Small Wars Journal

USNI Debate on Afghanistan End Game: Stavridis Weighs In

Sun, 07/29/2012 - 3:45pm

ADM James Stavridis weighs in at the USNI blog in response to CDR (Ret) John Kuehn's call in Proceedings to "Punch Them in the Nose and Leave" - calling for NATO/ISAF to conduct a fighting withdrawal in the vein of the Soviets' exit from Afghanistan.  ADM Stavridis points out ISAF successes and states that a responsible and managed transition is already underway.  Most of the commenters seem unconvinced.  Make sure to scroll down to see their counters and you'll find some useful links as well.

You'll note several references to prestige or saving face.  On this topic, I highly recommend reading Gordon M. Goldstein's Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam (New York: Holt, 2008).


Something of a bottom line question here:

By our continuing efforts as described by ADM Stavridis, are we more likely to prevail over enemies who would limit American access and influence throughout the world?

("Punch them in the nose and then leave" not seeming to have much of a chance of accomplishing this objective.)

G. Murphy Donovan

Mon, 07/30/2012 - 1:17pm

At some point, Karzai suffers the same fate as his predecessor. He will be seen hanging from a lamp post as an object lesson. As with Najibullah, few will notice. History does rhyme; this time with the Soviet chime. We have not defeated the enemy, the Taliban; but we have corrupted our "allies." SEA veterans should be having hot flashes of deja vu right about now.

In all of this, the DOD is no different than any other federal bureaucracy. Once started, military campaigns or programs develop contract and congressional constituents with self-serving motives unrelated to success or national security. Indeed, the word "victory" has been struck from the American flag officer lexicon.

Reformist national security and foreign policy agendas are unlikely planks for either party this election year. When it comes to small wars in the Muslim world, apathy may be loudest voice in the room. Indeed, both major parties have confused revolution and insurgency with reform. Revolts change regimes; only reform corrects abuses.

Reform is not part of anyone's agenda; not apathetic Washington nor corrupt Kabul. The only course that might be worse than precipitous withdrawal is a prolonged, albeit lower profile, presence in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. There is little danger that they might become more like us, but every signal that we aspire to appear more like them. No small wonder then that "victory" is still part of the Islamist vocabulary. They see a bonfire at the end of the tunnel.

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 07/31/2012 - 4:50pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I actually advocate maintaining Combined Forces Command and changing the commander to a ROK General with a US General as deputy. I proposed this in an article that will be published this fall in the International Journal of Korean Studies.

Although the comments by the Commander in the linked article have been denied by the public affairs office I provide some explanation below.

“USFK Suggests Keeping Combined Forces Command,” Chosun Ilbo, June 14, 2012…

OPCON transfer has always been a misnomer and this article is one of the first to allude to it. It has really all about the dissolution of the war fighting HQ, the Combined Forces Command. This transformation has been gradually taking place in the face of the continuous threat of War or Regime Collapse – both of which require an effective and unified allied response.

In addition, Combined Forces Command can be likened to Siamese twins and when it is dissolved and two separate war fighting commands are established (an independent ROK war fighting HQ in the lead and a supporting US command) the question has to be asked, like an operation to separate Siamese twins, which one will get the common organs of the nerve system, circulatory system, brains, heart and lungs, etc.? Will the separation not only be successful but will it survive especially in the face of external threats?

A second political problem is the idea that US forces would be under the command of a foreign commander. Combined Forces Command currently reports to the Military Committee for its strategic guidance and direction and that committee includes BOTH Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, the ROK Minister and US Secretary of Defense and the PACOM Commander and the Senior US Military Officer in Korea. If a ROK General took command of CFC with a US 4 star deputy commander (reversing this situation as it now exists but keeping the most effective combined war fighting structure in place) he would still report to the Military Committee and US forces would remain under OPCON of US leadership just as in wartime the ROK forces would be under ROK OPCON through the military committee (this is why the OPCON transfer has always been a misnomer).

