Monday, July 26, 2010

Are We The Last to Realize the Afghan War is Lost?

Kabul knows we're not going to win.   So does Islamabad and Tehran too.   The Taliban know we're not going to defeat them.   Everybody sees the writing on the wall, everybody but us.

The Afghanistan war logs disclosed by Wikileaks are a stark testament to a feeble military effort, haplessly commanded and burdened by political incompetence in Afghanistan and throughout the Western nations that have deployed troops to that country.

Yes Tehran is giving support to the Taliban.   So is Pakistan.  Karzai is desperately sucking up to Pakistan hoping Islamabad can help him structure a deal with the Talibs.   Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan know that we're floundering and that soon they'll have to sort out this mess on their own.

We see it as an act of betrayal for Pakistan to aid the Taliban.   That's because we expect Pakistan to embrace our delusions about what we're doing there.   They pretend to do just that, pocket enormous sums of American aid in the process, but never lose sight of reality.   Time's Tony Karon sums it up this way:

" may simply be that while the U.S. plows on with a troubled counterinsurgency war, Afghan and regional stakeholders are more inclined to a Machiavellian hedging of their bets. Machiavelli once suggested that it's more important to be feared than to be loved. But what the latest documents reveal about the activities and outlook of America's ostensible allies in Afghanistan is that Washington is neither loved nor feared as much as it is increasingly ignored."

Much as I sometimes question the integrity and agenda of US general, counterinsurgency guru David Petraeus, the Afghan war has clearly borne out the maxims enshrined in the US military's counterinsurgency field manual prepared by a team of military and civilian experts led by Petraeus himself.  

In unveiling the manual to the media Petraeus restated a number of these maxims which the Bush regime steadfastly ignored.  The foremost maxim was "go big or go home."  You can't fight an insurgency and hope to prevail without flooding the area of conflict with masses of troops.  In Afghanistan that would have meant a force of between 250,000 and 300,000.

Another maxim was that less firepower is more.   Have huge number of troops so you don't have to fight insurgents with airstrikes, rockets and artillery.   Insurgents mix with civilians and heavy firepower  means heavy collateral casualties.   Insufficient forces often have no choice but to call in the heavy guns with all the predictable blowback.

A third important maxim is get in and get out quickly.   The way Petraeus put it to a WaPo reporter, there's a very limited shelf life before a counterinsurgent goes in the public's eye from being a liberator-defender to being seen as an occupier-oppressor.   You flood the place with your own people at the outset and then you commit whatever resources are needed to train, equip and field a national army capable of taking over.   You don't wait nine years.   That's time that's not yours to waste, time in which the political issue can be decided against you.

The Afghan war will go down in the textbooks as a war that never should have been.

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