Published: October 30th, 2012
After eleven years, more than $570 billion, and no end in sight, it seems clear that the U.S. needs a new strategy for Afghanistan. But some are still arguing that we are winning the war in Afghanistan, and that all we need to achieve our goals is stay the course.
Of course, from one perspective, the U.S. has already won in Afghanistan. The original goal was to disrupt and dismantle the al Qaeda network. The U.S. achieve this goal relatively quickly. In 2010, then CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated that the number of al Qaeda in Afghanistan totaled “maybe 50 to 100, maybe less.”
Since 2010, the U.S. has spent over $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan. In 2012 the war cost $110 billion. That’s about $2 billion per week, or over $1 billion for each member of al Qaeda that may still be in Afghanistan.
We stayed in Afghanistan long after our original goals had been accomplished. The mission changed.
We went to Afghanistan to protect U.S. national security. We stayed to nation-build.
The nation-building plan was deeply flawed. Its architects lacked a basic understanding of the region’s historical and cultural background, the key actors and dynamics at play. The idea that the counterinsurgency campaign could root out the Taliban, establish an effective central government and competent security forces, and stabilize the economy was overly ambitious.
Tactically, the U.S. plan also missed the mark. The cornerstone of the U.S. plan for Afghanistan is the Afghan national security forces, who will take the lead in the counterinsurgency after coalition forces withdraw. Military planners focused on the rapid expansion of the force. Today, the Afghan army and police have almost achieved their target number — but their capabilities remain in serious doubt.
The “quantity over quality” strategy left Afghans with a massive, but corrupt and incompetent security force. It also cost U.S. taxpayers over $50 billion.
When it comes to the war in Afghanistan, the question isn’t whether we are winning. The question is what we’re trying to achieve, and whether the goal is worth the costs.
Maybe the nation-building experiment in Afghanistan will succeed, but only at an unacceptable price. The U.S. cannot afford to spend another eleven years and another $570 billion.
With a national debt of over $16 trillion, spending billions on the war in Afghanistan doesn’t make sense. It’s time to bring that money home and build the U.S. economy, rather than nation-building halfway around the world.
Published: April 6th, 2012
“The last couple months have been trying,” General John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, admitted in a recent congressional hearing. But, he added, “I am confident that we will prevail in this endeavor.”
Few share Gen. Allen’s optimism. Experts agree that the current U.S. strategy is failing, that we no longer have vital interests in Afghanistan, and that continuing the war is a waste of blood and treasure. The U.S. public also agrees. According to a recent CNN poll, more than 70% of Americans want to withdraw all U.S. troops in 2014 or earlier. Only 22% support keeping troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
This position is easy to understand. Almost 2,000 U.S. troops have lost their lives in the Afghanistan war—3 more died in a suicide bombing yesterday. The financial costs are also huge. In 2011 alone the U.S. spent $120 billion in direct war costs. In 2012 we continue to spend about $2 billion per week, for a war no one wants.
Consensus On Afghanistan: Transitioning To The Afghan Public Protection Force Will Cost More
Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
Each year billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent in Afghanistan, and we still do not effectively track where, or how much is spent. The latest Afghanistan oversight breakdown is the fracas over Afghanistan USAID security contractor costs.
Details Emerge on Coming U.S. Offensive in Eastern Afghanistan
National Journal by Yochi Dreazen
A campaign that will likely be the last major U.S. offensive of the Afghan War is set to begin later this year in eastern Afghanistan, the region where the conflict began and where senior NATO officials hope their involvement will effectively come to an end.
Afghanistan presses for answers on long-term U.S. military bases
Reuters by By Sanjeev Miglani and Hamid Shalizi
Afghanistan wants the United States to clearly spell out what sort of military presence it will leave behind once most of its combat troops leave by the end of 2014…It is also pressing Washington in talks over future cooperation to detail to be more forthcoming on what will be on offer for Afghan forces as they ready to take over responsibility security in the country that is still at war.
Don’t Prolong the Inevitable
New York Times Room for Debate by Stephen Walt
The United States should send soldiers in harm’s way only when vital interests are at stake. The outcome in Afghanistan will have little impact on United States security and it makes no sense to squander more blood and treasure there. Our NATO allies have figured this out and are heading for the exits. We should join them.
Ask the Experts: Will America ‘Win’ in Afghanistan?
