Guest post by Gary Farber (thanks to Eric Martin, who understandably is busy! And double congrats to Eric for all that family-makin' stuff he's been doin'!)
Gary's home blog is Amygdala, and he invites you to read him there.
[Eric Martin: My friend Gary is going to be pitching in for a couple of days as I adjust to the enhanced parenting techniques that my son is submitting me too. And yes, sleep deprivation is torture.]
A post in two parts. Part I:
On Friday night's PBS Newshour, Tom Bearden gave the following report from Fort Carson:
(Audio-only, if you have bandwidth issues. Click the above link for a transcript.)
I was struck cold.
I've been to that chapel.
I've seen the upended rifle with the soldier's own helmet atop it, and boots beside it.
I've been there for the chilling sound and sight of the honor guards' rifle-shot salute.
I've listened to the bagpipes, and seen the faces of the family and friends, just as we see and hear in this video.
Then it was one soldier's boots and rifle.
On Friday, it was six at once.
This is the cost of our Long War in Afghanistan.
This is the price our families, and sons and daughters, and parents, are paying.
It's been eight years and a week since American forces began combat in Afghanistan.
Come Februrary of 2010, we'll have been fighting in Afghanistan longer than we fought the American revolutionary war (April, 1775 to September, 1783 = 100 months).
(That's by the longest possible measure: the last actual major British land offensive ended in October of 1781, when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown; the war formally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on on September 8, 1783.)
The date on which America "began" fighting the Vietnam War is an entirely debatable question, but for argument's sake, let's go with the commencement of U.S. air strikes on North Vietnam with Operation Flaming Dart on February 7, 1965, and major U.S. bombing of North Vietnam in Operation Rolling Thunder on March 2nd, 1965. The deployment of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing to Da Nang for Flaming Dart led to the almost immediate deployment, on March 8th, 1965, of a Marine brigade (3,500 troops) to protect U.S. air bases in South Vietnam from ground attack.
By April of 1965, the U.S. had 60,000 ground troops in South Vietnam.
On June 27, 1965, the U.S. launched a major ground offensive against the National Liberation Front.
By December of 1965 the U.S. had 200,000 ground troops in South Vietnam.
On January 27, 1973, the U.S. signed a cease fire, and by March 1973, all U.S. combat operations troops had left Vietnam. America's war in Vietnam was effectively over by them, although the final collapse of South Vietnam's corrupt shell of a government didn't take place until April 30, 1975, the same date the last U.S. personnel fled Vietnam, and the last two American soldiers, Marines, died under hostile fire in Vietnam.
It was a war of eight to ten years.
And as matters presently stand, America looks sure to have a longer war in Afghanistan, our longest war evah, if not as of now, our ninth year of war in Afghanistan, but within, at most, a year or two from now.
So, as a former mayor of New York City used to ask: how are we doing?
The unanimous opinion is: we're deep in a bloody hole.
As Dexter Filkins writes in Sunday's long profile of Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal:
[...] Success takes time, but how much time does Stanley McChrystal have? The war in Afghanistan is now in its ninth year. The Taliban, measured by the number of their attacks, are stronger than at any time since the Americans toppled their government at the end of 2001. American soldiers and Marines are dying at a faster rate than ever before. Polls in the United States show that opposition to the war is growing steadily.
Worse yet, for all of America’s time in Afghanistan — for all the money and all the blood — the lack of accomplishment is manifest wherever you go. In Garmsir, there is nothing remotely resembling a modern state that could take over if America and its NATO allies left. Tour the country with a general, and you will see very quickly how vast and forbidding this country is and how paltry the effort has been.
And finally, there is the government in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai, once the darling of the West, rose to the top of nationwide elections in August on what appears to be a tide of fraud. The Americans and their NATO allies are confronting the possibility that the government they are supporting, building and defending is a rotten shell.
And that's the crucial problem: no foreign power can win a counter-insurgency war on behalf of a government not widely regarded as legitimate, relatively uncorrupt, and able to provide security for its own people. That was always the problem with Vietnam: wars are, in the end, as Carl von Clausewitz said, "merely a continuation of politics" ("Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln"), and if you can't win politically, all the military battles you win are irrelevant.
