption is correct, a work-around exists.

The course of action recommended in the article comes at a considerable cost; a cost that was clearly outlined. Pay that cost and the COA almost certainly is feasible and supportable.

Acceptability, given all that, is in the determination of the body politic. The rest of us can have opinions but they are likely to make little difference...

A far more important consideration, I believe, is addressed by neither Kilcullen or you. Simply, that is what the bulk of Afghans really want as opposed to what we would like to think they want. That effect will be the determinant in whether the recommended COA is indeed a viable option. At this time, we don't really know the answer.

My bet is that when that question is answered, it will not be at all what we thought we wanted.

As a planner, I was taught to evaulate courses of action based on factors such as if they are feasible, acceptable, and supportable. Based on these criteria, I am not confident that the Prevent, Protect, Build, and Hand-Off COA passes the test. Prevent another 9/11 by denying sanctuary? - didnt the 9/11 conspirators come from Hamburg, Germany? Protect Afghanistan from the Taliban? Protect it against a group that is immensely popular and could most likely win a popular election in several provinces.. Build the Afghan security forces - security forces that the government has ZERO ability to financially support, equip, etc. Nothing in COA 1 appears feasible, acceptable, or supportable, but that is just one man's opinion.

Sir,

Thanks for the clarification. That makes sense.

Just to clarify, selection criterion (1) relates to a threat to US forces in Afghanistan -- not to a potential threat to CONUS or to US worldwide interests. The point is that unilateral Predator strikes should be limited to transnational terrorism-related targets, not used for targets that only relate to the local fight in Afghanistan. (This doesn't mean the latter category of targets don't matter or that we don't deal with them...just that we don't use drones unilaterally in Pakistani airspace to do so).

Regarding target selection criteria, if (2), (3), and (4) are met, but the threat is only a threat to the US and not to the international community, then we don't strike? That doesn't sound like a good idea, nor does it sound like a policy that even the most pacifist of administrations would dare abide by.

I think the rest of the statement is spot on.