Council on Foreign Relations Experts Roundtable
The consensus among civilian and military staffers and officials was that while roughly half thought the U.S. military could win in Afghanistan, almost nobody believed that it would. This disconnect has created an uncomfortable situation where some of the people who design, refine, and implement U.S. strategy in Afghanistan simply do not believe it will ultimately succeed.
Published: December 1st, 2011
Author: Mary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Yesterday, the Senate passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for an expedited drawdown from Afghanistan. As we noted before, the amendment, introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley and a sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators, is a good step towards a smarter Afghanistan strategy. But it is just one step.
The NDAA still has to clear a number of hurdles before becoming law, and its chance of success is unclear. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. If it passes, Senate and House will then have to reconcile their different versions of the bill. Whether the Afghanistan amendment will stick or be stripped out in the conference committee is anyone’s guess.On top of all this, even if the bill makes it out of Congress, it may not get past the White House, which has threatened to veto the bill over controversial amendments relating to detention and prosecution of terror suspects.
Assuming the NDAA survives this process with the Merkley amendment intact, there is still a big caveat: the amendment calls on the president to produce a timeline for an accelerated drawdown, but it is not legally binding. Drawdown critics like Sen. John McCain have noted this, dismissing the amendment as “a nice informational, notional kind of thing.”
Caveats and questions aside, the Senate’s approving the amendment is a very positive sign. It means that some members of Congress are starting to ask the questions that need to be asked. Sen. Merkley posed a particularly good one in yesterday’s floor debate. “Given our success in destroying al-Qaida training camps and pursuing those responsible for 9/11, why haven’t we brought our troops and our tax dollars home?” he said. Questions like these should be the driver for getting our Afghanistan strategy back on track.
Published: November 23rd, 2011
Author: Mary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Last night’s foreign policy debate saw little in the way of surprises. The Republican presidential candidates postured on Iran and Israel, argued immigration laws, and even discussed racial profiling. Substantive discussion of Afghanistan, however, was again in short order.
Of course, there’s more to evaluating a debate than just counting the words. Was the Afghanistan discussion, short as it was, substantive and insightful? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
The highlight of the Afghanistan discussion was, as expected, Jon Huntsman’s remarks. Huntsman again called for ending the war:
We need an honest conversation in this country about the sacrifices that have been made over nearly 10 years. We have dismantled the Taliban. We’ve run them out of Kabul. We’ve had free elections in 2004. We’ve killed Osama bin Laden. We’ve up-ended, dismantled al-Qaida. We have achieved some very important goals for the United States of America.
Now, the fact that we have 100,000 troops nation-building in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs to be built, when on the ground we do need intelligence gathering, no doubt about that, we need a strong special-forces presence, we need a drone presence and we need some going training of the Afghan National Army, but we haven’t done a very good job defining and articulating what the end point is in Afghanistan. I think the American people are getting very tired about where we find ourselves today.” [emphasis added]
Once again, Huntsman has shown that he is the only candidate who recognizes the importance of identifying threats, and developing a strategy to meet those threats. Romney’s response shows how far he and the other candidates are from a real strategy, preferring instead to rely on military force as the answer to every problem.
“The decision to pull our troops out before …would put at risk the extraordinary investment of treasure and blood which has been sacrificed by the American military…This is not time for America to cut and run. We have been in for 10 years. We are winding down. The Afghan troops are picking up the capacity to secure their country. And the mission is pretty straightforward, and that is to allow the Afghan people to have a sovereign nation not taken over by the Taliban.”
There are two glaring errors in Romney’s remarks. First, he mischaracterizes the drawdown plan. “Withdraw troops” is not equivalent to “cut and run.” Huntsman does not advocate abandoning Afghanistan – he simply says that US troops can’t solve the problems that Afghanistan faces.
Romney’s second problem is in focusing exclusively on security concerns. The goal, according to Romney, is to deny the Taliban safe haven, and the solution is to build the Afghan security forces. He is forgetting that there are far more problems than just security threats.
Take the economy, for example. The World Bank estimates that foreign aid accounts for 92% of Afghanistan’s public spending, and that Afghanistan is therefore likely to need billions in aid for years to come. Another key problem is education. Illiteracy is a major impediment to training the Afghan security forces.
Bottom line: Unless Romney and others who want to keep troops in Afghanistan are suggesting that our troops somehow improve the Afghan economy and education system, they’re going to have to come up with a better plan. Maybe they should be taking notes from Jon Huntsman.