The classic exchange:
The late Colonel Harry Summers liked to tell a tale familiar to many who served in Vietnam. In April 1975, after the war was over, the colonel was in a delegation dispatched to Hanoi. In the airport, he got into a conversation with a North Vietnamese colonel named Tu who spoke some English and, as soldiers do, they began to talk shop. After a while, Colonel Summers said: "You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield." Colonel Tu thought about that for a minute, then replied: "That may be so. But it is also irrelevant."
Can the government in Kabul become one that most Afghans regard as legitimate?
That is the antepenultimate question, rather than which military forces or strategy should be used.
The penultimate question is: if so, can we help the government in Kabul become that legitimate government?
The ultimate question for America and NATO is: if so, how high a price is too high a price for us to pay to help the government in Kabul become that legitimate government?
Thomas H. Johnson, of the Department of National Security Affairs and director of the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School and retired Foreign Service officer M. Chris Mason think not:
[...] Meanwhile the political failure in Kabul is Saigon déjà vu. A government that is seen as legitimate by 85 or 90 percent of the population is considered the sine qua non of success by counterinsurgency experts. After the Diem coup, this was never possible in Vietnam, as one incompetent and utterly corrupt government succeeded another. None was legitimate in the eyes of the people. Contemporary descriptions of the various Saigon governments read almost exactly like descriptions of the Karzai government today. Notwithstanding all the fanfare over this week's presidential voting in Afghanistan, the Kabul government will never be legitimate either, because democracy is not a source of legitimacy of governance in Afghanistan and it never has been. Legitimacy in Afghanistan over the last thousand years has come exclusively from dynastic and religious sources. The fatal blunder of the United States in eliminating a ceremonial Afghan monarchy was Afghanistan's Diem Coup: afterwards, there was little possibility of establishing a legitimate, secular national government.
It doesn't matter who wins the August elections for president in Afghanistan: he will be illegitimate because he is elected. We have apparently learned nothing from Vietnam.
Elizabeth Bumiller also reminds us that Afghanistan has not always been riven, when there was a monarchy seen as legitimate by many Afghans:
[...] American and Afghan scholars and diplomats say it is worth recalling four decades in the country’s recent history, from the 1930s to the 1970s, when there was a semblance of a national government and Kabul was known as “the Paris of Central Asia.”
Afghans and Americans alike describe the country in those days as a poor nation, but one that built national roads, stood up an army and defended its borders. As a monarchy and then a constitutional monarchy, there was relative stability and by the 1960s a brief era of modernity and democratic reform. Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts. Visitors — tourists, hippies, Indians, Pakistanis, adventurers — were stunned by the beauty of the city’s gardens and the snow-capped mountains that surround the capital.
“I lived in Afghanistan when it was very governable, from 1964 to 1974,” said Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, who met recently in Kabul with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. Mr. Gouttierre, who spent his decade in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer, a Fulbright scholar and the national basketball team’s coach, said, “I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Afghans today say that the view of their country as an ungovernable “graveyard of empires” is condescending and uninformed. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of overnight experts on Afghanistan right now,” said Said Tayeb Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to Washington. “You turn to any TV channel and they are experts on Afghan ethnicities, tribal issues and history without having been to Afghanistan or read one or two books.”
“Afghanistan,” Mr. Jawad asserted, “is less tribal than New York.”
Perhaps so, but NYC remains unlike this.
Still, it's worth keeping in mind that Afghanistan has been relatively governable in living memory:
[...] “There was definitely what was developing to be a newer tradition of a more open society and trained people” in those earlier years, said Paula Newberg, director of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, who was an adviser to President Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2004.
But, setting aside the question of elections, is it realistic to somehow reconstruct a legitimate -- as seen by most Afghans -- government in Kabul?
Among the issues to consider:
a) Corruption, corruption, corruption.
c) Religious legitimacy.
d) Ability to provide security.
Matthew Yglesias is surprisingly dismissive of the corruption issue.
The justly much maligned Tom Friedman is here the clock that's right twice a day:
[...] For my money, though, I wish there was less talk today about how many more troops to send and more focus on what kind of Afghan government we have as our partner.
Because when you are mounting a counterinsurgency campaign, the local government is the critical bridge between your troops and your goals. If that government is rotten, your whole enterprise is doomed.
Independent election monitors suggest that as many as one-third of votes cast in the Aug. 20 election are tainted and that President Hamid Karzai apparently engaged in massive fraud to come out on top. Yet, he is supposed to be the bridge between our troop surge and our goal of a stable Afghanistan. No way.
