U.S. Taxpayers Pay the Price for Wasteful War Strategy
Published: November 20th, 2012
The U.S. and Afghanistan began talks last week over the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, news sources report. The talks, which will tackle thorny questions like immunity for U.S. troops and the number of that will remain in the country, could last up to a year.
These talks are have important implications for the winding down of U.S. combat operations and the beginning of the next phase of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. But the U.S.-Afghanistan negotiations are unlikely to make the front page. With so much attention on the Petraeus scandal and Benghazi investigation, the war in Afghanistan will likely continue to go unnoticed.
Overlooking the war in Afghanistan is a mistake, and one that will cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars.
Many Americans seem to believe that the war in Afghanistan is over. This is an understandable mistake; most policymakers don’t talk about the fact that 68,000 U.S. troops are still fighting in Afghanistan.
Many also forget about the war because they believe it will end soon. In fact, the U.S. has committed to withdrawing its 68,000 combat troops by the end of 2014, over two years from now. The pace of the drawdown is still undecided, as is the number of U.S. military trainers and special operations forces that will remain after 2014.
The large U.S. military presence has come at a high price: $13.2 billion per month in 2011, $10.5 billion per month billion in 2012, and an estimated $8.1 billion per month in 2013, according to administration budget figures.
Experts say sustaining 20,000 troops could cost $25 billion per year. Adding several billion each year for security and economic aid, and annual war costs could reach $30 billion. War costs, already nearing $600 billion, will continue to add up over the next several years.
Congress will play a key role in reining in wasteful spending in Afghanistan. Already some who previously supported continuing the war have recognized the ineffectiveness of the current strategy and called for an accelerated drawdown.
Other members of Congress, however, continue to believe that a large military presence will solve Afghanistan’s problems. They equate withdrawal with retreat, believing that more troops and more money will somehow lead to victory.
In fact, the past eleven years have shown that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has been counterproductive. When the U.S. increased troop levels, insurgent attacks increased. When the U.S. poured billions of dollars into unsustainable projects, it created an aid bubble that will burst when international funding dries up.
If U.S. policymakers don’t step up and fix the wasteful strategy in Afghanistan, U.S. taxpayers will end up paying the price.
Tags: aid, COIN, Congress, defense spending, economy, General Petraeus, strategy, War costs
Costs of Nation Building
Published: November 13th, 2012
The resignation of CIA Director General David Petraeus as head of the CIA last Friday led many to reflect on the legacy of the man who led U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.
Bing West, assistant Secretary of Defense for President Reagan, had this to say about Gen. Petraeus and Afghanistan:
“Gen. Petraeus’s concept of nation building as a military mission probably will not endure. Our military can train the armed forces of others (if they are willing) and, in Afghanistan, we can leave behind a cadre to destroy nascent terrorist havens. But American soldiers don’t know how to build Minneapolis or Memphis, let alone Muslim nations.”
West pinpointed one of the fundamental flaws of nation-building. U.S. troops are most capable in the world, but they are trained for combat, not building roads and distributing food aid.
There’s another big problem with nation-building in Afghanistan: it is very expensive. And with the a national debt of over $16 trillion, the U.S. cannot afford to spend billions more on the war in Afghanistan.
War costs ramped up significantly as the U.S. mission in Afghanistan expanded. From 2001 to 2006, spending on the war did not exceed $20 billion per year. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, war costs were over $100 billion per year.
As U.S. combat troops leave Afghanistan, war funding will decline, but not as much as you might expect. The Pentagon’s request for operations in Afghanistan in 2013 is $85.6 billion, or $1.6 billion per week.
The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 is still unclear. But if 20,000 troops remain, a plan that some members of Congress support, war costs could top $25 billion per year for years to come.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is facing a fierce budget debate at home. With a national debt of over $16 trillion, finding ways to cut back government spending is critical. The Pentagon is already facing significant budget reductions of $487 billion over the next ten years, plus another $500 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts if Congress fails to agree on a budget deal before January.