Published: November 15th, 2011
Author: Mary KaszynskiMary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Ninety-seven thousand (97,000) US troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, but you might never have known that from Saturday’s debate. The Republican presidential candidates were eager to talk Iran and Pakistan, but generally fumbled their way through the few questions presented to them on Afghanistan. Here’s a breakdown of what they said – and what they should have said.
Rick Perry: Perry’s Afghanistan strategy seems to be to give as few strategic details as possible. Asserting vaguely that “The mission must be completed there,” Perry went on to say that “The idea that we will have wasted our treasure and the lives of young Americans to not secure Afghanistan is not appropriate.” If it were up to Perry, it seems that much more blood and treasure will be spent for the nebulous goal of securing Afghanistan.
Perry also ridiculed the idea of a drawdown timeline as “irresponsible”. Perry isn’t alone in this belief, and it’s not without strategic merit. But those who oppose a timeline are forgetting two things. First, contrary to what Perry says, the US is not “in conflict with” Afghanistan – Afghanistan is our ally in the fight against terrorism. It may seem like a technicality, but it’s important. Treating Afghanistan like an ally and partner surely means letting them in on our withdrawal plans. Secondly, the American people are paying for this war, with their lives and their taxes. Policymakers should be accountable to the public for their Afghanistan strategy, and that includes a drawdown timeline.
According to a recent CBS poll, 53% of Americans support a drawdown. Perry would do well to listen to the public.
Rick Santorum: Santorum certainly has a vision for victory in Afgahnistan: “The Taliban is a neutered force. They are no longer a security threat Afghan people, to our country. That would be victory.” Whether that vision is achievable at a viable cost is another question.
With Afghanistan out of the way, Santorum pivoted rather abruptly to “the bigger issue.” “This is the most important national security issue that we’re gonna be dealing with here in this year,” he said. “And that’s the issue of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.”
It’s worth noting that both Perry and Santorum were clearly more interested in talking about Iran than Afghanistan. Perry used half of his allotted time for Afgahnistan wrapping up his comments on Iran. Moderator Scott Pelley gave Santorum a break, acknowledging that Santorum was more interested in Iran, and actually posed Iran and Afghanistan questions simultaneously. Perhaps he suspected Santorum was going to talk about Iran no matter what the question was.
Michelle Bachmann: Let’s give Rep. Bachmann the benefit of the doubt and assume that when she referred to “the decision that by next September, our troops will be withdrawn” she meant the surge force will be withdrawn. That is the current administration’s plan – return to pre-surge levels of 68,000 by summer 2012 and transition to local security forces by the end of 2014.
Rep. Bachmann then made an interesting leap. If the drawdown progresses as planned, “How do we expect any of our allies to continue to work to– with us?” It’s unclear what exactly she means by this. Britain, France, and Germany have already announced plans to follow the US lead in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Bachmann concluded by asking “How can we even begin to seek the peace with the Haqqani Network that are in the eastern regions?” Again, this is an inexplicable leap. The presence of US soldiers and Marines has done little to facilitate the peace process thus far and this seems unlikely to change.
Jon Huntsman: Once again, Huntsman has shown that he can he articulate a clear stance on Afghanistan, he will stick to that position (Perry should be taking notes).
Huntsman laid out the mission:“I say this nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan. We’ve had free elections in 2004. We’ve uprooted the Taliban. We’ve dismantled Al Qaeda. We have killed Osama bin Laden.”He showed that he understands current priorities:“I say this nation’s future is not Afghanistan. This nation’s future is not Iraq. This nation’s future is how prepared we are to meet the 21st Century competitive challenges. That’s economic and that’s education. And that’s gonna play out over the Asia-Pacific region. And we’re either prepared for that reality or we’re not. I don’t want to be nation building in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs to be built.”
And he even outlined defense requirements:
“We still have work to do. We don’t need 100,000 troops nation building, many of whom can’t cross the wire. I think we need a component that gathers tactical intelligence. We need enhanced special forces, response capability for rapid response. And we need some ongoing commitment to train the local Afghan National Army. That’s not 100,000 troops. That’s well south of that. We are fighting an asymmetric threat, a counterterror threat. Not only there, but in Waziristan and every other corner of the world. And we need to prepare for that as a reality of our 21st Century foreign policy.”