I understand the huge stakes in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our top commander there who is asking for thousands more troops, is not wrong when he says a lot of bad things would flow from losing Afghanistan to the Taliban. But I keep asking myself: How do we succeed with such a tainted government as our partner?
I know that Jefferson was not on the ballot. But there is a huge difference between “good enough” and dysfunctional and corrupt. Whatever we may think, there are way too many Afghans who think our partner, Karzai and his team, are downright awful.
That is why it is not enough for us to simply dispatch more troops. If we are going to make a renewed commitment in Afghanistan, we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it. It doesn’t have to be Switzerland, but it does have to be good enough — that is, a government Afghans are willing to live under. Without that, more troops will only delay a defeat.
I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people now blame us for installing and maintaining this government.
Talking to Afghanistan experts in Kabul, Washington and Berlin, a picture is emerging: The Karzai government has a lot in common with a Mafia family. Where a “normal” government raises revenues from the people — in the form of taxes — and then disperses them to its local and regional institutions in the form of budgetary allocations or patronage, this Afghan government operates in the reverse. The money flows upward from the countryside in the form of payments for offices purchased or “gifts” from cronies.
What flows from Kabul, the experts say, is permission for unfettered extraction, protection in case of prosecution and punishment in case the official opposes the system or gets out of line. In “Karzai World,” it appears, slots are either sold (to people who buy them in order to make a profit) or granted to cronies, or are given away to buy off rivals.
Friedman reverts to his more normal-in-recent-decades state of uttering a caution that's almost impossible to fulfil:
We have to be very careful that we are not seen as the enforcers for this system.
How to do this? Friedman's answer amounts to either invoking vague magic, or leaving:
[...] I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people.
If Karzai says no, then there is only one answer: “You’re on your own, pal. Have a nice life with the Taliban. We can’t and will not put more American blood and treasure behind a government that behaves like a Mafia family. If you don’t think we will leave — watch this.” (Cue the helicopters.)
How we can make take such "visible steps to clean up his government" is utterly unclear to me. We can't do this for Hamid Karzai without making him even more of a puppet than he is, and if American and NATO are seen as controlling the Kabul government -- as we already effectively are by many Afghans, and rightly so -- we're certainly not creating a legitimate government of and by Afghans.
Matt Yglesias, commenting on Friedman, dismisses the corruption issue, saying:
[...] This kind of seems like so much pious myth-making to me. I went and looked up the most corrupt countries on earth at Transparency International and added Switzerland (since Kevin mentioned it) and Denmark (the actual least-corrupt country) for comparison’s sake [....]
Matt reproduces the chart, and concludes:
Afghanistan, as you can see, is pretty corrupt. That said, it’s not really far out of line with local norms. Sundry other central Asian states join it at the bottom of the barrel. And while it’s true that some of the most corrupt countries are anarchic failed states, the examples of Myanmar and Turkmenistan clearly indicate that establishing effective control over your territory doesn’t at all require you to develop good governance or be respected by the people.
What's strangely lacking here is that Matt fails to note such critical differences as that none of these countries is in the throes of a full-stage civil war, none of these countries lacks control over most of their countryside, none of these countries has warlords with sway over much of their countryside, none of these countries have governments seen as puppets of a foreign power, and neither is NATO and the U.S. remotely willing to engage in the brutality Myanmar and Turkmenistan are, brutal as the war we are waging can be.
I'm going to forgo giving examples of just how corrupt the Kabul government, and the warlords it has nominally put in charge of many provinces, are -- let's take that as read, shall we? Afghanistan, both in its Kabul government, and its rural warlords, is unbelievably corrupt.
David Kilcullen recognizes the problem:
Counterinsurgency is only as good as the government it supports. NATO could do everything right — it isn’t — but will still fail unless Afghans trust their government. Without essential reform, merely making the government more efficient or extending its reach will just make things worse.
Absolutely right. His solution, though?
Only a legitimately elected Afghan president can enact reforms, so at the very least we need to see a genuine run-off election or an emergency national council, called a loya jirga, before winter. Once a legitimate president emerges, we need to see immediate action from him on a publicly announced reform program, developed in consultation with Afghan society and enforced by international monitors. Reforms should include firing human rights abusers and drug traffickers, establishing an independent authority to investigate citizen complaints and requiring officials to live in the districts they are responsible for (fewer than half do).
Other steps might include a census and district-level elections (promised since 2001, but never held), fair and effective taxation to replace kickbacks and extortion, increased pay to diligent local officials, the transfer of more budgetary authority to the provinces and the creation of local courts for dispute resolution.
