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June 27, 2010

Yes We Can... Win in Afghanistan

It took me several years after the invasion of Iraq to find people who were reliable in their analysis and accurate in their prescriptions. I listened to and read retired generals, civilian academics and ex-government types, journalists, and websites. By 2006 it was clear that many or most were getting it wrong. I stopped paying attention these pundits.

Two who got it right were the husband and wife team of Frederick and Kimberly Kagan. Academics and Ph D.s both, Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. Kimberly Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War. In December of 2006 Frederick Kagan and retired General Jack Keane developed a plan for turning Iraq around that eventually became the surge. I have read much of Kimberly's analysis of the situation in Iraq since then, including her book on the siubect, The Surge: A Military History, and found her quite accurate as well.

Bottom line is that despite all the naysayers, the surge worked and despite all the problems Iraq is headed in the right direction (though it is still not quite out of the woods). As such, when they write something about Iraq or Afghanistan, it is best to take it seriously.

Last October Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War produced a comprehensive strategy for victory in Iraq, which I covered in two posts:

A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements
Part 1: The Legitimacy of the Afghan Government


A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force Requirements
Part II: The Number of Troops Required

Bottom line is that they recommended a change in strategy and an additional 40,000 troops, which is similar to what General McChrystal requested. President Obama ended up sending 30,000 troops. Imagine Roosevelt and Churchill giving Eisenhower 117,000 troops for D-Day instead of the 156,000 that actually landed and you'll get the point.

Today team Kagan has an article in The Weekly Standard in which they lay out their case for why we can win in Afghanistan. Excerpts follow, but be sure to read the whole thing:

A Winnable War
With a new commander and a renewed commitment from the commander in chief, we will make military progress in Afghanistan
by Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan
The Weekly Standard
July 5 - July 12, 2010

Success in Afghanistan is possible. The policy that President Obama announced in December and firmly reiterated last week is sound. So is the strategy that General Stanley McChrystal devised last summer and has been implementing this year. There have been setbacks and disappointments during this campaign, and adjustments will likely be necessary. These are inescapable in war. Success is not by any means inevitable. Enemies adapt and spoilers spoil. But both panic and despair are premature. The coalition has made significant military progress against the Taliban, and will make more progress as the last surge forces arrive in August. Although military progress is insufficient by itself to resolve the conflict, it is a vital precondition. As the New York Times editors recently noted, "Until the insurgents are genuinely bloodied, they will keep insisting on a full restoration of their repressive power." General David Petraeus knows how to bloody insurgents--and he also knows how to support and encourage political development and conflict resolution. He takes over the mission with the renewed support of the White House.

Neither the recent setbacks nor the manner of McChrystal's departure should be allowed to obscure the enormous progress he has made in setting conditions for successful campaigns over the next two years. The internal, structural changes he made have revolutionized the ability of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to conduct counterinsurgency operations.

While undertaking these enormous tasks of internal reorganization, he has also taken the fight to the enemy. The controversies about his restrictions on the operations of Special Forces and rules of engagement that limit the use of destructive force in inhabited areas have obscured the fact that both Special Forces and conventional forces have been fighting harder than ever before and disrupting and seriously damaging enemy networks and strongholds.

Iraqi sectarian actors did not suddenly see the light and embrace diversity. They changed their behavior in response to a wide array of pressures brought on them and their patrons by the entire American team, from General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker down to soldiers in the streets. Petraeus and Crocker in particular adopted a highly nuanced approach to the problem.

There are never any guarantees in war. But the fact that efforts now will be led by General David Petraeus, with his record of judgment and creativity, is grounds for confidence that we can succeed.

The contributions of Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his team are not as widely recognized as that of General Petraeus, Odierno, and the other military leaders, but they were just as important. As such, President Obama ought to use the current change in military command to change the entire civilian State Department team as well. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry ought to be replaced with a man of Petreus' selection of approval.

The president also ought to abandon his silly timeline for withdrawal. As soon as his speech announcing the Afghan surge got out, Afghanis assumed that we'd abandon them in 2011 regardless of the situation. Those who claim that timelines force or incent the Afghanis (or Iraqis) to "get their act together" are ignorant of counterinsurgencies in particular and human behavior in general.

But for these and more details follow the links above. We can win, and President Obama should commit us to that goal.

Posted by Tom at June 27, 2010 9:15 PM

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A fine analysis here, but for one thing. Hamid Karsai and his brother are rotten to the core, and the tribal chiefs know it, so they are unlikely to turn on the Taliban. We can give the
insurgents a bloody nose with superior troops & weaponry, but Obama's time-table for withdrawal is absurd. Afganistan is not just another Iraq;
A victory here will take years.


Posted by: Ralph E at June 28, 2010 4:37 PM


I remain very pessimistic regarding the ultimate political success in both Iraq and Afghanistan. That success is entirely dependent on transforming the indigenous cultures. The transformation of Japan and Germany post WW II by comparison was a much easier proposition.

I give the Iraqi government somewhere between 10 minutes and 10 months after the departure of the last U.S. troop. It is possible that apres nous le deluge will not occur but if it does, I will not be surprised. At the very least there will be some type of consolidation of governmental power that power that will likely mirror, Iraqi history post WW I or perhaps other regional transformations of government since that time.