Mitt Romney: After floundering on Afghanistan policy early in his campaign, Romney seems to have come up with an answer he’s happy with: “Our surge troops should have been withdrawn by December of next year, not by December. And the timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces.”
It’s hard not to see this answer as trying to appeal to a broad base. On the one hand, by critiquing the timeline for surge troops, he differentiates his position from the administration, and appeals to traditional hawks. But by sticking to the 2014 date, he can appeal to the fiscally minded, and the ever growing segment of the public that wants a drawdown.
All in all, not a bad answer – but not a great answer either.
Newt Gingrich: After the vagaries and equivocations of the other candidates, the former speaker of the House was refreshingly straightforward. “I think this is so much bigger and deeper a problem than we’ve talked about as a country that we– we don’t have a clue how hard this is gonna be,” Gingrich said. He was referring to the strategic complexities of fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan and a shadow war in Pakistan, but his point applies to Afghanistan policy as a whole. How hard will it be to “secure Afghanistan”? Will it take another ten years and a trillion dollars? Anyone who wants to stay in Afghanistan should consider these questions carefully.
Herman Cain: Cain’s contribution to the discussion of Afghanistan policy was limited to noting how complicated it is. “There is a lot of clarity missing..in this whole region,” he said. Asked whether he would send US forces into Pakistan “to clear out those safe havens of the enemy,”
Cain replied, “That is a decision that I would make after consulting with the commanders on the ground, our intelligence sources, after having discussions with Pakistan, discussions with Afghanistan. And here’s why. We pointed out earlier that it is unclear as to where we stand with Pakistan. It is unclear where we stand with Afghanistan.” A diplomatic answer, perhaps, but one would like a presidential candidate to have a greater command of the details.
Cain finished with a valid point: “Victory is not clearly defined.” But you have to wonder if he would be able to follow through on his promise to “make sure that the mission is clear, and the definition of victory’s clear.” He certainly wasn’t able to articulate a clear mission in the debate.
Overall, it was a disappointing showing from the GOP candidates. When they weren’t fuzzy on the details, they were dismissive. The 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan probably would not agree with Cain’s assertion that Afghanistan is less important than Iran or Pakistan. They, and all Americans, deserve better answers.
Published: October 7th, 2011
Author: Mary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
“Much of the goodwill the U.S. built up by liberating Afghanistan from the Taliban’s rule has been dissipated by mistakes made after the fighting died down.” - October 9, 2002
“Violence is still common – a vice-president was assassinated in July, another minister was killed in February and President Hamid Karzai escaped an attempt on his life last month – and though there is the beginnings of a government army, warlords remain powerful.” – October 7, 2002
“Afghanistan continues to stumble along, barely one level above that of a failed state.” - October 5, 2004
“Soldiers on the ground are eagerly looking forward to Afghanistan’s upcoming winter when, because of the harsh conditions, there’s normally been a break in the violence. In Afghanistan, unfortunately, there is always next spring.” – September 21, 2006
We will read many stories similar to these today, the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. These particular quotes, however, are not from October 7, 2011. They are from earlier anniversaries: 2002, 2004, and 2006. Same story, different years.
This lack of progress in everything from establishing peace and security to working with Pakistan is in fact responsible for the one thing that has definitely changed: support for a drawdown is at record lows. Nearly two-thirds of Americans want troop levels decreased. And only one in three veterans think the wars were worth fighting.
The increasing support for a drawdown has been attributed to isolationism, lack of patriotism, and just plain pessimism. Actually, it’s none of the above. The real reasons behind calls for a drawdown are simple: we haven’t progressed in ten years, and there is still no end in sight.
A Pakitstani reporter recently said what was on everyone’s mind when he put this question to former JCS chief ADM Mike Mullen:
“I believe that we can stay in Afghanistan for a hundred years, and we are not going to resolve this issue. So when you look at American mothers who lose their sons, can you tell them honestly that it’s worth to give up blood in Afghanistan, the country that has become battleground between India and Pakistan?”
Insanity, after all, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. After ten years of doing the same thing, it’s time for a new approach to Afghanistan.
Published: March 3rd, 2011
Author: Will Keola Thomas
Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group
Washington finally appears to be coming to the conclusion that the American public did months ago: people are tired of the war in Afghanistan and don’t know why we’re sacrificing American lives and dollars there. But those on Capitol Hill and in the White House with the power to act on that knowledge aren’t discussing their conclusions openly.