If we see no genuine progress on such steps toward government responsibility, the United States should “Afghanize,” draw down troops and prepare to mitigate the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will come when the Kabul government falls to the Taliban — which, in the absence of reform, it eventually and deservedly will.
However, most of these proposal seem to me like airy dreams; on the other hand, an inevitable fall of Kabul to the Taliban seems to me not at all the inevitable sole alternative. A long continued stalemate remains, in my view, highly possible. But I'll get to possible outcomes, as well as proposed policies, in Part II.
But should the U.S. pay for an indefinite stalemate? Consider the numbers:
[...] National Security Adviser Jones had to hit the talk show circuit to state that Kabul is not falling, that the Taliban are not "coming back", and that there are less than 100 al-Qaeda jihadis in Afghanistan. Which raises the question: what's the point of the whole war then? Why the super-human need for the extra, "magical", 40,000 troops McChrystal has requested?
All this is played up deep inside a staggering financial black hole. According to Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project, the war in Afghanistan has cost US taxpayers no less than $228 billion so far, with $60.2 billion in 2009 alone. The war under Obama is costing $5 billion a month; last year, under Bush, it was "only" $3.5 billion a month". Comerford projects "we'll hit $1 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in March 2010". These $228 billion, Comerford points out, "equal 800,000 four-year university scholarships for US students" (no wonder China is overtaking the US). Not to mention that $228 billion would have turned Afghanistan into Singapore by now.
The U.S., it should be obvious, can afford to pay only so much money into the Afghanistan project, even if we largely cut back our combat troops.
Meanwhile, it's well-known that the Pakistani Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has a history going back to the communization of the Afghan government in supporting Afghan religious militias, some of whom morphed into the Taliban and some of whom morphed into their opposition. It remains an open question just how much support elements of the ISI may still be giving to Taliban and other Afghan resistance forces. Members of the Afghan government have been blaming Pakistan's ISI for funding and instigating attacks for a long time, and they continue to allege such involvement:
A Pakistani spy agency is helping anti-Western militants mount attacks including suicide bombings in Afghanistan, a reality the West lacks the resolve to confront, an advisor to the Afghan government said on Thursday.
Davood Moradian, senior policy advisor to Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, told Reuters the motive of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was to arouse Western concern for stability in neighbouring nuclear-armed Pakistan and use it to obtain financial support for Islamabad.
Moradian said the ISI's involvement had gone far beyond providing hospitality to the Afghan Taliban. "They (Taliban) are functioning, working and organising their activity in Pakistan in the full knowledge and engagement of the ISI," he said.
Asked if the ISI simply turned a blind eye to attacks, he said: "No. It is a strategic direction in choosing the targets, and in briefing the Taliban leadership about public opinion."
Suggesting it was hard for outsiders to deal with different power centres in Pakistan, Moradian said the Pakistani interior and foreign ministries were not involved in Afghan violence because the ISI had a monopoly on national security policy.
Asked what other evidence there was of ISI involvement, Moradian said an assessment written in August this year by top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal had "publicly and openly stated the ISI role".
An unclassified passage in the report states that senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups "are reportedly aided by some elements in Pakistan's ISI".
In an address to the institute, Moradian said the ISI's involvement in Afghanistan violence was part of a "triangle of terror" that also included the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, after a major kerfuffle between Islamabad and Washington over the language of the bill, Pakistan is getting ever more money from us:
U.S. President Barack Obama quietly signed a $7.5 billion aid bill for Pakistan on Thursday that drew criticism in the nuclear-armed South Asian country because of conditions linked to the assistance.
Obama signed the bill behind closed doors at the White House without a public ceremony before leaving on a trip to New Orleans. The law provides $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid to Pakistan over five years.
Pakistan's military had complained because the legislation ties some funds to fighting militants and is seen by critics as violating sovereignty.
There's endless incentive for Pakistan to prolong and continue America's war in Afghanistan indefinitely, as has been much elaborated on by many commentators.
And, of course, attacks coordinated by the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan, via the Quetta shura, grow:
Senior Taliban leaders, showing a surprising level of sophistication and organization, are using their sanctuary in Pakistan to stoke a widening campaign of violence in northern and western Afghanistan, senior American military and intelligence officials say.