I drove to the airport long b/f the chickens got up this a.m. On the way, I heard a piece on NPR about the Afghani police force. One factoid that stayed w/ me: 75% of them are illiterate. Think of the organizational challenges that poses.

I think the statistic was that 1/2 of the recruits quit in the past two years. Hashish use--on duty-is widespread.

When was the last time that Afghanistan had a strong centralized government? !506? 1751?

Not that this is a novel idea, but the only chance for political success in Afghanistan will necessarily involve the destruction of the Taliban in Pakistan. I don't see it.

Thanks for the article.


Posted by: The Loop Garoo Kid at June 29, 2010 3:22 PM

Note - this comment was in my spam box, and also received it via email. My guess is this exact same text is being posted on blogs around the Internet. Of course, I cannot verify if the author is in fact a soldier. Despite this, I am going to publish it because the arguments contained within it are at least relevant to the post - Tom

First an foremost, I am a soldier who is political (as it is politicians who get us killed) and I believe every soldier should be counted as valuable and should participate in the decisions that effect his life. I believe President Obama is a Communist and Muslim and is hell bent on destroying the US militarily and economically so he can gain power and usurp the Constitution more than he already has. If you haven't heard, the US military's budget will be cut by $100B over the next five years, ridding our services of valuable weapons technology and equipment that have let us be the premier fighting force in the world for decades. It's not cutting out pork, as they like to say, it is the destruction of US military might. As of now, most of the inventory is broken and in serious need of repair. We are spending trillions for socialism yet cutting the military's budget.

As for Afhganistan, when I return home, I am going to contact my reps in a campaign to have us withdrawal immediately. I am in my second tour and have served in both combat zones (numerous rotations). Let's learn from history, Afghanistan can not be won. Why? Because there is nothing to win here. You can't compare Iraq to Afghanistan. Iraq has an economy and infastructure. Iraq has a people who believe they are a nation (if not divided into three) but nonetheless a people who have a common culture and desire to be Iraqi. And Iraq has oil, the life blood of the free market, and a worthy cause to fight a war over.

The surge worked in Iraq, not because of additional troops... the surge worked because we killed the bad guys and our hands weren't tied. And in the end the Iraqi people chose to stand up and fight the insurgents with us, as they saw the insurgents as the enemy and the disrupters of progress. If Iraq fails it will not be becuase of a lack of money, a loss of unity or lack of security. It will be because of the growing cancer that is militant Islam and the leaders (Sadr) who take over. And we will be as powerless to stop it. This cancer is crippling Europe and is a growing concern at home as well (Dearborn, MI).

Afghanistan is a world of its own and about 5000 years behind Iraq. There is nothing modern that hasn't been brought in by the US. And at that, roads are about the only modern anything in this place. Sadly and most importantly, the people don't care to be any better or part of the progess; they either don't want it or aren't evolved enough to understand it. These people still carry bundles on their heads and backs like mules and I have not once seen a wheel used to move products that wasn't foreign built. They are a backwards people. They live to farm dirt, opium and rocks. There is no unity/ identity of the people as a country and there is no desire to have freedom. Never mind the fact that Islam doesn't allow freedom (as we see it). In Iraq, a good majority of the people will wave as you fly over them and give you thumbs up. Not so in Afghanistan, you can see it in their eyes, they don't want us here and almost all throw rocks at us as we fly by. Nine years later, it is COMMONPLACE for villagers to watch militants plant roadside bombs and do nothing to stop it or report it. And America's finest, US soldiers die or are maimed for life.

Now for the politics of it. What is the end state? What is a win? If it is a stable gov't, this will never happen, as the people DON'T CARE about gov't. In fact they don't care about the village that is 30Km in any direction from them. You don't need gov't to plant opium and rake fields of dirt. Are you beginning to sense a trend... rocks and dirt, pre-historic peoples.

Is winning removing the militants? Here again, we are fighting ISLAM, there will always be militants as long as Islam is the religion of choice. Most of these militants are foreign. Just as we fought a proxy war with the Soviets in the 80's, the Iranians are fighting a proxy war with us now. And in a lesser influence, which seems to be growing, I would throw the Russians and Chinese in there too. As long as the militants are funded by enemy states, we will never win. Do you think a war is in the plans for Iran, Russia or China? I doubt it, the President just recently bowed to two of those nation's leaders. And the only enemy we seem to be developing as the next target of choice in the middle east is Isreal. What has happened to us?

As for McChrystal (who I still can't believe actually voted for Obama), good riddance to him on multiple levels. It's obvious he has poor judgement, as he voted for Obama. His ROE is getting US soldiers killed EVERYDAY. His ROE comes from Gen Petraeus' playbook. So there will be no change in that. We are in Vietnam all over again, except there is no Cambodia for the militants to run to... it is here in country; they shoot and run and we don't pursue. When bases get mortar fire, there is no retaliation for fear of wounding civilians... the same civilians who allowed the IEDs to be planted and the rockets to be fired. When air support is called in, no one drops bombs or fires rockets for fear of collateral damage. When there is no retaliation the enemy is emboldened. When the enemy is emboldened more militants come and more soldiers DIE.