An exception, is the following must-watch discussion from yesterday’s Morning Joe with Scarborough, Chuck Todd, and Tom Brokaw all questioning the value of putting our soldier’s in harm’s way:
Joe’s been on the case for a while. If you missed it, last week Scarborough hosted another important discussion following Secretary Gates’ revelation that the war in Afghanistan is just plain crazy. (Preview of Scarborough not pulling punches: “These are unwinnable wars. The president knows it. The Secretary of Defense knows it. The Republicans who are pushing to stay there longer know it…It’s disgusting.”)
Published: November 29th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenny
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
What Went Down In Lisbon?
The President has just returned home from a relatively successful trip to Lisbon for the the NATO summit. For Afghanistan junkies there are really two take-home messages.
1. Obama still has strong support for his Afghanistan strategy from European leaders.
2. Differences between the administration and Karzai are sharpening.
One of Obama’s main goals was to shore up support among NATO member countries for a sustained commitment in Afghanistan. Inside Europe there have been rumblings about NATO commitments decreasing in Afghanistan. The French were hoping to transfer from Sarobi District next year. In England, where support for the war is at 32%, the defense minister has called for a speedy drawdown.
Perhaps in an effort to gain support from these NATO allies, President Obama set a date of 2014 to end major combat activities. Although the President’s statements are fuzzy enough to allow flexibility and most news reports acknowledge that there will still be a large troop presence in Afghanistan in three years, 2014 nonetheless represents the closest thing to an established end date to the war. All in all, the new deadline was a small price to pay in order to achieve support among crucial NATO allies.
In Latest Dispute with Washington, Karzai has the Right Idea
The Lisbon conference also highlighted the growing public feud between Washington DC and Kabul. At Lisbon, Obama responded sharply to Karzai for his recent comments criticizing U.S. special operations and night raids. Karzai had also banned private security contractors, which are often hired to protect development projects. On the surface, Obama is entirely justified in his critique:
“He’s got to understand that I’ve got a bunch of young men and women… who are in a foreign country being shot at and having to traverse terrain filled with IEDs, and they need to protect themselves. So if we’re setting things up where they’re just sitting ducks for the Taliban, that’s not an acceptable answer either.”
However, Karzai’s main beef with Obama is on the current U.S. strategy; it is not on the tactical level. A recent column by Ahmed Rashid highlights the essence of the dispute:
“In a suggestion that alarms and infuriates western officials, [Karzai] says there is a political alternative to Nato—to depend more on regional countries, especially Iran and Pakistan, to end the war and find a settlement with the Taliban”
Both Iran and Pakistan are moving to maximize their bargaining positions in the event of a settlement. This explains Iran’s recent surge in support for elements in the Taliban, when in the past Iran had always supported the Taliban’s enemies the Northern Alliance. It also explains why Pakistan is reluctant to free Taliban leaders prematurely. The main obstacle to a negotiated settlement continues to be the Americans themselves, for as long as the U.S. clings to the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Doctrine, there is no incentive for the critical players—the Quetta Shura, the ISI, the Haqqani Network, and Iran—to come to the table and negotiate. Instead of embracing Karzai’s attempts at diplomacy, the U.S. criticizes his efforts to end the conflict. This is what should “alarm” and “infuriate” anyone who favors a sensible policy in Afghanistan.
START and Afghanistan
In Lisbon, Obama also had success gaining the support of NATO members for a strategic arms treaty with Russia. The main reason to sign a nuclear deal with Russia is that it will foster greater cooperation between the two countries on other issues. Last year, Russia stepped up big for the U.S. when it agreed to establish economic sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council. Further, Russia has also been playing a bigger role in Afghanistan. Last month they even conducted a joint drug raid—the first military operation for Russia in Afghanistan since the Russian army retreated in 1989. If the START Treaty facilitates greater cooperation with Russia in Afghanistan, this could assist with a U.S. drawdown, a factor which the anti-war libertarians should consider in deciding whether to back the treaty.
The Refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Two interesting articles appeared in the Washington Post on the refugee problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although the articles focused on the same theme—locals who have been forced from their homes because of war—they highlighted two different problems.
The article on Afghan refugees focused on a group of Pashtuns from Helmand province who have moved to Kabul as a result of the war. In many cases these refugees favored neither the U.S. nor the Taliban, but were nonetheless caught in the middle of the fighting. As one Afghan put it:
“If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us. If we shaved the Taliban gave us a hard time,” he said. “What are we supposed to do, shave half our beard?”