American military and intelligence officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the Taliban’s leadership council, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar and operating around the southern Pakistani city of Quetta, was directly responsible for a wave of violence in once relatively placid parts of northern and western Afghanistan. A recent string of attacks killed troops from Italy and Germany, pivotal American allies that are facing strong opposition to the Afghan war at home.
These assessments echo a recent report by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, in portraying the Taliban as an increasingly sophisticated shadow government that sees itself on the cusp of victory in the war-ravaged nation.
General McChrystal’s report describes how Mullah Omar’s insurgency has appointed shadow governors in most provinces of Afghanistan, levies taxes, establishes Islamic courts there and conducts a formal review of its military campaign each winter.
American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power.
Meanwhile, we've been creating endlessly more Afghan enemies:
[...] Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, called for the creation of the task force in late August in a strategic assessment of the war that warned that the prisons in Afghanistan, including an American-operated detention center at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, were breeding grounds for Qaeda fighters.
“There are more insurgents per square foot in correction facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan,” General McChrystal said in the report.
The prisons mix hardened Islamic militants with petty thieves and other common criminals, often radicalizing and indoctrinating the less dangerous prisoners, General McChrystal said.
A small good step, but trivial given our history:
The Pentagon is closing the decrepit Bagram prison and replacing it in November with a new 40-acre complex. The military for the first time is notifying the International Committee of the Red Cross of the identities of militants who were being held in secret at camps in Iraq and Afghanistan run by United States Special Operations forces.
I'm sure the prisoners will enjoy being in a much more modern, spiffed up, prison. But in more thinking that seems quite dreamy:
A senior Pentagon official said Wednesday that the new task force would also advise the Afghan government on how to improve its detention and judicial systems, and that it would be an important part of General McChrystal’s strategy to help reintegrate former Taliban members into Afghan society. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because many of the task force’s specific duties were still being worked out, said: “You want people to come out saying: ‘Yeah, the Americans detained me, but it wasn’t all so bad. We can reconcile with them.’”
Yes, that's what we'd like, but is it what we can get? How likely do you think this is?
The U.S. now has benchmarks for success.
But when you read it, you realize that it's, more than anything else, a wishlist:
Objective 1. Disrupt terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.
Objective 2a. Assist efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan.
Objective 2b. Develop Pakistan's counterinsurgency (COIN) capabilities; continue to support Pakistan's efforts to defeat terrorist and insurgent groups.
Objective 2c. Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Pakistan.
Objective 3a. Defeat the extremist insurgency, secure the Afghan populace, and develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.
Objective 3b. Promote 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.
Objective 3c. Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Afghanistan.
Click the link to see the attached (non-classified) metrics for judging how these objectives are being met, but a plan for meeting them is not part of the document.
McChrystal knows he hasn't much time:
[...] When the briefing was finished, McChrystal looked around the room. “Gentlemen, I am coming into this job with 12 months to show demonstrable progress here — and 24 months to have a decisive impact,” he said. “That’s how long we have to convince the Taliban, the Afghan people and the American people that we’re going to be successful. In 24 months, it has to be obvious that we have the clear upper hand and that things are moving in the right direction. That’s not a choice. That’s a reality.”
In a tour of bases around Afghanistan, McChrystal repeated this mantra to all his field commanders: Time is running out.
McChrystal wants two to four Friedman Units.
Michael Flynn, McChrystal’s deputy:
[...] I asked General Flynn to imagine the future here. “We are going to go in and ask for some resources,” he told me. “If those resources are brought to bear in a timely manner, I believe that it’s probably going to take us three years to really turn the insurgency to the point where it’s waning instead of waxing. To do that we have to fix the Afghan security forces, we have to build their capacity and capability, and we have to absolutely culturally change the way they operate. And then I think beyond those three years, we are looking at another two years when the government of Afghanistan and the security forces of Afghanistan begin to take a lot more personal responsibility. The challenge to us is: What can we do in 12 months? What should we expect? If people’s expectations are that we are going to have the south turned around, for instance, it’s not going to happen.”
What does McChrystal want to do?
In the military arena, McChrystal wants to put as many of his men as close to the Afghan people as he can. That means closing some of the smaller bases in remote valleys and opening them in densely populated areas like the Helmand River valley. Here, at least, military force will play a central role, at least in the early phase of his strategy, as the Americans fight their way into areas they have not been in before.
“The insurgency has to have access to the people,” McChrystal told me. “So we literally want to go in there and squat among the people. We want to make the insurgents come to us. Make them be the aggressors. What I want to do is get on the inside, looking out — instead of being on the outside looking in.”