The war has already cost over $580 billion. Spending billions more on nation-building in Afghanistan, while the U.S. economy is still recovering, doesn’t make sense.
Tags: Afghan security forces, aid, defense spending, deficit reduction, economy, General Petraeus, nation building, War costs
The Mendacity of Hope: Why We Need to Leave Afghanistan
Published: June 9th, 2011
Author: Will Keola Thomas
Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group
From “Col. YYY,” described by former Air Force officer and Dept. of Defense military analyst Chuck Spinney as, “an active duty colonel who travels all over Afghanistan…This colonel, unlike many of his peers, actually goes on foot patrols with troops to see things for himself.” The anonymous colonel’s letter is a must read:
“The mendacity is getting so egregious that I am fast losing the ability to remain quiet; these yarns of ‘significant progress’ are being covered up by the blood and limbs of hundreds – HUNDREDS – of American uniformed service members each and every month, and you know the rest of this summer is going to see the peak of that bloodshed.
It’s sheer madness…”
Simon Klingert, a German freelance journalist in Afghanistan, responds to Col. YYY’s letter via twitter:
“I can confirm this. 2 months in Kandahar, Helmand, almost no one I talked to below the rank of LTC (Lieutenant Colonel) thinks we’re winning”
“#Afghanistan spin Rule 1: ‘Progress’ is ALWAYS to be referred to as ‘fragile and reversible’. Rule applies to ISAF, policymakers and media.
“#Afghanistan spin Rule 2: Refer to anticipated and/or imaginative progress as being ‘around the corner’. The corner is always 6 months ahead
“#Afghanistan spin Rule 3: To prove doubters wrong, tell about planned clearing operation that will deliver ‘decisive blow’ to enemy.”
Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates plays according to the aforementioned rules. In a speech to coalition officers on his farewell tour of Afghanistan he almost managed to squeeze them all into a single sentence:
“I leave Afghanistan today with the belief that if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict.”
Lots of momentum, decisive blows, and corner-turning. But neither Secretary Gates, nor General Petraeus, would tell ABC’s Diane Sawyer that the U.S. is winning in Afghanistan:
“We’re really loathed to use this very loaded term of winning or losing.”
And CIA Director Leon Panetta hasn’t been confirmed as the next Secretary of Defense, but on Thursday he showed the Senate’s Armed Service Committee that he’s as well-versed in the rules as Gates:
“Important gains have been made over the past 18 months, establishing security and Afghan government authority in former Taliban strongholds such as Helmand and Kandahar, as well as building the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces. Although the gains are fragile and reversible, momentum has shifted to the Afghan government, and they are on track to begin the transition process by assuming lead security responsibilities in several areas of the country this summer.”
Panetta felt confident in declaring all those successes, but he wasn’t about to go out on a limb and say when, and in what numbers, our troops will be able to leave Afghanistan. That will be determined by “conditions on the ground.”
And, of course, hope:
“…I think if we stick with it, if we continue to provide help and assistance to them then I think there is going to be a point where Afghanistan can control its own future. We have to operate on that hope.”
Tags: General Petraeus, nation building, progress, strategy, withdraw
Yet Another Unsupported Assertion of Progress in Afghanistan
Published: February 23rd, 2011
Author: Ed Kenney
Normally, when a column opens with the phrase “there is increasing evidence that…”, a reader has the right to expect that some evidence will be presented in the body of the column. John Nagl and Nathanial Fick’s op-ed (The Long War May be Getting Shorter, February 21st) seemingly breaks this contract. Their op-ed provides no data—not even one number—to suggest that security has improved. The only bright spot from the column seems to be the size of the as yet untested Afghanistan National Army, which is costing taxpayers $12.8 billion to train in a country whose entire GDP is only $16.6 billion.
