Small Wars Journal

A New Way Forward for NATO Strategy in Afghanistan?

Mon, 05/21/2012 - 7:17am

The Center for National Policy has published a new report titled, "NATO Strategy in Afghanistan: A New Way Forward."  Coauthored by Scott Bates and Ryan Evans,

This strategy calls for an accelerated and substantive transition that puts the Afghan government and security forces in the lead across the country and leaves approximately 30,000 NATO and partnered troops in the country by April 2013 under a special operations command structure. It also calls for a bolstered United Nations role in governance and development programs.

You can download the full report here.

Categories: strategy - COIN - Afghanistan


Have to agree that the authors are sharp and insightful. It was one of the most politically incorrect reports on Afghanistan I have read, and it rationally challenged the barrage of rhetoric we have been enduring for 10 plus years now coming out ISAF.
Madhu, you are correct, he advocates ending the VSO program quickly and integrating the ALP into the ANP, and disbanding those ALP organizations that can’t be integrated (easier said than done). While raising local militias has been a COIN practice for decades, in almost all cases (it seems from my experience and studies) these militias eventually evolve into criminal elements that undermine the state. It is a simplistic assumption in most cases to assume you can give people this kind of power and then expect they’ll return to their days jobs after the insurgency is defeated. Forming militias is often a relatively rapid and effective COIN practice to deny freedom of movement for the insurgents, but it has its share of risks. The authors feel the ALP is potentially a significant threat to Afghanistan unity.
The authors make a number of great points, but most importantly they proposed core American and NATO interests for the region, which are containing transnational terrorist threats to the homeland and our allies. Maintaining sufficient stability (as I read through the document this appeared to be more important in Pakistan than Afghanistan). Not sure how we maintain “sufficient” stability or what that even means, but one it is defined that will neck down the mission to appropriate policy goals and hopefully remove us from the nation building business in this part of the world.
They propose a “firm and shared long-term commitment” to Afghanistan not to create a stable, democratic and peaceful Afghanistan, because that is impossible, but to pursue our core interests. Our focus shouldn’t be running development programs because it is outside the scope of our core interests. This effort should be managed by the UN (they do it better anyway).
We have a long history of providing support to less than idealistic governments to pursue our interests, so Afghanistan would just be another one we would add to the list (that list included Iran, Egypt, Philippines under Marcos, Indonesia and South Korea when they were ruled by dictators, etc.). Perhaps this is an approach to end this war with an acceptable degree of honor and uphold the value of the sacrifices we made to date by not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 5:23am

I had the privilege of meeting Ryan Evans, one of the authors, at the recent FM3-24 conference. He impressed me as a sharp and insightful person in general, with a passion and interest and personal experience in this topic. It is worth the time to click through the links and read what he is thinking.

That said, this is a pretty safe piece, in that it essentially states a course of action that is already well underway. More a change of "Means" (more SOF lead for ISAF, and greater Afghan lifting for the force in general) to attempt to force the same (IMO) infeasible, unsuitable, and broadly unacceptable "Ways" of the past decade to attain an "Ends" designed to suit the interests of the US as we have come to define them, and of course the interests of the former Northern Alliance. I would not consider such change a new strategy so much as a handing off of that strategy to a new force. Better if we directed SOF and GIROA to develop a new strategy(to include new Ways and Ends) and be prepared to lead and execute it at some date in the future, but instead the conventional force rides in on a blown horse, hands over the reins and tells them "ride fast, the enemy is hot on your heels," before dashing up the gangplank.

Perhaps this is the best we can hope for to realistically achieve in terms of improving our approach to Afghanistan in particular and the larger concerns with Islamist VEOs and transnational terrorism in general. Many factors contribute to our inability to make the bold changes of course necessary. Immediate, objective gains, regardless of how temporal will always be preferred by leaders to long-term efforts that show little profit during their respective tenures, but that will more likely lead to the enduring result we seek. Like corporate leaders who are slave to the quarterly earnings report, our officials are slaves to their next OER or election. This then leads to strategy shaped and led by Intel, which tends to be very reactive and short-sighted in nature. This fits the "business model" better than true strategy based on an understanding of the underlying problems and dynamics at work. Other factors as well, but I don't want to devolve into a mini-rant.

Worth the read.