“There will be a lot of fighting,” McChrystal added. “If we do this right, the insurgents will have to fight us. They will have no choice.”
And that’s the rub: the population-focused strategy requires more troops — as many as 40,000 more. This is the decision that confronts President Obama and his advisers now.
The other part of the military option is one with which McChrystal is familiar but does not completely control. It’s his old portfolio — killing and capturing insurgents and terrorists.
More on McChystal's plans. This includes:
[...] He proposes speeding the growth of Afghan security forces. The existing goal is to expand the army from 92,000 to 134,000 by December 2011. McChrystal seeks to move that deadline to October 2010.
Overall, McChrystal wants the Afghan army to grow to 240,000 and the police to 160,000 for a total security force of 400,000, but he does not specify when those numbers could be reached.
John Nagl wants that surge of both Afghans and American/NATO forces, but admits:
[...] The first requirement for success in any counterinsurgency campaign is population security. This requires boots on the ground and plenty of them—20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 people is the historically derived approximate ratio required for success, according to the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. That force ratio prescribes some 600,000 counterinsurgents to protect Afghanistan, a country larger and more populous than Iraq—some three times as large as the current international and Afghan force. The planned surge of 30,000 additional American forces to Afghanistan over the next year is merely a down payment on the vastly expanded force needed to protect all 30 million Afghan people.
The long-term answer is an expanded Afghan National Army. Currently at 70,000 and projected to grow to 135,000, the Afghan Army is the most respected institution in the country. It must be expanded to 250,000, and mirrored by sizable local police forces, to provide the security that will prevent Taliban insurgent infiltration of the population. Building Afghan security forces will be a long-term effort that will require American assistance and advisers for many years, but there is no viable alternative.
600,000 counterinsurgents? 30,000 additional American forces merely a down payment? An indefinite commitment for decades? Is that really the only "viable alternative"?
How long are we talking about?
[...] Afghanistan is now so dangerous, administration officials said, that many aid workers cannot travel outside the capital, Kabul, to advise farmers on crops, a key part of Mr. Obama’s announcement in March that he was deploying hundreds of additional civilians to work in the country. The judiciary is so weak that Afghans increasingly turn to a shadow Taliban court system because, a senior military official said, “a lot of the rural people see the Taliban justice as at least something.”
Even before the election, a January Defense Department report assessing progress in Afghanistan concluded that “building a fully competent and independent Afghan government will be a lengthy process that will last, at a minimum, decades.”
The Obama administration has been considering other possibilities. And this has been much written about. But right now things seem to be on hold, awaiting an answer to the question of whether there will be an Afghan run-off election.
Let's look at some yet different thinking, though. The ever-insane Michael Scheuer for example. Scheuer asserts as a rationale for all-out war that:
[...] one has to wonder what can be meant by arguing that the Taliban does not pose a "direct threat" to the United States. Did the drafters of the new strategy bother to ask the intelligence community whom the United States is fighting in Afghanistan? The Taliban and its allies are unquestionably a direct threat to deployed U.S. military forces -- ask the commander of the U.S. post at Kamdesh, Nuristan, mauled on Oct. 4 [....]
So, in Scheuer's view, the Taliban is a threat to the U.S. because they're attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan. On that logic, we could put troops into hostile action in any country in the world, and when our troops are attacked, well, the forces in that country are a direct threat to us. Brilliant.
But of course there's more:
[...] By protecting al Qaeda, incidentally, Taliban leader Mullah Omar's outfit is also facilitating a "direct threat" to the continental United States.
We'll come back to that.
It is time to face the facts. The Taliban and its allies have waged an eight-year insurgency against the United States, NATO, and the Afghan government that is growing in geographical reach, battlefield success, and popularity in the Muslim world. As long as U.S. forces are in Afghanistan, this reality will remain the same. The only way to create a less threatening Taliban is for the Obama administration to admit defeat and turn over Afghanistan to Mullah Omar, knowing that he will allow bin Laden and al Qaeda to stay in place and that U.S. defeat will have an enormous galvanizing impact on the Islamist movement around the world.
