February 18, 2013
Bye Bye Afghanistan?
Here we go
The Afghan Endgame
The Weekly Standard
Feb 25, 2013
By Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan
President Obama's decision to withdraw another 34,000 troops from Afghanistan over the course of the next year is unwise. It greatly increases the risk of mission failure in that important conflict, jeopardizing gains already made in the Taliban heartland in the south and compromising the ability of Afghan and coalition forces to finish the fight against the Haqqani Network in the east. It also increases the risk that al Qaeda will be able to reestablish itself in limited safe havens in Afghanistan over time. Removing troops and capabilities before Afghanistan's next presidential election, scheduled for April 2014, further exacerbates the danger that Afghanistan might collapse into renewed ethnic civil war.
It was not as bad as it might have been, however, and prospects for success in this conflict remain, although the odds grow ever longer. The president appears to have yielded to military realities and the laws of physics on a number of important points. The drawdown itself is paced to keep a significant number of American troops in Afghanistan through most of this coming fighting season: Around 6,000 troops are to be withdrawn between now and this spring; another 8,000 by November; and the final 20,000 by February 2014.
This is of course only a snippet, so follow the link and read the whole thing. As always the Kagan's are measured in their analysis, and it's not a "bash Obama" article. They say that his decision to delay announcing the post-2014 U.S. military presence there is "very wise." While they praise the administration for admitting that withdrawing the troops increases the risk of failure " Accepting that increased risk...is difficult to justify."
While the Kagans are pessimistic, they conclude that all is not lost and it is possible that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and coalition troops might be able to hold on to gains and possibly even expand the area under their control.
The president's decision on Afghanistan was not as bad as it might have been--indeed, it was not as bad as it seemed certain to be at the start of this year. It leaves a glimmer of hope for success, which our commanders, troops, and diplomats in the field will exert all their powers to keep alive. But it was still a mistake that puts our nation's security in greater jeopardy. We hope that the president will continue to reevaluate his own willingness to accept risk in light of the rapidly diminishing economic and political returns he will receive from lowering force levels.
The war in Afghanistan is not yet lost. We are not yet losing, in fact, and success remains possible. But it is absolutely vital that the White House give General Dunford some flexibility to adjust the withdrawal timelines, and even to ask for temporary reinforcements, as the situation on the ground evolves.
A few thoughts on the matter:
When the Iraq war went south in 2004-06, Democrats insisted that while that was the wrong war they really wanted to fight in Afghanistan. Time and time again we were told that Afghanistan was the real war, that Iraq diverted resources from the real fight, that Afghanistan was the war "we all agreed needed to be fought," had international support, on and on. Yep, the liberals were raring to go fight in Afghanistan.
At the time I said it was all a bunch of hooey and that as soon as a Democrat was in the White House he or she would abandon the country for one reason or another. Sure enough, that has been the case. Obama's heart was never in the war, and he never made any serious effort to win it. Liberals and Democrats spent the past decade telling us how much they wanted to win in Afghanistan and promptly forgot the war once Obama was elected, just as I predicted.
As for his Afghanistan "surge," the reality is that Obama dithered for at least three months in 2009/10 before sending Gen McChrystal the additional troops he said he needed. And when he did, he only sent 30,000, 10,000 less than requested. Worse, he sent them to battle almost cold bloodedly, his "soaring rhetoric" having left him whenever he spoken on the subject.
Not that Obama takes all the blame. I don't see Republicans even addressing the issue, much less pointing out the dangers of our current policy. While it is understandable that we focus on fiscal matters, the sad truth is that my party has become infected with Ron Paulism.
The average length of time it takes to defeat an insurgency is 10 years. But insurgencies are not World War II, and so we need to not think of troop commitment in those terms. Troop levels (on the government side) should build up to a surge, then fall back down as the insurgency is defeated. And the end is not a Berlin-style Gotterdammerung, rather they tend to just peter out. In this context a draw down of American troops is perfectly acceptable and understandable. But as the Kagans point out, it needs to be done responsibly, and only if victory has been reasonably assured.
Much is made of problems we have with the government of Hamid Karzai, how he and various parts of the population hamper our effort. I'm sure all or most of it is all very true. But at the same time too much is made of it, or at least it's not put in the context of the history of war. Clausewitz told us there would always be such frictions, and indeed there has been. Read a history of our own Revolutionary War and you'll conclude that we spent as much time bickering and arguing amongst ourselves as we did fighting the British. The North suffered innumerable internal difficulties in the Civil War. And U.S. - British cooperation in World War II was not as smooth as the fairytale version of that war would have you think. In that context, none of our difficulties with the government or host population are unusual.
Contrary to what I think is popular belief, most insurgencies fail. We tend to focus on Vietnam, but forget that we did in fact largely beat the insurgency there and in the end South Vietnam lost to traditional NVA troops. Insurgencies were also defeated in Malaya in the 1960s and more recently in Sri Lanka. We can win in Afghanistan, and can do so with an imperfect government.
In the cases where the government wins, they do so through a combination of political and military means. Most insurgencies make some sort of "social justice" demands, and so the government must work to alleviate legitimate grievances. Whether anyone likes it or not, negotiation with insurgent leaders is also necessary, although the goal most always be to bring them into the existing system, and not to work out some sort of "power sharing" arrangement. But in order for political reconciliation to stand a chance, the military must be victorious on the battlefield, it doesn't work the other way around.
Perhaps if we hadn't invaded Iraq we would be in a better spot in Afghanistan. We'll never know because you can't replay history using different variables.
See my archives for Afghanistan an Iraq at right for details and sources on everything above, I'm not going to set up individual links to all this
Posted by Tom at February 18, 2013 10:00 AM
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Either go in there and kick ass or bring them all home. This mamby-pamby bullshit is never good.
Posted by: RightWingRocker at February 18, 2013 2:08 PM
Seems to me we are throwing away advantages that were paid for by the blood and sacrifice of the patriots in the U.S. military. I fear it will come back to haunt us.
I recall the words of Winston Churchill describing what happened in Europe before World War II. He talked about the advantages thrown away and what that would cost:
CHURCHILL: Here is a line of milestones to disaster. Here is a catalogue of surrenders, at first when all was easy and later when things were harder, to the ever-growing German power. But now at last was the end of British and French submission. Here was decision at last, taken at the worst possible moment and on the least satisfactory ground, which must surely lead to the slaughter of tens of millions of people. Here was the righteous cause deliberately and with a refinement of inverted artistry committed to mortal battle after its assets and advantages had been so improvidently squandered. Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly you may come to the moment when you will have to fight withall the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves.
Posted by: Mike's America at February 23, 2013 4:52 PM