There is a very clear reason why pro-surge coinistas do not cite actual data and numbers. If they did, they would have a difficult time selling their policies. Fick and Nagl work for CNAS, an organization which has long been a proponent of billion dollar counter-insurgency strategies with an emphasis on military solutions. Not surprisingly, they tend to view events in Afghanistan through rose-tinted glasses. In just the last three days, stories from major newspapers tell a very different story. On Monday, a suicide bomber in Kunduz province killed 31 Afghan civilians at a government census office. Kunduz province lies in Northern Afghanistan, a region once viewed as one of the more stable.
Also on Monday, the Washington Post reported that drone attacks are becoming less effective at killing high level targets.
“CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed at least 581 militants last year, according to independent estimates. The number of those militants noteworthy enough to appear on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists: two”
The increased use of drones was actually cited by Nagl and Fick as more “evidence” that the Pakistani sanctuary problem has been solved.
And finally, on Sunday, the Afghanistan government charged the U.S. of killing 65 civilians, including more than 60 children in Eastern Afghanistan. There is no way of knowing whether these allegations, which come from the Governor of Konar are correct, but the U.S. has dramatically increased its bombing campaign there, and the by our own admission it is virtually impossible to distinguish between civilians and insurgents.
To be fair, Nagl and Fick do tout three other developments in Afghanistan: the year-long troop escalation that has produced a worsening security environment, the renewed commitment to stay in Afghanistan forever (or at least to 2014 and beyond) despite widespread opposition in the United States, and yet another task force to combat corruption which apparently will pressure Karzai to act despite all evidence to the contrary. If this is the best “evidence” the military can produce, we’re in deep trouble.
Nagl and Fick also tout the increased usage of nighttime raids as important development, but a report from Reuters on Thursday suggests that General Petraeus’s looser rules of engagement regarding these raids have led to an increase in accidental fatalities which fuel the insurgency.
Tags: COIN, General Petraeus, progress
Petraeus and the Death of Counter-Insurgency
Published: February 7th, 2011
Anecdotal evidence in recent weeks from Afghanistan suggests that the U.S. military has moved away from some of the central tenants of Counter-Insurgency (COIN)—protecting populations, winning the “hearts and minds”, and establishing governance. First there was the sensational blog by Paula Broadwell from the Argandab Valley depicting the complete destruction of a small town—not exactly population protection, or winning the hearts and minds.
Next there was a disturbing BBC production entitled the “battle for bomb alley”, which depicted the clearing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from one of the most dangerous roads in Afghanistan. In order to eliminate the threats of these bombs, the Marines were forced to destroy homes, buildings and even a mosque. As the commander acknowledged, the troops are “trying to build a country up by destroying it.” Last came Rolling Stone’s notorious Michael Hastings with a depiction of the new war strategy under Petraeus, which relies on arming criminal warlords and their militias—governance be damned:
“The problem is that the militia program undercuts what is supposed to be a central tenet of counterinsurgency — which, according to a memo issued by Petreaus in August, requires drawing the local population away from the enemy by providing them with “accountable governance.””
What’s going on here? Either, Petreaus, who literally wrote the book on counter-insurgency, has forgotten the central tenents of his own strategy, or, more likely, military officials have concluded that the conditions in Afghanistan are not suited to the types of nation-building that COIN entails. If the brass has essentially thrown in the towel on winning the hearts and minds, policy makers must answer some awkward questions.
Why are we fighting in Afghanistan? Even if the U.S. were leaving behind a stable, functioning society, the Afghan War might not be worth it—the U.S. does not have vital strategic interests at stake. If the U.S. is leaving behind nothing but rubble and an angry anti-U.S. population, the current strategy is worse than pointless, it’s harmful.
Tags: COIN, General Petraeus, strategy
The Afghanistan Weekly Reader
Published: February 4th, 2011
Happy Friday! Here are the top stories about Afghanistan that we were reading this week.
