View Full Version : Afghanistan: The Dysfunctional War

03-27-2009, 01:47 PM
I've attached and excerpted a timely and important paper written by a colleague of mine about how to win in Afghanistan. He has served two tours in Afghanistan as a Special Forces Officer (and is preparing for a third) and while a civilian he was the Country Director of Afghanistan in the Secretary of Defense's Office and then worked as Vice President Cheney's key staffer on Afghanistan where he worked on the final Bush Administration policy review. His assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, of the interagency, and of how we are waging this war are rooted in first-hand experience in the field and in Washington, D.C. and his solutions are practical. Enjoy!

Afghanistan: The Dysfunctional War
By Michael Waltz

Throughout a large swathe of the USG and the broader policy making community, Afghanistan has become accepted as the more morally just yet the less strategically important war. Afghanistan does not sit astride tremendous natural resources nor the Sunni-Shia fault line, it is not geographically in the heart of the Middle East nor enormously influential in terms of the future ideological or cultural direction of the region. While this line of thinking certainly has merit from a geopolitical context, it has led to a dangerous under-resourcing of the Afghan effort and a frustrating lack of coherence in countering a growing Taliban-led insurgency in one of the poorest and most forbidding places in the world. It has also led to a foisting of responsibility onto an often times unwilling coalition.

While the Taliban cannot defeat the Afghan government and international coalition militarily, they can win strategically by turning the people against their government and outlasting our will to stay engaged. After seven years of unmet expectations, the patience of the Afghan people and the international coalition is wearing thin. Thus, we face a window of strategic vulnerability and opportunity in Afghanistan in 2009. The Afghan government, and its international contributors, cannot afford failed elections, or another year of poor governance and escalating violence. Pakistanís government is weak, faces multiple crises, and may fail, but our efforts in both countries can be turned around. With timely policy adjustments, some in the immediate term, 2009 can be a year in which we turn negative trend lines in our favor.

Without significant changes however, the insurgency stemming from the Pashtun Belt, risks reversing our gains made in Afghanistan, destabilizing Pakistan, and granting Al Qaida continued sanctuary. Beyond the threat to the Afghan people and the surrounding region from a resuscitated Taliban-Al Qaida alliance, armed groups and rogue states worldwide will take heart from the failure of the West to achieve its goals in Afghanistan. The new Administration has a lot on its plate in the coming months. Regarding Afghanistan, its main priority must not only be to create, resource, and implement a strategic vision, but to explain its strategy and its ultimate goal to an American people that will likely grow frustrated with a protracted war and spending significant resources they would prefer to spend domestically.

George L. Singleton
03-27-2009, 03:17 PM
These are obvious truths commented on in the article.

The Plan now about to be unveiled is clearly a combination of military, civilian contractors, and a hoped for surge-build-up of the Afghan Army.

To repeat a few simple facts I've been hammering on SWJ for several months now:

1. The "goal" is to get the education level of the Afghan Army, police, etc. up to the equivalent of a third grade education.

2. Decentralization is the style of life, governance, and the whole known history of this backward, miserably poor, and historically dependant on the opium trade nation...which opium trade reaches back to the time of Marco Polo and before in recorded history.

3. The Pukhtun belt overlies most of Afghanistan and large parts of Northern Pakistan, and is akin to the issue of the Armenians in that a growing number of Pukhtuns don't want to be a part of Pakistan and will and are making deals with the devil to undermine Pakistan's government.

4. Pakistan's ISI (as in CIA to us) which is militarily run and manner for Pakistan is in bed, has been for many yeas now, with the Taliban and al Qaida, and US/NATO military plans and supplies are being used against our own forces and efforts to subdue the Taliban and AQ.

5. Pakistan as a whole, the people, hate the Taliban and al Qaida and wish they would "evaporate" and go away, but as in any nation, especially a very poor nation, the poor are being appealed to with basic services from and by the terrorists, schools, hospials, and some degree of social payments (read that a low level Social Security plan the terrorists have and one wonders, who is it funded by??).

6. As a long ago young USAF Liaison Officer [working title on roster of old US Embassy in Karachi was Assistant Air Attache, which was a joke as whoever heard of a Lieutenant, Second then First, being an assistant attache?]
for the US Base at Badabur, a suburb of Peshawar in the NWFP...where I sent for coordination meetings every month by air...what was basically in the frontier, tribal belt a very backward, poverty stricken, and illiterate, misled by half baked excuses for mullahs...has festered inside Pakistan today and funded by al Qaida, Wahabbi, God knows who else, together with indigious Pukhtun Taliban...is a devil's dilemma to defeat when the damned Pakistan military advise the weak kneed Pakistani President to just "give up, pull back, and blame India for any thing they can dream up to divert the larger Pakistani population from the growing terrorist and terrorism, radical Islamic threat.

Tough, and no room for petty or silly partisaniship but we need a more unified policy, not more money, and we need the Pakistani Army to accept outside large scale troops, perhaps from Turkey, to help bring security and long term law and order.

Law and order and security must be the focus and if not, we are wasting men and women and billions of dollars.

My two cents.

03-27-2009, 03:36 PM
The article makes some excellent points. It calls for a lot more engagement and resources to succeed in Afghanistan and it does not shy away from the cost of such an effort. Given that, I find it quite honest, but also quite problematic, that the call for such an effort comes after this:

Afghanistan has become accepted as the more morally just yet the less strategically important war. Afghanistan does not sit astride tremendous natural resources nor the Sunni-Shia fault line, it is not geographically in the heart of the Middle East nor enormously influential in terms of the future ideological or cultural direction of the region.

The question the author doesn't address is if the cost is worth it in terms of benefits to the United States. ISTM this is the big pole in the tent of Afghanistan - given enough time and resources we might be able to turn Afghanistan into something resembling a modern third world state that might be a lasting bulwark against international takfiri jihadists, but what cost is worth such an effort?