Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What is our strategy to win and exit in Afghanistan?

Anybody out there have even the slightest clue as to what our strategy for winning in Afghanistan really is? Or what our exit strategy is for Afghanistan? As far as I can tell there isn't any!

Yeah, sure, you can read about "A New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" on the White House web site, as of March 27, 2009, including the six-page "White Paper of the Interagency Policy Group's Report on U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan", but it basically only tells us what we wish we could do rather than a true, hard-core strategy that will actually get there:

... the core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.



Achieving our core goal is vital to U.S. national security. It requires, first of all, realistic and achievable objectives. These include:
  • Disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.
  • Promoting a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.
  • Developing increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.
  • Assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan and a vibrant economy that provides opportunity for the people of Pakistan.
  • Involving the international community to actively assist in addressing these objectives for Afghanistan and Pakistan, with an important leadership role for the UN.

Those are all truly great things to do, but that still does not constitute a hard-core strategy to win and to get out.

Notice, for example, that it seeks to get the Afghan security forces only to a level where they can fight with "reduced U.S. assistance." How about a goal of zero U.S. assistance? There simply isn't a game plan in place for that.

Notice, for example, that it seeks to "disrupt" terrorists and to "degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks." Yes, "degrade" is good, but it is not good enough to win and get us out. No strategy or plan is offered to eliminate "any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks." If there is no elimination of the threat, then guess what? The implication is that we have to stay, potentially for a very long time.

Go ahead and pore through that white paper as closely as you can, but you won't find any mention of two concepts: win and exit.

Sure, the white paper tells us of "the desired end state":

the removal of al-Qaeda's sanctuary, effective democratic government control in Pakistan, and a self-reliant Afghanistan that will enable a withdrawal of combat forces while sustaining our commitment to political and economic development.

And it even gives a set of "steps" that must be taken and they are indeed great steps to take, but there is still a massive disconnect between lofty goals and "steps" on the one hand and how to actually close the deal and win in a way that leads to a full wind-down of U.S. military involvement and realistic exit.

If we intend to stay as long as al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other "bad actors" (including drug lords) are running around, I would simply say that is a fair assessment of the problem, but it is not a strategy for winning.

Adding more troops is not a strategy either. Double, triple, quadruple the troops. Increase by an order of magnitude. Whatever. There is no number of troops that would assure the complete elimination of all of the "bad guys." Especially, if they can easily slip across the border into Pakistan, Iran, or wherever.

Even if we did eliminate all of the "bad guys" that we could find, Afghanistan is still a relatively uncivilized and tribal country that simply does not have a robust social structure that could deter a reemergence of "bad actors" in the future. The lure of poppies and opium assures that, no matter what.

Pres. Obama said a lot of the right words back in March:

Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course.  Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable.  We'll consistently assess our efforts to train Afghan security forces and our progress in combating insurgents.  We will measure the growth of Afghanistan's economy, and its illicit narcotics production.  And we will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals.

Unfortunately, that means that we are still essentially clueless as to what "progress" really is in terms of a complete elimination of the terrorist threat.

The really key problem is that the phrase "our goals" essentially and effectively means a collection of tools and tactics to "pursue" rather than tangible real-world targets to objectively obtain.

In truth, my hunch is that the "bad guys" in Afghanistan is only a small part of the reason why we are there. The big reason we are there is more likely as a semi-permanent base to deter Iran in the region.

In any case, the bottom line is that we have no strategy or plan to end the war in Afghanistan and exit the region.

How long are we going to simply keep adding more troops with no realistic strategy for how they will actually achieve a conclusion of hostilities?

How high will the body count get before the American people finally say enough?

The bottom line is that a large U.S. force in Afghanistan is simply a long-term losing proposition. Eventually, a U.S. president will come to that same conclusion and we will some years from now simply pull out, much as the Soviets did. Meanwhile, the infamous "consensus" is that increased troop levels in Afghanistan is "the way to go."

-- Jack Krupansky


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