Asia is not going to be civilized after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old. –Rudyard Kipling
It’s been seven years since the initiation of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, what’s going on? Well, it’s certainly enduring. The Taliban government has been overthrown and replaced, but it’s not going well, nobody’s yet declared “mission accomplished” and apparently Afghanistan has become even more important to the US.
President-elect Obama, during his visit to Afghanistan, said that United States needs to focus on Afghanistan in its battle against terrorism.
- “The Afghan government needs to do more. But we have to understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism.”
“Precarious and urgent” — the enemy is at the gates, according to Obama, in the “battle against terrorism.” Obama has obviously drunk the endless “war on terorism” Kool-Aid. When one starts with wrong assumptions one’ll never be successful. It’d be Bush redux. Okay, more on that in the next piece, now back to Afghanistan.
A draft report by American intelligence agencies has concluded that Afghanistan, that graveyard of empires, is in a “downward spiral” and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban’s influence there, according to American officials familiar with the document.
And the International Herald Tribune agrees:
- This has been the deadliest year for NATO forces and Afghan forces in Afghanistan since the invasion in late 2001, as Taliban insurgents have attacked persistently, in particular with ambushes and roadside bombs. The offensive has severely curtailed efforts by NATO and the government to expand their control from towns into the countryside.
As the summer fighting dragged on, it became clear that 19,000 foreign troops deployed in the southern provinces, alongside thousands more Afghan soldiers and police officers, were in a stalemate with the insurgents, as one senior NATO commander put it.
Stalemate? If you’re not winning, you’re losing, it seems to me, when your goal is to control the country.
- FM 3-24: Insurgents that never defeat counterinsurgents in combat still may achieve their strategic objectives.
NOTE: This and subsequent underlined quotes are taken from US Army Field Manual FM 3-24 “COUNTERINSURGENCY”(pdf)
Countrywide, NATO’s force in Afghanistan includes about 20,000 troops from the United States and 8,000 from Britain — the two highest contributors. In addition, there are some 12,000 U.S. troops in the country operating outside NATO’s command. Germany in September approved an increase of 1,000 troops for Afghanistan, for a maximum of 4,500 German troops in the country. However, politicians have kept German soldiers from deploying to Afghanistan’s volatile southern reaches, where mainly U.S. forces are locked in a tough fight against al-Qaida and Taliban militants. Canada, Italy and France each contribute around 2,500 troops to the NATO mission, and the Netherlands 1,700. Australia and Poland each sent around 1,000, and dozens of other nations provide smaller numbers, for a total of about 55,000 foreign troops. Repeated US demands for more NATO troops has been largely fruitless.
The shortage of ground troops has created a greater reliance on deadly airstrikes, not only on wedding parties (six parties attacked and two brides dispatched) but in general. The frequency with which such civilian casualties are now occurring on both sides of the border — in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan’s tribal areas — is seriously hurting US and coalition standing in the region. Killing civilians is counterproductive. President Karzai:
- “We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes.” Clearly, without a change in strategy from the current one of military primacy, more ground troops are required.
FM 3-24: In a COIN environment, it is vital for commanders to adopt appropriate and measured levels of force and apply that force precisely so that it accomplishes the mission without causing unnecessary loss of life or suffering.
Part of the problem is the multiplier effect when civilians are killed–recruiting for the resistance. A Western military officer:
- “This isn’t a scientific fact, but what we say is that for every guy we kill, we probably are recruiting at least three new guys.”
FM 3-24: Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force.
Can the Anbar Awakening, useful in Iraq, be exported to Afghanistan? President-elect Obama:
- “Iraq and Afghanistan are very different countries. We cannot expect to simply export the Awakening strategy from the tribes of Al-Anbar to the tribes of Helmand … Any initiative to separate moderate from radical elements will have to be deeply rooted in the efforts of Afghans themselves.”
Barack Obama has said he plans to add about 7,000 or 8,000 troops to the NATO mission, as he wrote in a July NYT Op-Ed:
- “As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.”
Say what? Putting more troops into the Afghan morass is a new strategy?
At least two additional brigades will be sent. Why? The goal, according to the 2008 Democratic Party Platform, is “Win in Afghanistan.”
Obama: “we need more troops.” But how many more troops are really needed to “win in Afghanistan?” At the accepted counter-insurgency soldier/citizen ratio of 1:50, with a population of 32 million, a total of 640,000 troops would be required.
- FM 3-24: Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1000 residents
The Afghan National Army (ANA) is now at 68,000. According to US Major General Cone, who is training them, they are effective.
- “The ANA are leading about 60 percent of the operations they participate in and have proven themselves as an effective fighting force. . . .”
Check that verbage: “Of the operations they participate in . . .” It doesn’t tell us anything.
Let’s look at what the Brookings Institute(pdf) reports:
- Out of 85 ANA battalions on paper only one is capable of acting independently, only 30% of ANA forces rank in the top two tiers of combat readiness and 22 battalions are “not yet formed or not reporting”.
That’s not all. General Cone:
- The Afghans have had a high AWOL rate, absent without leave which “has been under 10 percent and it ran for a good number of months at 5 (percent) to 7 percent and then we had a slight peak as we went into Ramadan and Eid and many of them had problems returning.”
