08 August 2009

Afghanistan Shrugged?

Over the past week or so, the military blogosphere has exploded with stories about Afghanistan, many of which question the direction of the Afghanistan campaign (not the least of which was Col. Andrew Bacevich's article earlier this week). Indeed, I have to agree that what started off in 2001 as a campaign to eradicate al Qaeda--a menace to civilization as we know it--gradually suffered from years of neglect and egregious "mission creep", and is sorely in need of a re-focus.

If I were a full-time blogger, I'd explore the various high points of the arguments in full, but I'll address them in sum in this post, along with some relevant links that I picked up from Small Wars Journal, Zenpundit, Ink Spots, Kings of War, and many more. (Zenpundit, of course, has the best round-up of them all. I am in awe of his mad skillz.)

There are three recurring themes running through a number of the articles:

Theme 1—Afghanistan does not have the institutions to support a liberal democracy, particularly not the type of democracy that we are used to in the west. Attempts to strengthen Afghanistan through strong central government are counter-productive, as the societies in that particular region are tribal-oriented and have limited connection with the central government in Kabul (WSJ reports in an excellent article). This may mean that a program to strengthen communities through a "Sons of Iraq"-style program might be a more viable alternative to protecting local villages from the Taliban than concentrating on strengthening the security forces of the Afghani government.

Theme 2—The central cause for American involvement in Afghanistan is to deny safe haven to al Qaeda. However, since the initial invasion of 2001, the vast majority of al Qaeda's leadership moved from Afghanistan into Pakistan. (Colonel TX Hammes two years ago) Am I, too, misreading Bing West's recent WSJ article in which he claimed that "Al Qaeda, dominated by Arabs, is finished inside Afghanistan". Indeed, the campaign in Afghanistan, designed to root out al Qaeda, is irrelevant unless al Qaeda is defeated in Pakistan. ("Afghanistan is Irrelevant").

Theme 3—Counterinsurgency (COIN, as we COINdinistas call it) works well as a tactical and operational tool, but, lacking an overall strategic picture, it cannot succeed. As the old adage from Nagl's "Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife" goes, "When all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails". The quote originally applied to conventional war theorists looking at counterinsurgencies. Now, some accuse COINdinstas of using COIN as the all-purpose hammer for fixing all of the world's problems (even more damning since the one making the accusation is one of my fellow COINdinistas). Without the strategic guidance, COIN cannot fix our security problems.

(Picture stolen from another website)

Check out the websites, post some links, discuss the future of Afghanistan. Should we re-define success? Re-define the mission? You be the judge.

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