Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More on America’s Afghan/Pakistan Strategy

Following up my previous post about America’s future strategy in Afghanistan, two contrasting arguments from folks at Foreign Policy Magazine.

The first is from Dov Zakheim, who believes the United States should stop pussyfooting around, and ruthlessly crush the Taliban by supporting the Pakistani military.
Instead of trying to play politics in Islamabad, the United States should employ its forces to support those of Pakistan's military. Only in this manner can there be some assurance that Pakistani morale will not collapse, and that the Taliban insurrection can be crushed. The Pakistani military can be ruthless, and nothing else will do in dealing with the Taliban. American tactics and firepower can back up that ruthlessness.

Now is not the time for squeamishness or political correctness. Do-gooders no doubt will howl at the sight of the collateral damage that would inevitably result if American units enable Pakistani forces to pulverize Taliban strongholds. The Zardari government may howl that America has sidestepped it by going directly to the military.

Let them all howl. A nuclear armed Pakistan, or even worse, a fragmented country whose nuclear weapons are up for grabs, would result in far more cries of anguish by far more people than anything that might result from the elimination of the Taliban threat. Time is running out. The United States must act now
His argument is not without merit: the fight against the Taliban in Pakistan is going to get more violent before an acceptable peace can be accepted. But based on Zakheim’s piece, I find that he is putting too much confidence in both the Pakistani military, as well as the ability for America to win this struggle with technology alone. Those who have argued this line or reasoning can be described as supporters of the Military Transformational Thesis (MTT) advocated by some prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stephen Biddle describes the MTT as a theory which sees the changes in warfare technology altering the way we fight wars entirely. Its supporters believe technological superiority, and the ability for the United States to strike and destroy its enemy from afar, has made traditional close combat a thing of the past. Biddle writes, “The increasing power of networked information, many claimed, was erasing the need for massed conventional ground forces, substituting stand-off precision strike for the close combat of the past and replacing the breakthrough battle with the struggle for information supremacy as the decisive issue for success.” (Biddle, “Iraq, Afghanistan, and American Military Transformation.”) What Zakheim is pushing is for at the heart of his argument, is for the U.S. to assist the Pakistani military with our superior technology. But unless we have complete faith in the Pakistani military to carry out close combat operations effectively, this strategy is doomed to fail. American troops need to be on the ground as well, as beligerence from the Pakistani military may only deepen the Taliban's resolve and influence.

The reason MTT has failed to make traditional close combat a thing of the past, is because the enemy we are fighting continues to adapt to our strikes. Biddle references the way al-Qaeda were initially susceptible to long range air strikes but changed their tactics to avoid being noticed.
Among the most important changes was increasing difficulty in finding targets for precision attack. At Bai Ceche on 2-5 Novemeber, for example, a mostly Al-Qaeda defensive force occupied an old, formerly Soviet system of deliberate entrenchments. With proper cover and concealment, the defenders were able to prevent US commandos from locating the entirety of the individual fighting positions, many of which could not be singled out for precision attacks.

By December fighting along Highway 4 south of Kandahar, even less information was available. In fact, concealed al-Qaeda defences among a series of culverts and in burnt-out vehicle hulks along the roadside remained wholly undetected until their fire drove back an allied advance
The Taliban has been adapting to American military superiority as well. Lutfullah Mashal, a former spokesperson for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said:
“"During the past 4 1/2 years, there have always been changes in Taliban fighting tactics. But this latest change is unique," Mashal says. "They have never [concentrated their forces] like this before, and they were never so effective in the past. The Taliban have never caused such high numbers of casualties to [Afghan] government forces before. Now, their attacks are more organized and they have started to fight using [more conventional methods] -- concentrating their forces together. And they have started creating battle lines."
Believing that America can win this war from the sky alone is incorrect. It will require troops on the ground creating security in regions dealing with Taliban insurgents. Western forces will need to confront insurgent forces in ways air strikes can not, and since the Afghan and Pakistani military can yet take on the responsibility alone, America will need to continue its physical presence in the region.

From the peanut gallery comes advice from my good old buddy Stephen Walt, who cites recommendations by Graham Fuller, the former CIA station chief in Kabul. He writes:
His advice: "let non-military and neutral international organizations, free of geopolitical taint, take over the binding of Aghan wounds and the building of state structures." If Fuller is right, then our entire approach to the region—which basically consists of using various heavy-handed instruments to force these societies to accept our political values and institutions—is fundamentally misguided. I wonder if anyone in the Obama administration has talked to him.”
Few are arguing that international aid organizations should not be involved in the Afghan/Pakistani crisis: the obvious end goal (stable and democratic states) can not be achieved by raw force alone. But to believe that Taliban insurgents will melt away because the Red Cross is delivering goods is a fallacy; the insurgents will entrench and gain greater ground in the region. Afghanistan and Pakistan have their share of history’s wounds, but those wounds will be increased if the American government step back from its military commitment now and allows thugs and theocrats to re-establish control over the region. If we are forced to re-intervene in the region to combat terrorist groups targeting Americans or to deal with a growing regional conflict, it will be far costlier in resources and blood than if we were to stay invested at this current moment in time.


kellie said...

Ye Gods and little fishes! The Dov Zakheim piece is incredible. It's as if everything in Iraq after the aircraft carrier photocall never happened. No lessons learned on insurgency and counter-insurgency. No learning on the need to win the population, rather than just territory or airspace. And he wants to rely on the Taleban's former masters to do this?

I wonder what he imagines would arise after his scorched-earth policy is implemented? The Taleban arose out of post-war desolation. What would come next time?

The Graham E Fuller piece is equally frustrating. A bit more local knowledge, but everything made to fit the pattern of America as the cause of all ills, the Steinbergian view of the world. The Taleban didn't arise in response to any US presence, so why would they go away if the US withdrew from Afghanistan?

The talk of "non-military and neutral international organizations, free of geopolitical taint" is also baloney. The UN and Red Cross and others have learned by now that they are targets for extremists wishing to separate populations in conflict zones from the wider world. Modern international humanitarian organisations are a strategic threat to the extremists.

Roland Dodds said...

All good points Kellie, I only hope the Obama administration is not taking advice from either of these guys. I hope they take guidance from folks like Stephen Biddle (who I referenced in this piece), whose understanding of this conflict trumps both Zakheim and Walt.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yeah. Count on prof Walt to butt in with a priceless advice.

Dandy has a posse said...

Walt has got to be the stupidest smart person on earth. His endless pronouncements on Israel show his myopic view of world affairs, and his strange form of realist pacifism makes for some strange articles.

jams o donnell said...

Of course the Taliban can't be beaten from the air. It would need a lot of men on the ground but who's going to commit the necessary numbers to a fight which will have a vlarger body count than Iraq...