Oh goody, many of them “had problems returning.” Do they have a stomach problem, no guts? Or, more likely, they are reluctant to shoot fellow citizens who are resisting a foreign military occupation. This reminds me of the eternal Vietnam question: Why can’t our guys fight like their guys? It must have something to do with whom their sponsors are.
General Cone again:
- The ANA is also in the midst of expanding from their current strength of 68,000 to an end strength of about 134,000.”
Good luck. The ANA has grown slowly, according to Brookings, numbering just 6,000 soldiers in 2003, increasing to about 25,000 through 2005, and then going up to 36,000 in 2006, 50,000 in 2007, and 58,000 in April 2008 (not 68,000, according to Brookings), so who knows how long it would take to add 66,000 more soldiers to its ranks, and how many of them would be effective? Year-to-Date ANA re-enlistment is currently 50% — that’s not good. Half the people they train soon leave.
Even if the ANA gets up to desired strength, which is very doubtful, there would be a need according to the COIN ratio for half a million foreign troops. In fact, the outgoing commander in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeil, was reported to have said last June that 400,000 NATO troops would be required, which is in the ballpark. Let’s assume that the commander knew his stuff and stick with this figure of 400,000.
By comparison, in Iraq the coalition has about 155,000 troops plus 256,000 in the New Iraqi Army (according to the most recent State Department report)(pdf) for a total of about 400,000 troops. Iraq has four million fewer people than Afghanistan, a much smaller geographic area and an easier terrain.
The 345,000 (400K-55K) additional foreign troops needed in Afghanistan wouldn’t come from our NATO partners, of course. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently that he did not expect America’s NATO allies to provide many more troops for the war in Afghanistan.
Australia has opted for no increase in its contribution, Canada plans to pull its military out in 2011 and no additional British troops will be available for any surge in Afghanistan.
Any new forces for Afghanistan would have to come from the US military, either from Iraq or from new recruitment. General Petraeus seems reluctant to remove troops from Iraq. President Bush announced in September a reduction of US forces in Iraq from 15 to 14 combat brigades early next year, and the 14 brigades are scheduled to remain in Iraq through next year. (Note: The wild card in this plan is the proposed bilateral US/Iraq agreement.)
Admiral Mullen has said that setting a fixed timeline for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, as Obama has suggested, would be dangerous.
- “I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that regard,” said Admiral Mullen. “I’m convinced at this point in time that making reductions based on conditions on the ground are very important.”
In regards to Afghanistan, Mullen has said that it isn’t going well now and more troops are needed even with the 6,000 to 7,000 more U.S. troops that will go into the country in the next few months. “Even when they arrive,” he said, “we will still be short of troops that the commander needs there. . .[because] the insurgency is growing.”
Oh good, we’re already in a downward spiral and still the insurgency is growing. (Of course it’s growing, as US forces destroy more wedding parties and villages.) Where would the 300,000 plus additional American troops needed to “win” against this growing insurgency come from?
First a flashback: Memories of Vietnam, where forty-one years ago General Westmoreland famously asked for 200,000 more troops to add to the existing 550,000 in Vietnam. The request brought down the Lyndon Johnson presidency. Vietnam at the time had about 38 million people, a bit more than the Afghanistan population of 32 million. South Vietnam was only a quarter the size of Afghanistan, but of course there was the involvement of North Vietnam.
Afghanistan is the new central front of the “war on terror” but the number of additional troops (300,000+) that would be required for military success (or failure, since success is by no means certain) is unobtainable without a tremendous increase in recruitment or a military draft. President-elect Obama has called for universal public service, which would be voluntary and non-military, but might this be changed? Could the urgency of the need for success in Afghanistan with the concomitant requirement for hundreds of thousands more troops lead to a military draft, perhaps? Anybody feel a draft?
What should the US policy be in Afghanistan, military victory or something else?
One of the Pentagon’s top policymakers has recently warned that a “surge” of U.S. troops to Afghanistan like the one executed in Iraq 18 months ago doesn’t recognize the complexities of the Taliban and al Qaeda-sponsored violence there and could backfire. Eric Edelman, the Pentagon’s top civilian policy advisor to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said the situation in Afghanistan is far different than the one faced by U.S. troops in Iraq during the darkest days of sectarian violence in 2006.
Imagine that, a top guy at the Pentagon counseling against increased military force. No wonder the corporate media didn’t report it.
But if not more troops, then what? This, from a Foreign Affairs article:
- “The crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan is beyond the point where more troops will help. U.S. strategy must be to seek compromise with insurgents while addressing regional rivalries and insecurities. . .The goal of the next U.S. president must be to put aside the past, Washington’s keenness for ‘victory’ as the solution to all problems, and the United States’ reluctance to involve competitors, opponents, or enemies in diplomacy.”–Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid
That’s the long-term solution. There is also an immediate problem with the Karzai government according to Sarah Chayse, noted American author and NPR journalist now living in Kandahar:
- “If there isn’t an immediate, urgent, and energetic switch of priorities toward demanding — in the name of the Afghan people — a significant improvement in the behavior of [Afghanistan] government officials, it is a lost cause.”
I’m afraid that that common sense based on the evidence will not prevail and that this war, now in its eighth year, barring an outright Soviet-style defeat, will go on for a very long time in a fruitless quest for “victory” without proper recognition of the current failures. After all, with all its failures, it is thought of as the “good war.” What do you think?