Small Wars Journal

Afghanistan Strategy: Few Tough Questions, Fewer Detailed Answers

Afghanistan Strategy: Few Tough Questions, Fewer Detailed Answers by Robert M. Cassidy - Real Clear Defense

At the end of June, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of the ninth American commander in Afghanistan and the 17th commander of that war overall.  The U.S.-led coalition has been fighting there for 16 years and ten months.  Senior commanders and political leaders have acknowledged the war is a stalemate.  Years of Department of Defense reporting and senior leader hearings testify to the difficulties with the war and the reasons for the stalemate.  Many open source articles and books explain why, what at first looked like, a successful war, with the Taliban taking flight, then saw the regeneration of the Taliban and the onset of a protracted war of attrition with increasingly grisly bombings and violence year after year.  Civilians have been victims of much of the violence.  A strategic stalemate after almost 17 years of war is disconcerting. 

What was a bit perplexing about the nomination hearing for the next commander among a long line of commanders in Afghanistan was the dearth of detail.  During the hearing on 19 June, the senators posed a few tough questions about the gravest obstacles to success in Afghanistan and did not exact substantive answers.  The most recent unclassified biannual Defense Department report on progress in Afghanistan, released in early July shortly after the nomination hearing, included more detail than the answers that the senators demanded of the new commander.  The recent report makes clear that Pakistan’s most lethal and reliable Islamist terrorist proxy, the Haqqani network, “continues to be an integral part of the Taliban’s effort” to pose an existential threat to Afghanistan, and that the region has the “largest concentration” of terrorist organizations in the world.

Most importantly, the June DoD report notes that the Taliban and the Haqqani network retain freedom of movement in Pakistan and that Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from an externally supported insurgency.  Pakistan is the principal source of external support.  This is not a recent epiphany…

Read on.