Small Wars Journal

U.S. Senators Call For New Strategy To Defeat Taliban In Afghanistan

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 1:30am

U.S. Senators Call For New Strategy To Defeat Taliban In Afghanistan

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators visiting Afghanistan on July 4 called for a new strategy from the Trump administration to turn the tide against an increasingly strong Taliban insurgency and end the longest U.S. war.

The delegation led by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain was in Kabul on a regional trip that included two days in neighboring Pakistan.

"None of us would say that we are on a course to success here in Afghanistan," McCain said at a press briefing at NATO's headquarters in Kabul.

"That needs to change and quickly," he said. "The strongest nation on earth should be able to win this conflict."

The Pentagon is currently reviewing strategy in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have been backing the fight against the Taliban for 16 years. It reportedly is considering recommending an increase in troops of 3,000 to 5,000.

But McCain and other senators suggested that an incremental increase in troops would not be enough. McCain was accompanied by Senators Lindsey Graham, Elizabeth Warren, Sheldon Whitehouse, and David Perdue.

The Taliban is "not going to negotiate unless they think they are losing," McCain said. "So we need to win and have the advantage on the battlefield and then enter into a serious negotiation to resolve the conflict."

McCain made a mark in the last decade by urging a "surge" in U.S. troops to win the war in Iraq before negotiating a peace accord there -- a strategy adopted by former President George W. Bush that was credited with success at putting down the insurgency in Iraq at the time.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he would tell U.S. President Donald Trump that 8,600 American troops currently in Afghanistan "will not get the job done" and that more American troops along with more NATO troops should be deployed to "turn stalemate into success."

Since the exit of most foreign troops in 2014, Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government has lost ground to the Taliban insurgency. A U.S. report found earlier this year that the Taliban controls or contests control of about 40 percent of the country.

Democrat Warren did not join with the others in pushing for more troops. She said she came to get "the view on the ground about what is happening" in Afghanistan.

"We need a strategy in the United States that defines our role in Afghanistan, defines our objective, and explains how we can get from here to there," Warren said.

Last month, Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set American troop levels in Afghanistan, but as commander in chief Trump must sign off on an overall strategy for the war.

Mattis has said the strategy he will recommend, which will be presented to Trump by mid-July, will take a broader "regional" approach, with no set timetable.

U.S. security officials have privately said the most likely options will be to increase training and air support by 3,000-5,000 troops for still-inexperienced Afghan security forces, while also tracking down Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and other Islamist extremists based in Afghanistan.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, has said "several thousand" more foreign troops – mostly trainers - are needed to break a military stalemate with the Taliban.

In 2001, a U.S.-backed military intervention in Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime, whose ultra-hardline interpretation of Islamic law banned most women from public life and executed people not seen as sufficiently pious, such as men who had beards not considered long enough.


If Secretary Mattis is to recommend a "regional" approach, clearly that will have to include efforts to deal with Pakistan as well as India. It seems that Pakistan has the most to do with keeping Afghanistan destabilized so I'm curious as to what approach we/ The West will take regarding them. India may be able to provide a stabilizing influence but will the Pakis allow that? What can the Chinese contribute? Will their growing economic influence there help Afghanistan? Does it make more sense to allow Afghanistan to remain unstable forcing those around it to focus their attention on it instead of elsewhere...?

Paul Kanninen

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 3:10pm

An Afghan elder told me that you Americans have watches but the Taliban have time.

Bill C.

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 6:34pm

In reply to by Vicrasta

Re: "winning," "losing," etc., today, I believe we must look at Afghanistan -- and, indeed, virtually everywhere else in the world today -- more through a (very familiar to us Old Cold Warriors):

a. "Global competition" lens; this, based on

b. "Differing political, economic, social and value orientation, institutions and norm."

(Thus, to see "winning" or "losing" in Afghanistan/"defeating the Taliban," etc., today not so much in terms of defeating terrorism, and/or eliminating terrorist sanctuaries, etc., but more in terms of [a] transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines and [b] incorporating same more into the U.S./the Western [rather than the Chinese, Russian, Iranian, etc.] sphere of power, influence and control.)


... There are serious political competitions underway for regional and strategic dominance. These extend beyond military battlefields and are a fought across a variety of domains – political, economic, informational, and cultural. Is the United States finally ready to compete? ...

... Yet in virtually every theater of the world, local and regional competitions over ideas, economic systems, and societies affect America’s ability to protect and advance its interests.

END QUOTE (by Nadia Schadlow)

(Nadia Schadlow is now, I believe, a member of the National Security Council and, therein, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for National Security Strategy.)

Bottom Line:

"Winning" or "losing" in Afghanistan/"defeating the Taliban" (etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum), thus, to be understood more in the New Cold War (see global political, economic, social/cultural, etc. competition) terms noted by Nadia Schadlow above?"


Wed, 07/05/2017 - 8:23am

What does this actually mean? Losing???

The Taliban is "not going to negotiate unless they think they are losing," McCain said. "So we need to win and have the advantage on the battlefield and then enter into a serious negotiation to resolve the conflict."

What combination of defeat and stability mechanisms are going to be employed to "have an advantage on the battlefield?


tactical mission task that physically renders an enemy force combat-ineffective until it is reconstituted. Alternatively, to destroy a combat system is to damage it so badly that it cannot perform any function or be restored to a usable condition without being entirely rebuilt (FM 3-90-1).


employ forces to obtain significant positional advantage, rendering the enemy’s dispositions less valuable, perhaps even irrelevant (ADRP 3-0).


disrupt the enemy’s command and control system, degrading its ability to conduct operations while leading to a rapid collapse of the enemy’s capabilities or will to fight (ADRP 3-0).


tactical mission task that requires a unit to seal off—both physically and psychologically—an enemy from sources of support, deny the enemy freedom of movement, and prevent the isolated enemy force from having contact with other enemy forces (FM 3-90-1).

Are we going to "compel" the TB to negotiate and change their behavior?

"Compel means to use, or threaten to use, lethal force to establish control and dominance, effect behavioral change, or enforce compliance with mandates, agreements, or civil authority."

"Support is to establish, reinforce, or set the conditions necessary for the instruments of National power to function effectively." This seems to be part of the new "strategy", but is incumbent on functioning instruments of national power.

Compel by doctrine has the opposite effect on the TB. I do not think they have a concept of losing, because they are content to resist for generations. You cannot win or lose if the fight never ends. Just spit, sip water, stop the bleeding, and go back in...