King David’s War
Rolling Stone by Michael Hastings
On the morning of June 15th, 2010, Gen. David Petraeus skipped breakfast. He was jetlagged from a trip earlier in the week to the Middle East, and he was due at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill at 9:30 a.m. to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. A veteran at these things — he had testified at least half a dozen times over the past three years, most famously as commander of U.S. troops at the height of the Iraq War — he decided not to drink much water that morning. He knew, as others sitting in front of the senators had learned the hard way, that once the marathon session began, he wouldn’t have a chance for a bathroom break. “No one wants to be sitting there with a full bladder,” a senior military official close to Petraeus tells me.
Military Downplays Key U.S. Objective in Afghanistan
Huffington Post by Amanda Terkel
WASHINGTON — A top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is contradicting comments by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen on whether a military offensive by Pakistan is necessary to win the war, reflecting frustrations over pinning down metrics for success.
At the Pentagon on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the No. 2 commander in Afghanistan, briefed reporters about U.S. progress in pushing Pakistan to go after militants in North Waziristan, a haven for Taliban and al Qaeda along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Afghan Police ‘Nearly as Unpopular as Taliban in South’
The Guardian by Reuters
Afghanistan‘s police force is only slightly more popular than the Taliban in the insurgent heartlands of the south, according to a survey commissioned by the UN. The results of the poll, published today, portrayed a police force widely viewed by Afghans as corrupt and biased, underscoring doubts about a planned Nato handover. About half the 5,052 Afghans surveyed across all 34 provinces said they would report crime elsewhere.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan…
Time by Joe Klein
If the liberation of Egypt weren’t in progress, this story from Afghanistan would be huge front-page news. The losses at Kabul Bank, first reported to be several hundred million in the Times last summer, are actually in the neighborhood of $900 million. Apparently, the bank directors–perhaps including Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmoud–took a substantial portion of the assets, leveraged them and invested in Dubai real estate, which promptly crashed. The Afghan government does most of its business through Kabul Bank; if it fails, the government won’t be able to pay its civil servants–and a fair amount of international aid, deposited in the bank, may be washed out as well.
Tags: cooporation, General Petraeus, Pakistan, strategy, withdraw
The Afghanistan Weekly Reader – Week of January 24th, 2011
Published: January 28th, 2011
This is a new feature we are introducing to give you the must reads from the week. Its purpose is to create a quick and easy way to obtain this weeks vital Afghanistan news from a variety of mainstream news sources, analysts and experts.
Petraeus Skips Drawdown Talk in New Letter to Troops
Wired by Spencer Ackerman
Need another indication that July 2011 is going to come and go without substantial troop reductions? Take a look at Gen. David Petraeus’ brand new letter to his troops and civilians in Afghanistan about the state of the war. There’s a lot of talk about the “hard work” to expect in 2011, and absolutely none about troop withdrawals.
GOP Lawmakers Planning Meeting to Explore Alternatives in Afghan War
Huffington Post by Amanda Terkel
WASHINGTON — Three Republican lawmakers who have been outspoken on the war in Afghanistan are trying to push their party to start debating alternative policies and will be convening a meeting next month to start the debate
The Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds
AntiWar.com by Kelley B. Vlahos
News that a clear majority of conservatives want to reduce the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, plus reports of an emerging right-left coalition against the war, have served as hopeful signs in the heretofore quixotic pursuit to arrest the giant gears of the American war machine.
Why Military Spending Remains Untouchable
Salon by Andrew Becevich
In defense circles, “cutting” the Pentagon budget has once again become a topic of conversation. Americans should not confuse that talk with reality. Any cuts exacted will at most reduce the rate of growth. The essential facts remain: U.S. military outlays today equal that of every other nation on the planet combined, a situation without precedent in modern history.
Tags: COIN, continuation, defense spending, General Petraeus, security
11/22/2010 Afghan Update – How Do You Solve a Problem Like Insurgency?