In a country where kinship and family ties are very important, the Taliban had one crucial advantage; they were local. As one refugee illustrated:
“Who are the Taliban? They are our brothers, our cousins, our relatives. The problem is the Americans”
The U.S. strategy, which is based on winning the hearts and minds of local Afghans, needs to confront this reality. Afghans caught in the middle of a conflict will surely back their family and tribesmen over a foreign force from a distant land.
The second article looked at a policy to repopulate regions of South Waziristan that have been cleared of insurgents. So far the program, which pays refugees $300 to move back to Waziristan, has garnered only mixed results. A major problem continues to be a lack of governance and an inability to consolidate military gains. As a White House report noted:
“Congress noted that an absence of government authority has resulted “in short lived military gains that allow militants to regroup in these areas”
As a result, the resettlement program has been “repeatedly postponed” with many prospective families voicing concern over a “Taliban resurgence”. Many of the same lessons the Pakistanis are learning in Waziristan are also true in Afghanistan. The military success in Kandahar is terrific, but without a return to governance, these gains will almost certainly be temporary.
Last post, discussed the importance of the wars in Afghanistan with respect to the long-range fiscal outlook of the United States. Several Afghanistan Study Group Members, as well as other foreign policy experts, signed a letter address to Deficit Reduction Commission Co-Chairs Bowles and Simpson arguing along similar lines. The letter emphasizes the source of the U.S.’s power is our massive and dynamic economy. Unless the U.S. moves away from ill-advised military adventurism, the necessary military cuts will not be made and American power will erode.
“ The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed the limits of military power. Avoiding these types of operations globally would allow us to roll back the recent increase in the size of our Army and Marine Corps.”
Afghan Confidence Game
This blog and the members of the Afghanistan Study Group advocate a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan in the way that saves face and protects U.S. interests, while bringing stability to Afghanistan and the region. There are many challenges to a policy of negotiation: How much power should Karzai cede to Islamic militants? What roles should Pakistan and Iran play? One unanticipated obstacle, however, was figuring out whom to talk to. After all in a policy of reconciliation, talks must take place with high-level political leaders in the Quetta Shura and Haqqani Networks. Surely you would think that the U.S. has the intelligence capabilities to identify the leaders of the Taliban. Well, think again. Last Tuesday’s Washington Post has a story that can only be described as a monumental intelligence screw-up. Apparently some “lowly shopkeeper” claiming to be Akthar Mohammad Mansour, the second ranking Taliban leader in Quetta Shura, was flown to Kabul and possibly managed to con NATO out of “large sums of money”. For months the Taliban has denied reports floating around the western press that they were engaged in negotiations. Now the Taliban’s denials seem more credible.
This story obviously paints a very troubling picture of the U.S.’s intelligence apparatus in Afghanistan. As Jeremy Scahil points out, how can anyone trust the Pentagon’s assurances that civilians aren’t being killed in the secret drone attacks and night raids after reading this?
The Taliban impostor incident also calls into question scores of deadly night raids that have resulted in the deaths of innocent Afghans. Several survivors of night raids recently told The Nation that they believed they were victims of bad intelligence provided by other Afghans for money or to settle personal grudges.
When it comes to night raids and drone attacks the stakes are much higher. As Afghanistan Study Group Director Matt Hoh illustrates, the death of one civilian can lead to ten more insurgents.
“We might get that one guy we’re looking for or we might kill a bunch of innocent people and now make ten more Taliban out of them.”
Since we can’t seem to differentiate between the Taliban and the locals, this observation should cast doubt on the current war strategy, which presumably relies on solid intelligence. Guess we can thank the intelligence community for giving us yet another reason to rethink Afghanistan.
Published: November 11th, 2010
Published: November 10th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Nancy Youssef from McClatchy News has just produced a real head-scratcher of an article writing that the administration is walking back from its commitments to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011. Some of the highlights from the McClatchy Piece:
The new policy will be on display next week during a conference of NATO countries in Lisbon, Portugal, where the administration hopes to introduce a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the year when Afghan President Hamid Karzai once said Afghan troops could provide their own security
The original plan, as I understand it, was to begin a phased withdrawal starting in July 2011—with the pace of the withdrawal to be “conditions based.” From this paragraph it is not clear whether the administration is proposing a complete withdrawal by 2014, a move which would actually impose a tighter timeline on the administration. If I were being charitable to the Obama administration, I would argue it is attempting a two-step: With one hand they are delaying drawdown next summer, with the other hand, presenting a more detailed plan for a complete withdrawal. If this is indeed the strategy, it is a risky one. By their own admission, conditions in Afghanistan are “unlikely to allow a speedy withdrawal.” The U.S. cannot afford to continue waffling on its commitments, lest it lose what little credibility it has with Afghan people. Reneging on the July deadline will also likely have adverse political effects given that war is already very unpopular.
