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The Blunt Truth About Afghanistan
Posted by: McQ on Monday, November 17, 2008

That truth, according to counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullin is, "it's winnable, but just barely".

The four reasons he gives in a New Yorker interview are as follows:
Well, we need to be more effective in what we are doing, but we also need to do some different things, as well, with the focus on security and governance. The classical counterinsurgency theorist Bernard Fall wrote, in 1965, that a government which is losing to an insurgency isn’t being out-fought, it’s being out-governed. In our case, we are being both out-fought and out-governed for four basic reasons:

(1) We have failed to secure the Afghan people. That is, we have failed to deliver them a well-founded feeling of security. Our failing lies as much in providing human security—economic and social wellbeing, law and order, trust in institutions and hope for the future—as in protection from the Taliban, narco-traffickers, and terrorists. In particular, we have spent too much effort chasing and attacking an elusive enemy who has nothing he needs to defend—and so can always run away to fight another day—and too little effort in securing the people where they sleep. (And doing this would not take nearly as many extra troops as some people think, but rather a different focus of operations).

(2) We have failed to deal with the Pakistani sanctuary that forms the political base and operational support system for the Taliban, and which creates a protective cocoon (abetted by the fecklessness or complicity of some elements in Pakistan) around senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

(3) The Afghan government has not delivered legitimate, good governance to Afghans at the local level—with the emphasis on good governance. In some areas, we have left a vacuum that the Taliban has filled, in other areas some of the Afghan government’s own representatives have been seen as inefficient, corrupt, or exploitative.

(4) Neither we nor the Afghans are organized, staffed, or resourced to do these three things (secure the people, deal with the safe haven, and govern legitimately and well at the local level)—partly because of poor coalition management, partly because of the strategic distraction and resource scarcity caused by Iraq, and partly because, to date, we have given only episodic attention to the war.

So, bottom line—we need to do better, but we also need a rethink in some key areas starting with security and governance.
The surge in Iraq was in answer to problem one there. An increase in the level of troops across the board (NATO), not just the US, is going to be required in Afghanistan. Iraq is a much more urban country than is Afghanistan, consequently, we could accomplish our protection scheme much easier than in more rural Afghanistan.

We didn't much have to deal with a sanctuary problem in Iraq. Although there were foreign fighters crossing from Syria they weren't using Syria as a sanctuary, nor were they launching cross-border operations and then withdrawing into Syria (the same can be said of Iran). The sanctuary problem is one of the most important problems we must solve in order to take out the Taliban. In the case of Iraq, you had a non-Iraqi entity (al Qaeda) trying to establish itself within the country. With the Taliban, you have a home-grown entity with the support of many of the tribes which control the cross-border area. Militarily there's no question that we can defeat the Taliban. But that, just as in Iraq, isn't where this war will be won.

The last two points are critical. The Afghan government has, to this point, been ineffective and unsuccessful in establishing itself outside the capital. This has got to be the area of major effort in the upcoming years. Without success in helping the Afghan government become effective and established down to the local level, the military aspect of this war turns into nothing but a holding effort.

However, the first effort must be to secure the population (remember the thinking behind the surge was to secure the population and give the Iraqi government the time necessary to make the progress it needed to govern effectively).

Kilcullen suggests:
As an example, eighty per cent of people in the southern half of Afghanistan live in one of two places: Kandahar city, or Lashkar Gah city. If we were to focus on living amongst these people and protecting them, on an intimate basis 24/7, just in those two areas, we would not need markedly more ground troops than we have now (in fact, we could probably do it with current force levels). We could use Afghan National Army and police, with mentors and support from us, as well as Special Forces teams, to secure the other major population centers. That, rather than chasing the enemy, is the key.
So, while more troops are necessary, a plan such as that he discusses here would mean the troop buildup might not have to be as large as some are suggesting.