Published: November 22nd, 2010
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Reconciliation and the Importance of Governance
In the NPR debate described in the last post, Max Boot echoed a common theme among proponents of Counter- Insurgency (COIN) on the question of governance. He argued that an insurgency is by its very nature a symptom of failed governance. Failed governance cannot therefore be a reason to abandon a Counter-Insurgency strategy. However, re-establishing legitimate governance is the key to any successful counter-insurgency campaign. Those of us who support change in strategy argue that the conditions for re-establishing rule of law in the Pashtun Belt are absent; institutions do not exist at either the national or local level to address core grievances.
A recent paper by journalist Anand Gopal highlights this governance program, but makes a slight variation on the traditional lines of debate. Gopal argues that the failure to reconcile various tribal differences sharpened the problem of governance for Afghans in Kandahar Province. The Taliban, reports Gopal, were willing to accept Karzai as the legitimate leader in early 2002 in return for some basic assurances that they would be left alone. What happened?
“Karzai and other government officials ignored the overtures—largely due
to pressures from the U.S and the Northern Alliance, the Taliban’s erstwhile enemy”
Meanwhile the governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sherzai adopted a hard-line against former Taliban officials. Many ex-Taliban were tortured and killed; all ex-Taliban faced harassment from the local government.
Certain tribes were also favored under Sherzai’s rule; the Popolzai (Karzai tribe) and the Barakzai (Sherzai’s tribe), were overrepresented in the government whereas the Panjpai ,who made up over a quarter of the population in Kandahar, were largely excluded. The decision to exclude former Taliban, reminiscent of the de-Baathification in Iraq, set the stage for increased hostility and a Taliban resurgence.
 This contrasts strongly with Iraq whose Sunni Militias had broad legitimacy in Anbar Province.
What Does Political Exclusion Mean?
Political exclusion in Afghanistan is about far more than having a voice in government. As Stephen Biddle has noted, those “outside the government network” are likely to lose their lands and livelihoods to corrupt officials. In his report Gopal expands on this theme:
“Under such conditions, police corruption and predation became endemic… In one
well known incident in Panjwayi, a police officer demanded goods from a shopkeeper
in the district center. When the shopkeeper refused, the policeman shot and
killed him and absconded with the goods.”
In such an environment, it is no wonder that local Pashtuns joined the insurgency. For many, the Taliban’s Islamic courts are the only place to get a fair hearing. This point in many respects echoes Matt Waldman’s work on the prospects of reconciliation. Like Waldman, Gopal argues that Rule of Law is one of the main motivations for the insurgency:
Many Taliban did not take up arms simply as an exercise of the principle of jihad
or the expulsion of foreigners…but rather because it was the only viable
alternative for individuals and groups left without a place in the world.
Gopal’s paper is a useful reminder that reconciliation and institution-building go hand in hand. Establishing governance without reconciling with insurgents is simply empowering those at the center of the corruption and exacerbating local grievances, a strategy which is clearly doomed to fail.
McKeon on the December Review
One frustrating development over the last week has been news that the December Strategic Review will not be a comprehensive assessment of strategy. The press has reported that the president is sweeping this review under the table and will not fundamentally reassess the strategy until July 2011. Whatever your views on the war, this position is unacceptable. Indeed the principle recommendation from last week’s bipartisan CFR report is to make a serious war assessment next month.
The public has a right to know whether any of Obama’s vaunted fifty metrics have seen progress. Even those who support the current strategy would like to see the Pentagon make the case that the war can still be won, despite the ambiguous news reports coming out of Afghanistan. Those of us on the other side of the debate would like to question military leaders on corruption in the Karzai administration, the increased in fatalities among coalition forces, and the expansion of the insurgency into regions which were previously peaceful. Getting military commanders to testify should be one area where Republicans and Democrats can stand in agreement.
Fortunately, there are signs that this dynamic is already happening. Buck McKeon, the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has said he wants Petraeus to testify: (Via Robert Naiman /Politico)
“During the December review, the American people deserve to hear from the
new commander on the ground,” McKeon told an audience Monday at a conference
hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative.”