One factor that could improve conditions in Afghanistan and facilitate a speedier withdrawal would be an effort to reconcile Pakistani backed insurgents with the Karzai government. Here again is the McClatchy piece:
Another official said the administration also realized in contacts with Pakistani officials that the Pakistanis had concluded wrongly that July 2011 would mark the beginning of the end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. That perception, one Pentagon adviser said, has convinced Pakistan’s military — which is key to preventing Taliban sympathizers from infiltrating Afghanistan — to continue to press for a political settlement instead of military action.
Pakistan thought that just because Obama ordered troops to begin withdrawing, military operations would soon end.
It might be useful here to go over the rationale for setting a date to begin withdrawal. The three reasons to set a timeline are:
1. To signal to both the Afghan public and the U.S. public that U.S. does not have an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan. Ideally this will promote public support in the U.S. for the war while diluting one of the strongest rationale for war: that Afghans are fighting a foreign occupation.
2. To pressure the Afghan government into providing security to the Afghan people.
3. To pressure Karzai into reaching a political settlement with the insurgents
Point three is arguably the most important, especially since the development of a capable Afghan security force is, according to Robert Gates, several years away. If the U.S. is perceived to have an open-ended commitment with Karzai, what incentive is there to negotiate? This is literally the whole point about using timelines to leverage the Afghan government. Now, we hear from Pentagon officials that timelines are no good because Pakistan might try to push for a political settlement. As Robert Naiman from Just Foreign Policy puts it:
What is striking about this is that the Pentagon is explicitly saying that from the Pentagon’s point of view, a political settlement must be prevented and therefore the timetable to begin withdrawal is bad because it was pushing forward prospects for a political settlement.
It’s not shocking that Pentagon officials think this; it’s shocking that they say it openly. It imitates Robert Mankoff ‘s recent New Yorker cartoon in which a general says:
“Well, I’m an optimist – I still think peace can be avoided.”
Naiman also takes down the “blame the Republicans” argument presented in the McClatchy article. Yes, the republican takeover of congress was a setback for those in favor of ending the war, but the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee was quoted by Reuters as saying he would leave the July deadline in place:
Reuters: But the actual deadline itself, you’re not going to press for that to be changed? McKeon: No. I think that’s installed.
This makes sense intuitively. Changing a timetable that has been set by the president makes the U.S. look either weak or untrustworthy. Either way, such a move will not help the war effort.
The question of setting a public timeline is complicated and intelligent people can disagree. One drawback to having an open commitment to withdraw is that it disincentivizes negotiation for the insurgents who can “wait it out.” Furthermore, having a troop presence in Afghanistan is one of the few cards the U.S. holds; some analysts have argued that we should try to exact some concessions from the Taliban before agreeing to drawdown.
On the flip side, the U.S. is operating under several constraints, from budgetary costs to low public opinion, which are unlikely to permit a long-term troop presence. The insurgents are presumably well aware of these constraints, so by declaring a timeline the U.S. is perhaps not giving up too much.
Both views on timelines miss a broader point however: the military strategy aimed at securing population centers and bringing governance to the provinces is flawed. The government is hopelessly corrupt, U.S. forces are seen as foreign invaders, and the Taliban can recruit at will from the Pashtun belt and escape into Pakistani sanctuaries in the event of military setbacks. Continuing with the current strategy does not solve core national security issues such as al Qaeda (who are not in Afghanistan) and Pakistani stability (which, if anything, has worsened as a result of the Afghan war). If ever there was a time for a fundamental rethinking of a war strategy, now is that time.
Perhaps the most troubling passage in the McClatchy article is this one:
What a year ago had been touted as an extensive December review of the strategy now also will be less expansive and will offer no major changes in strategy…”
The president needs to rethink the Afghan strategy and pursue a real peace process; he must take advantage of the December Review and at the very least, get the Pentagon on the same page.