In addition, the US places its forces under various levels of command of foreign commanders. This is being done in Afghanistan in the regional commands. In Korea in wartime US Special Operations Forces are under the operational control of the Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force which is commanded by a ROK Lieutenant General. The rationale for saying it is not under a foreign commander is because that this “foreign commander” answers to the US commander of CFC. The same rationale will apply if the CFC is commanded by a ROK General Officer because he will still answer to the Military Committee which answers equally to the senior leadership of both governments (actually the military components of each nations' National Command Authority).
Lastly, part of the reason for the dissolution of CFC (the mythical OPCON transfer) is that the ROK military should have the lead. It is absolutely necessary for legitimacy on the Korean peninsula and with the Koreans living in the north, especially when dealing with post-conflict or post-regime collapse operations. The proposed solution being reported in this article would allow that to happen because the ROK would have the lead in the operations in command of CFC.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 07/31/2012 - 3:26pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


True, like most who post here I take positions that support what I believe. And equally true that these situations are complicated.

As to "Supported-Supporting" relationships, if you are stating that the Host nation should be the supported party, and that assisting nation should be the supporting party, I completely agree. This is critical to truly reinforce the sovereignty and legitimacy of the nations we support. Of course this creates tremendous risk for US forces and we have a long record of resisting subjugating ourselves to the authorities of the nation we support. WWI being a great example.

Clearly there needs to be a balancing. We did not want to become cannon fodder for the French high command to throw at the Germans. Agreed. Did taking that position undermine the sovereignty of France? Doubtful.

In Afghanistan, however, it clearly undermines the sovereignty of GIRoA that we take lead. We see this in the regular debates over issues such as night raids, prisoner control, etc.

I get it that we want to protect our troops and maximize our tactical effectiveness, but we also need to recognize what is essential to our strategic effectiveness.

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 07/31/2012 - 1:48pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


I know your comments support your theory but there is a lot more to the Korean wartime authority issue. It is somewhat disingenuous to say that we are discussing "allowing" South Koreans to have wartime command authority. Since 1978 when the Combined Forces Command was established both ROK and US forces have fallen under the wartime command authority of the Military Committee which is in effect made up of the military components of both nations' National Command Authorities. Each country retains authority over its forces. The wartime command authority issue is one of the most misunderstand concepts in the press today. While your inference that we are finally getting over the "big brother-little brother" relationship is correct please do not confuse it with the wartime authority issue or as it is popularly and incorrectly termed OPCON transfer. The issue is really about dissolving the Combined Forces Command and establishing separate warfighting headquarters in a supporting to supported relationship (which always works so well).

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 07/31/2012 - 4:58am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill it has been over 60 years and we are only just beginning to discuss "allowing" the South Koreans to have wartime command athority of their own forces in defense of their own country. It should be no surprise that after merely 11 years we still quash the the very soverignty in Afhganistan that we profess to support.

Containment strategies are rooted in inflated fears and exercised through excessive controls. This is true if one is seeking to contain communist ideologies on the Korean penninsula, or to somehow contain islamist ideologies in the FATA of western Pakistan. It is a flawed strategy in either case and it leads to equally flawed operational approaches. It is a strategy that drives a raitonalization process among senior leaders that validates decisions to set princples aside as applied to our "allies" that we hold dear for ourselves.

The Admiral's opinion is a product of this environment and his current position. As such they should not surpise anyone for the position they express, but that position should be discounted accordingly as well.

Bill M.

Sun, 07/29/2012 - 10:59pm

Two surprises in this short piece, first that ADM Stavridis would resort to largely irrelevant statistics to support his counter position to the "punch them in the nose and leave" article, and second the overwhelming the negativity to his response. In general people are no longer buying attempts to spin the war with meaningless statistics, and of all people the ADM should know that.

Despite the ADM's less than successful efforts to put a positive spin on the war, his support for putting the Afghans in the lead and continuing support (hopefully much reduced) seems the right course to me. He wrote,

"We must and will continue engagement post-2014 with Afghans fully in the lead for security and with NATO / ISAF mentorship, support, and assistance."

My fear is after 10 years of spin people are so tired of this conflict they may support the irrational approach of quitting cold turkey. I think that approach will do more than just cause a loss of face, but reduce America's credibility and ability to lead in the future, which could have serious repercussions to our national security in time (this is speculative, but seems reasonable). Starting now, and definitely after we support to a true supporting role we need a much more honest portrayal of what is happening, one that sets realistic expectations, and one that clearly points out this is now an Afghan problem that will require an Afghan solution, but we'll assist where we can.

Ultimately I hope we're serious about putting the Afghans in the lead, not just for security, but for governance and all that goes with it. We have to stop imposing solutions that don't work for them and accept their solutions. The million dollar is will we, are will we continue to meddle excessively and get shown the door?