Good for Mr. McKeon! The Pentagon has said that Petraeus is “too busy” to stand before congress, so it will likely take prodding from Republicans in Congress to get the general to testify.
Tags: COIN, exit strategy, General Petraeus, reintegration, strategy
What is The Obama Administration afraid of? Send Petraeus to testify on Afghanistan
Published: November 19th, 2010
It’s been a year since President Obama ordered 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan (on top of the 21,000 he had sent in the spring). This week, it was announced that troops will probably be in Afghanistan until at LEAST 2014, far later than the July 2011 timetable during which Obama had initially indicated a meaningful drawdown would begin.
Meanwhile this is a natural point to review and reflect on our strategy—the National Security Council is set to release its review of the strategy in December– and not surprisingly, the Administration is not keen on making General David Petraeus available to testify before Congress.
The pushback on bringing Petraeus back to Washington is part of an administration effort to down play the December review, sources told POLITICO. While officials point to initial signs of progress, the “surge” of forces just arrived there and officials believe next summer will be a far more logical inflection point to assess the strategy.
“There’s no success reportable from Afghanistan of sufficient gravitas or importance to warrant making a big deal of this review,” said one administration source.
So, what are David Petraeus (and the Administration) afraid of? What are we getting for nearly doubling our troops in a year? A quick summary:
- Thousands more killed and wounded US servicemembers,
- Over $100 billion spent
- Double digit percentage increases (in a bad way) in nearly all key areas of metrics and indicators
- An Afghan election more crooked than the last stolen election
- An increase in support for the Taliban
- A dramatic increase in the instability of previously stable north of the country
- A failure to deliver “government in a box to Marjah” or clear Kandahar City
- The revelation that key Karzai aides are on the Iranian payroll
- The near collapse of the Kabul bank and the disclosure of US intelligence verification of Pakistani support for the Taliban, etc
Robert Naiman of Foreign Policy magazine argues persuasively why it’s important to have Petraeus sit before Congress, even if the reason Republicans want to bring him back is to embarrass the President:
Recall that the reason that there will be a December review is not because of some obscure, antiquated, rote bureaucratic procedure. The reason that there will be a December review is that the Administration promised one last year when it decided, against much internal and external opposition, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. It was the administration that chose December. Presumably, at the time, they believed that by December they would be able to assess the strategy. The fact that they now say that there is nothing to report is in itself an admission that the strategy has failed.
Recent press reports have indicated that the administration intends to “publicly walk away from ” its promise to withdraw troops in July 2011, a promise that Vice President Biden and Speaker Pelosi understood as a “serious drawdown” involving “a whole lot of people“. The White House insists there is no change. Which is it? Rep. McKeon wants to know, and so do I. The administration is like a guy who with two girlfriends to whom he has made contradictory promises. It’s time for the two girlfriends to confront the administration together. You can urge Obama to keep his promise to withdraw troops in 2011 here.
As Naiman himself noted, there were a lot of complaints that we neglected to talk about the war at all in this election that just passed. And in fact, as a country, we are not talking about it at all, except for the rare times that a report is released or somebody testifies before Congress. Which gets us back to why Petraeus needs to testify.
If we’re going to continue appropriating money to Afghanistan that is nearly seven times the annual Gross Domestic Product of the country ($100 billion spent over a $14 billion economy), shouldn’t we at least be having a conversation about what we’re getting for our money and lives?
Tags: General Petraeus, review, strategy
Afghanistan Study Group News Recap November 2, 2010
Published: November 2nd, 2010
Author: Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
On the eve of the midterm elections, few media outlets are focusing on the Afghan War even as major stories and analysis continue to develop:
Petraeus, the Afghan Review, and Public Support
Now that we have reached the month of November, there are an increasing number of stories on the President’s December Review of the war in Afghanistan. The National Review has two analyses by James Kitfield and Yochi Dreazen (links unavailable). According to these reports, General Petraeus is racing against time to produce enough progress in Afghanistan before the December review. The main evidence Petraeus will present in December is the increase in Taliban leaders killed and territory cleared and controlled by coalition forces. These metrics are flawed for a number of reasons. The Taliban have proven that they can recruit new commanders with ease and as I mentioned in the last post these new commanders tend to be younger and more radical. Likewise, territory controlled by the coalition is not an accurate measure of progress so long as the Taliban can flee to sanctuaries in Pakistan and the regime in Kabul remains too weak and unpopular to consolidate gains.