However, on the critical governance side, our State Department along with vastly increased efforts by the diplomatic teams of our NATO allies have got to get more involved. As we found in Iraq, we have to teach the Afghans how to govern (budget, legislate, and execute) at the most basic level and at all levels. This should become the priority of the effort there, while at the same time boosting the military presence where necessary in order to begin better securing the population.

Addressing the sanctuary problem, Kilcullen suggests a three stage strategy:
This means that building an effective nation-state in Pakistan, though an important and noble objective, cannot be our sole solution — nation-building in Pakistan is a twenty to thirty year project, minimum, if indeed it proves possible at all—i.e. nation-building doesn’t deliver in the time frame we need. So we need a short-term counter-sanctuary program, a long-term nation-building program to ultimately resolve the problem, and a medium-term “bridging” strategy (five to ten years)—counterinsurgency, in essence—that gets us from here to there. That middle part is the weakest link right now. All of that boils down to a policy of:

(a) encouraging and supporting Pakistan to step up and effectively govern its entire territory including the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], and to resolve the current Baluch and Pashtun insurgency, while (b) assisting wherever possible in the long-term process of state-building and governance, but (c) reserving the right to strike, as a last resort, at al Qaeda-linked terrorist targets that threaten the international community, if (and only if) they are operating in areas that lie outside effective Pakistani sovereignty.
I would think that the last part of that, if properly approached, could be negotiated with Pakistan fairly quickly. What you can't do is continue to violate the sovereignty of Pakistan willy nilly and expect them to then cooperate on other fronts. But as Kilcullen suggests, a critical piece to the "success in Afghanistan" puzzle is a stable Pakistan able and willing to effectively assist in the effort of defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The incoming administration promises to focus itself on Afghanistan. I think Kilcullen provides an excellent strategic blueprint which, if fleshed out, would provide the plan(s) necessary to achieve eventual success. As noted previously, while it is still a counter-insurgency battle and for the most part the same principles apply. However the war in Afghanistan also presents some unique problems not found in Iraq that require some different solutions. What's not in dispute, however, is this is going to a long war that will be going on for years.

Read the whole interview, it's worth the time.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

"1) We have failed to secure the Afghan people."

Gosh, that sounds familiar. Is there some reason we are not already doing that? I hear there is a new army manual in the works that will cover that kind of thing.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Want really cold?

It has never paid to win in Afghanistan. What pays is letting the Taliban and al Qaeda think that they can win and that victory is just around the corner. And then killing them when they get full of themselves sufficiently to form up and present a target.

Even better would be to get the Taliban and al Qaeda fighting among themselves and killing each other.

And, of course, it’s always nice when Afghan tribes can expect American rewards for killing Taliban and al Qaedists.

Afghanistan is not Iraq, and if Iraq is still a half-century from the modern world, Afghanistan is a half-century from the stone age.

It teaches entirely different lessons.

Written By: Martin McPhillips
"it’s winnable, but just barely".
Historians tell us that Japan was beaten, but nearly wasn’t. Barring some incredible luck at Midway, (Which of course we had) Odd were we’d have lost that war.

If we’d have gone with the odds, of course, we’d never have fught that war at all, much less won it.

Written By: Bithead
Historians tell us that Japan was beaten, but nearly wasn’t. Barring some incredible luck at Midway, (Which of course we had) Odd were we’d have lost that war.
If you compare US and Japanese production capacities during WW2, the Japanese could have been winning for about six more months if we hadn’t won at Midway. After that, US material and manpower would dominate.

In other words, no matter what, Japan loses WW2. Their only path to victory is for the US to give up and negotiate a surrender/peace, and frankly I don’t see the US of 1942 doing that . . .