Is Scheuer onto something here? But no, it's just a setup to conclude:
[...] For the sake of U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan, let us hope this new strategic formulation is quickly dropped and forgotten and that Washington's focus is refixed on the hard but simple Afghan choice it faces: Because the U.S.-NATO occupation powers the Afghan insurgency and international Muslim support for it, we must either destroy it root and branch or leave. This issue merits debate, but that must wait until McChrystal gets the troops needed to delay defeat. Afterward, only the all-out use of large, conventional U.S. military forces can be expected to have a shot at winning in Afghanistan. Since 1996, the United States has definitively proven that clandestine operations, covert action, Special Forces actions, and aerial drone attacks cannot defeat al Qaeda. It has likewise proven beyond doubt that nation-building in Afghanistan is a fool's errand.
That said, military victory would require 400,000 to 500,000 additional troops, the wide use of land mines (even if Princess Diana spins in her grave), and the killing of the enemy and its civilian supporters in the numbers needed to make them admit the game is not worth the candle. This clearly is not a viable option. We do not have enough troops, and U.S. political leaders, many U.S. generals, and the anti-American academy and media do not think "military victory" is an appropriate or moral goal; their mantra is: "Better dead Americans at home and abroad than criticism from Europe, the media, and the academy."
Overall, then, we are well along the road to self-imposed defeat in Afghanistan, and about the best we can do is give McChrystal the troops he needs to slow defeat. After doing that, we can figure out how to get out of Afghanistan in an orderly manner, while preparing to absorb more al Qaeda attacks in North America.
In short, we should keep fighting, with no solution in sight, and eventually we'll somehow, at some indefinite point in the future, "figure out how to get out of Afghanistan in an orderly manner."
That's one hell of a "solution."
And that "killing of the enemy and its civilian supporters in the numbers needed to make them admit the game is not worth the candle"? The Soviet Union tried that route, and failed anyway.
[...] The fundamental reason that a counterterrorism-focused strategy fails is that it cannot generate good intelligence. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban know not to use their cellphones and satellite phones today, so our spy satellites are of little use in finding extremists. We need information from unmanned low-altitude aircraft and, even more, from people on the ground who speak the language and know the comings and goings of locals. But our Afghan friends who might be inclined to help us with such information would be intimidated by insurgent and terrorist forces into silence — or killed if they cooperated — because we would lack the ability to protect them under a counterterrorism approach.
Except, as Dexter Filkins reminds us, we can't do that now:
[...] The notion that large groups of Taliban fighters could be persuaded to quit is not new. Previous efforts have ended in failure, often because neither the Americans nor their allies were able to protect people who changed sides.
Earlier this year, for example, a local Taliban commander in Wardak Province named Abdul Jameel came forward with a group of fighters and declared that he wanted to quit. Wardak’s governor, Halim Fidai, accepted his surrender and told him he was free to go home. Two weeks later, Taliban gunmen entered Jameel’s home and killed him, his wife, his uncle, his brother and his daughter.
“We had nothing to offer him,” Fidai told me.
In another case, Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand Province, told me that during a recent American military operation he got a telephone call from a Taliban commander. “He wanted to surrender,” Mangal said. And then the military operation was over — and the American troops went back to their bases. “He never called back after that,” Mangal said.
McChrystal and the other proponents of more U.S. troops assert that the additional U.S. troops would change that.
But we've already seen that we'd need, according to COIN doctrine, and our own Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3-24 and Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5 with forewords by General David H. Petraeus and Lt. General James F. Amos and by Lt. Colonel John A. Nagl, calls for 600,000 troops that we're never going to have.
Moreover, what's really at stake here? Andrew Bacevich explains:
[...] If the president approves the McChrystal plan he will implicitly:
■ Anoint counterinsurgency - protracted campaigns of armed nation-building - as the new American way of war.
■ Embrace George W. Bush’s concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label “global war on terror’’).
■ Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.
Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose - despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq - is to preserve the status quo.
Hawks understand this. That’s why they are intent on framing the debate so narrowly - it’s either give McChrystal what he wants or accept abject defeat. It’s also why they insist that Obama needs to decide immediately.
Yet people in the antiwar camp also understand the stakes. Obama ran for the presidency promising change. The doves sense correctly that Obama’s decision on Afghanistan may well determine how much - if any - substantive change is in the offing.
If the president assents to McChrystal’s request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths - costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.
As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That “keeping Americans safe’’ obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial.
The one thing wrong with Bacevich's analysis that his last paragraph I quote is already the old normalcy, and has been since the Korean war.
So: what to do? I'll deal with that in Part II of this post, continued on next rock.
-- Gary Farber, not Eric Martin.