A third and crucial issue that Petraeus and the President must consider, is the eroding public support for the war here in the United States. Indeed, while there is great uncertainty regarding many aspects of the war, I can say with relative certainty that public support—currently at 37% —is not likely to improve. The pressure to pull out of Afghanistan is also affecting other NATO allies. The French Minister of war recently told the London Daily Telegraph that they would hand over Sorubi province to the Afghans in 2011, making France most likely the first NATO country to begin withdrawing next year. Other countries are likely to follow suit.
The question of public support is routinely ignored by analysts arguing over whether the president should impose a strict timetable for withdrawal, a question that will be at the center of the December Review. One side of the argument says that the withdrawal of U.S. troops will remove a crucial incentive for the insurgency to fight: the presence of foreign troops. On the other side, one argument for not imposing a strict timeline, suggested by Matt Waldman, is that our troop presence is perhaps the only card the U.S. has with which to negotiate a peace settlement. Unfortunately, this debate tends to overemphasize the importance of timetables, which are in many ways a function of public commitment to the cause. If, as expected, support for the war continues to erode, the public will demand that the troops come home. This is true regardless of what President Obama says or does. Given this constraint, Petraeus must offer the President an honest appraisal of the limitations of the Counter Insurgency strategy.
The Rational for War
Matt Hoh, Director of the Afghanistan Study Group, has argued that the war in Afghanistan is an ineffective and counterproductive way to confront global terrorism. Foreign Policy analyst James Traub, examining the pros and cons of the Afghan war strategy, largely agrees. Focusing on the Al Qaeda threat, Traub argues that the effects of the counter-insurgency campaign on Al Qaeda are at best uncertain and at worst counterproductive. Once the costs of the war are factored in—Traub includes broad factors in his analysis such as loss prestige—the cost-benefit analysis is weighted even more heavily against the war.
Reintegration versus Reconciliation
One of the real strategic debates on Afghanistan is whether the U.S. should promote reconciliation or reintegration. Currently, our strategy has been to promote reintegration of Taliban forces: We are encouraging mid-level commanders and indigenous Taliban forces to defect to NATO. Unlike a reconciliation process, the objective is not to achieve a broad based peace accord, but rather to further divide and weaken the insurgency.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published a story on one such mid-level commander who was encouraged to defect. In the Northern town of Baghlan, Commander Sher was encouraged to abandon Hezb-islami and join the coalition. Within three months Sher was dead (most likely from an accidental U.S. airstrike) and his militia leaderless and in disarray. The failure of the Sher reintegration is twofold. Not only did the U.S. lose a local ally, the virtual destruction of Sher’s forces sends a powerful message to any other potential defectors. If this Wall Street Journal article is any indication, reintegration is not the answer to the U.S.’s problems and broad based process of reconciliation based on mutual concessions may be necessary.
Elsewhere from Afghanistan Study Group Members
Musharaff Zaidi says that the Obama’s visit to India is making Pakistan very nervous. He argues that security in South Asia will only occur if Pakistan and India can put aside their historic animosities:
“Transformational change in South Asia can only be achieved through the realization and pursuit of a natural alliance, much more organic and productive than the one India and the US pursue with each other. This is the natural alliance between Pakistan and India — two countries with shared language, culture, food, faith, and history.”
Stephen Walt and Juan Cole critique David Broder’s suggestion that Obama’s political and economic troubles could be solved with a military confrontation with Iran.
Tags: COIN, exit strategy, General Petraeus, reconciliation, withdraw