If we are here for the mineral deposits, the Chinese need to provide some support, since they own the rights to it anyway. So are we dying for Chinese plunder?

So in summary, there is no winnable endstate. The US is destroying its military might and the taxpayers are dumping more money into a endless pit. Soldiers are dying for no cause and in the end the only real victors will be our enemies.

As for getting information from what's going on over here, I wouldn't take advice from ANY general or any media outlet. The media is in the pocket of the State and the generals are politicians/ egomaniacs who only care about themselves and the next rank. If you want the real story you need to get it from those who are on the front line, risking it all, and losing their brothers. Captains and Majors would be the highest rank worth listening too and your E-6's to E-7's are the backbone of the enlisted corps. These are the guys living and dying on the field of battle and are the most likely to give a straight answer.

Please join me and rethink your views on this tragic war we call OEF. I am asking you to begin a call to your reps to pull out IMMEDIATELY from this region. It will be better now than later, and not ONE soldiers life is worth waiting another minute.

Posted by: Concerned Soldier at June 30, 2010 8:06 AM

"You can't compare Iraq to Afghanistan. Iraq has an economy and infastructure. Iraq has a people who believe they are a nation (if not divided into three) but nonetheless a people who have a common culture and desire to be Iraqi. And Iraq has oil, the life blood of the free market, and a worthy cause to fight a war over."

I will address this comment only: Whereas you can compare Iraq to Afghanistan. There is no nation of Iraq. Less than a century ago, the Brits and the French drew some lines on the map. If oil is the "lifeblood" of the free market, is that why we invaded the place?

I understand if someone is opposed politically to the president. Anyone buying into what this guy says, needs a serious reality check. You listening, Ralph?


Posted by: The Loop Garoo Kid at June 30, 2010 11:44 PM

For what it's worth I don't take "Concerned Soldier" seriously either. But it's not obvious spam (the link doesn't lead to a "buy viagra" site) so I published it.

You do raise valid concerns, TLGK. No one should look at the situation in either country through rose-colored glasses. The U.S. military doesn't either. As you know I've watched and blogged on every briefing by a military commander coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan since early 2007. Although I didn't watch all earlier briefings or blog on them, I did catch their essense.

And what I've seen is a military that is truly cautious in how they present the situation and future possibilities. Petraeus made sure that his commanders were not sugar-coating the situation or being unduly optimistic about the future as previous generals Sanchez and Casey were. What I saw in the briefings were generals and colonels who were very honest.

What gets me, and this is not directed at you TLGK but at the left in general, is that for 4 years before the election of Obama we heard time and again that Iraq was the "wrong war" but Afghanistan was the right one. Yup, Iraq was wrong but boy oh boy they sure couldn't wait to fight in Afghanistan! Iraq didn't attack us but Afghanistan did, so that's where the "real war" was and "everyone agreed" we had to win. Our allies didn't like Iraq but surely with Obama in the White House they'd all send more troops. Yessiree, they were raring to go.

But once Obama was elected the tone changed overnight. Now suddenly the ardor of the liberal war-mongers cooled. Now... Afghanistan wasn't so vital, Karzai was corrupt, no Western army had ever prevailed there... on and on.

Readers interested in a more detailed background and justification of the Afghan surge would benefit from a few of my past posts

Obama's Evolving Promises on Afghanistan

Red Teaming Afghanistan: Strategic Options and Enemy Responses i.e. what would most likely happen if we pulled out.

FPI Fact Sheet: The case for a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan

A Comprehensive Strategy: Afghanistan Force RequirementsThe Legitimacy of the Afghan Government

Key Facts on Afghanistan

Posted by: Tom the Redhunter at July 2, 2010 8:11 AM

This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in....One thing you don't do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan, alright? Because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan without committing more troops.--

Well, at least this is what the RNC Chairman Steele stated on a youtube video. And why Kristol called for him to resign. This guy is way out there. "This was a war of Obama's choosing," Steele said. "This is not something United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in." Right, and Obama forced Bush to go into Afghanistan 9 years ago, because he is a Muslim.

My biggest long term concern with the surge approach in Afghanistan is the country has a lack of legitimate funding. The surge worked very well in Iraq because that country has oil, and money. They needed the time, security and training to get their own security forces up to snuff- the surge did just that. They had the money, equipment, etc, we just needed to provide security and field integration with our troops and the Iraqis, like we are doing in Afghanistan. My long term concern is that Afghanistan is poor (in money and resources, unless you count heroin) and impossible to move around in. Iraq is mostly an oil rich, flat desert. You can drive well paid Iraqi troops from one end of the country to the other, on relatively secure roads. Afghan troops are poorly paid, prone to corruption, suffer from lack of mobility, and drug use. And there is no legitimate long term source to fund them, if we were to ever get them up to snuff like the Iraqis. This is a huge barrier that we did not have to deal with in Iraq. It is not impossible, but it is an important distinct between the strategies used in either theater.

Posted by: jason at July 2, 2010 4:13 PM

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