Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Future American Strategy in Afghanistan

Dexter Filkins of the New Republic has a good piece about the Surge in Iraq, Tom Rick’s new book “The Gamble,” and the lessons we should apply from it to Afghanistan. He writes:
The chief reason for the new strategy's success was that all the American troops, not just the new ones, were deployed in a new and riskier way: directly into Iraqi neighborhoods, in small outposts. This put American soldiers among the Iraqis, who for years had been reluctant to cooperate with the Americans for fear of being killed by insurgents after the Americans went back to their bases. But this time the American soldiers were not pulling out. "You never give it up," Colonel Sean MacFarland, one of the most exceptional field commanders of the war, told Ricks.”

As for ending the Iraq War, Filkins aggress with Ricks that recent successes in the country do not mean an end for American power in the nation, but an extension of it.
This is not, in other words, something we can walk away from. That is Ricks's powerful point. What Petraeus and the other generals have ensured, by staving off defeat, is a longer war. How long? I do not know, but surely a lot longer than the debate in Washington would have you believe. "While there was an exit strategy," Ricks observes, "the exit was years away, in fact so far into the future that it is hard to discern."

President Obama's pronouncements on the war must therefore be read carefully. He has never said that America will leave Iraq by 2010. He has said only that American combat troops will leave. What is a combat troop? Well, you can bet it is not a military adviser, or a trainer, or a police mentor, or a special forces soldier, or a CIA paramilitary

As for Afghanistan and pulling comparisons between the Iraqi Surge and applying it to the region, Filkins believes applying the same strategy may not be as realistic.
It may have taken six years and $1 trillion, but in Iraq the Americans built a state. Iraqi police, soldiers, and security forces number about 600,000: a sure sign of a state. That is a mass--something that the insurgents could join.

In Afghanistan, there is nothing like this. After eight years of neglect, the Afghan state is a weak and pathetic thing. It is not for nothing that President Karzai's nickname is "the mayor of Kabul." At the city limits, his writ ends. Across the border, in FATA, there is almost nothing at all. To this end, the Obama administration plans massively to boost economic development aid in Pakistan, and it is planning on doing the same in Afghanistan. Most significantly, the new administration has promised to increase the size of the Afghan army from its current level of 90,000 to some yet-to-be-determined number--probably in the neighbourhood of 240,000

I believe the Obama administration is on the correct track with their Afghanistan/Pakistan approach. Not because I have access to secret information not available to the rest of the public, but because complete failure in Afghanistan (i.e. a collapse of the state, and a victory for theocrats and insurgents) is unacceptable and dangerous. We simply must try a new approach, because disengaging would be disasters for America’s security, but especially for the citizens of those countries who will suffer under the insurgent’s government. Will the Afghan “Surge” be successful? At this point, it is impossible to say, but America must alter its strategy and expect a long nation building operation if we are to have anything resembling success in the region. There is no silver bullet solution to the problems this part of the world faces; the “realists” who believe we can simply cut our losses and abandon the region are fooling themselves (for reasons I have made clear previously). Allowing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to establish control in Afghanistan and Pakistan will not make America safer, and will only deter the inevitably conflict America will be drawn into if we surrender to them.

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