Written By: Don
URL: http://
Historians tell us that Japan was beaten, but nearly wasn’t. Barring some incredible luck at Midway, (Which of course we had) Odd were we’d have lost that war.
I have to disagree with you here, Bit. Don is right when he says:
Their only path to victory is for the US to give up and negotiate a surrender/peace, and frankly I don’t see the US of 1942 doing that . . .
Defeat at Midway would have delayed any invasion of Guadalcanal for at least a year. That would have give the Japanese time to solidify their gains in the Solomons and made a counter move against them in that directions more difficult. All in all it is possible that the war could have been extended for one year. But the Japanese defeat was ensured the day the US declared war. Only an Allied defeat against Germany could have saved them.
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
Well, look...
As of the day before Midway, Japan had superiority in Carriers, and generally had more navy to throw at the effort than we did.

If I recall my history correctly, and admittedly, I’m hip-shooting, here...all we had was Hornet, Lexington, Saratoga, and a rather hobbled Yorktown to prevent a Jap attack on the west coast... and if I recall right, Saratoga wasn’t able to make it to Midway, being under repair.

The Japs had serious naval superiority at that point, and a loss at Midway would have made that situation worse by more than just the ships lost there.

The larger point I’m making here... and Don seems to have picked up on it... is that if we applied current standards back then, we’d have never fought Midway. We’d have figured, as some seem to be doing in Afghanistan... and previously, it should be noted, some were doing in Iraq... that there’s no way to win the thing, so we should withdraw. We won in Iraq and at Midway because we stayed to fight.

And you’re right, Don... I can’t imagine them thwoing in the towel in 1942 either, though it’s clear that there are some who would have us do exactly that today. I sometimes wonder what they’d think of us, if they were around today.

Written By: Bithead
Oh... almost forgot.
To extend the slightly metephoric statement, and to the same points, consider that washngton wanted Nimitz to redeply into a defensive strategy, not go off chasing what they thought was a ruse at Midway. they wanted the west coast protected. Nimitz OTOH figured the best defense was to knock out their ability to attack, instead of playing ’keep wawy’.

Written By: Bithead

Hornet, Enterprise and Yorktown were at Midway. "Lady Lex" went down from a av-gas fume explosion just after the end of Coral Sea.
Written By: Ernest Brown
URL: http://
WW II naval battles and what if scenarios are far more interesting than counter-insurgency in Afghanistan.

Written By: Harun
URL: http://
"And, of course, it’s always nice when Afghan tribes can expect American rewards for killing Taliban and al Qaedists."

Except that if a real Taliban or AQ is not available or vulnerable, the village idiot, that father-in-law you detest, or any convenient stranger makes a good substitute.

" and generally had more navy to throw at the effort than we did."

But they had no bench, to use a sports term. If they had an injury, they played a man short.

"if we applied current standards back then, we’d have never fought Midway."

Nah, we probably would have fought MIdway, but if we had lost we would have negotiated peace and withdrawn back to the West coast. If we had won, we would have continued the war until the next year (assuming casualties were not too heavy) when, if we hadn’t won an even bigger set piece battle, we would have negotiated peace and withdrawn to the West coast.

"WW II naval battles and what if scenarios are far more interesting than counter-insurgency in Afghanistan."

Hah! Ain’t that the truth. :) I myself have never outgrown all those neato board games I used to play. Hindsight is also easier than foresight.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Thanks, Ernest....Not bad for an old guy’s memory, what?
But they had no bench, to use a sports term. If they had an injury, they played a man short.
Neither did we, in the short term. The production capability that Don correctly notes, only won the war for us if we managed to win battles in the short term.

And the point, Harun, is learning from history. Clearly, some have not.
Written By: Bithead
e0SP3H hflaivbydzod, [url=]bscwpglnijpu[/url], [link=]enbltjcmnnma[/link],
Written By: 7

That’s pretty good. (g)

If you can, track down and read WAR PLAN ORANGE by Edward S. Miller. He was a businessman who was intrigued by Nimitz’s comment that the Pacific War went just like the war games in the 20’s and 30’s, especially in light of the attacks on the planning by historians like Morison. He investigated WPO for years and his book is fabulous.
Written By: Ernest Brown
URL: http://

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