The discussion unfolding here and on the COIN Center's blog is an important one, since the situation in Iraq continues to improve while in Afghanistan it deteriorates. As ideas of an Afghan "surge," similar to the course of action adopted in Iraq, circulate among decision makers, the nuances of the Afghanistan situation remain particularly relevant. GEN Petraeus recently noted in a New York Times interview, "The first lesson, the first caution really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture." In light of these remarks, what are the peculiarities and strategic nuances inherent in the Afghanistan situation?
The Army Field Manual, FM 3-07, "Stability Operations," states, "Understanding is fundamental to planning. Without understanding, commanders cannot establish the situation's context." Adopting a "Comprehensive Approach" that includes understanding regional dynamics is central to crafting any kind of successful Afghan strategy. Pakistan, seeking strategic depth, has systematically sought influence within Afghanistan for decades. If the Kashmir conflict was resolved and tensions reduced between India and Pakistan, the latter would no longer need to pursue the strategic depth Afghanistan could provide. Reconciling regional conflicts should be a part of any Afghan strategy.
Afghanistan does not have a tradition of a strong central government. The kind of government NATO helps Afghanistan build is of paramount importance. Perhaps a federal system with much more power vested in regional and even local entities would allow tribal structures the autonomy they have historically enjoyed. As COL Roper noted, the bottom up method of building security was one of the keys to success in Iraq. That being said, building governmental capacity is also important. Afghanistan throughout its governing structures needs the kind of mentoring PRTs can provide. The Vietnam-era CORDS program is an example of the kind of interagency cooperation and unity of effort required to build governmental capacity down to sub-district levels.
GEN Petraeus has also noted that reconciliation must become a key line of effort. The Army's new Stability Operations doctrine emphasizes the roles that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration play in security sector reform. Again, the diverse capabilities inherent in PRTs could assist training and reforming Afghan security forces, while legal assistance might strengthen the Afghan judiciary. Long term stability will emerge only when Afghan police forces protect Afghan citizens and enforce the rule of law through a functioning Afghan court system.
Finally, developing Afghanistan's infrastructure must remain a priority. More money is spent each month in Iraq than has been spent on Afghanistan infrastructure since 2001. The judicious use of CERP funds is a start. However, as some commentators noted in the COIN Center blog, training Afghanis in various trades is a necessary part of building Afghan capacity and enhancing employment opportunities. Human resource development is one of the main elements of capacity building, as emphasized in the Stability Operations doctrine.
Frontier 6 is Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV, Commanding General of the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the command that oversees the Command and General Staff College and 17 other schools, centers, and training programs located throughout the United States. The Combined Arms Center is also responsible for: development of the Army's doctrinal manuals, training of the Army's commissioned and noncommissioned officers, oversight of major collective training exercises, integration of battle command systems and concepts, and supervision of the Army's Center for the collection and dissemination of lessons learned.