Sunday, May 13, 2012

Accepting Failure in Afghanistan

We went in full of self-righteous anger, the images of jetliners flying into office towers burned into our brains.   The idea was to eradicate al-Qaeda and topple the Taliban government that had sheltered them and it all seemed to happen in an instant save, perhaps, for the part about exterminating al-Qaeda.

When we found ourselves in desperate need of a second act, we struck upon a narrative about bringing peace, democracy and human rights to the Afghan people.   We were going to give the Afghans a real stake in something that they would cherish and want to defend to prevent those Talibs from sneaking back.

We spent years trying to pull off that conjuring act because, after all, we were never offering the Afghan people more than an illusion of peace, democracy and human rights, one we tried to buy on the cheap.   We never invested enough troops and money to secure the country, not even close.   Those troops and that treasure needed to secure Afghanistan was squandered in Iraq instead.  And so we had no choice but to fall back on the old warlord structure that, in a nation as wracked with ethnic tensions and tribalism, guaranteed that the place would loosely hold together right up until the day we left.

Now we're getting ready to pull out of Afghanistan.   At least most of the coalition is doing that.   It's unclear what Canada is doing.   Our Ruler says he'll make up his mind on that one sometime next year.

The Americans want to wind things down but, then again, they want many things including a deal with the Taliban that will simply stop the civil war.   Plan B is to just hand over the war to Afghan forces we've laboured so hard to train and equip.   We've trained hundreds of thousands of them in only twice the same time it took us to fight and win WWII.  So now the plan is to have the Afghans step up so we can step down.   And how's that going?

According to The Washington Post, it's not going all that well.

Afghan commanders have refused more than a dozen times within the past two months to act on U.S. intelligence regarding high-level insurgents, arguing that night-time operations to target the men would result in civilian casualties, Afghan officials say.

The defiance highlights the shift underway in Afghanistan as Afghan commanders make use of their newfound power to veto operations proposed by their NATO counterparts.

Hey, what's this?   Don't they know that we know what's best for them?  Apparently not.

But the resistance to American guidance on night operations represents the clearest indication to date that Afghan military commanders are heeding a directive from President Hamid Karzai last month. Just a day after signing a 10-year bilateral agreement with the United States, Karzai said Afghan soldiers should discard questionable information provided by the U.S. military.

“If you have any doubt about an American intelligence report, do not conduct any operation based on it,” he told officials at the Interior Ministry.

And the latest trend, Green on Blue attacks on Western troops by their Afghan counterparts, continues.   Two British servicemen were killed Saturday in an attack by two Afghans in Afghan Police uniforms while guarding a meeting with local leaders at a patrol base.

American forces are now gearing up for what is expected to be their last major campaign of the Afghan war in Ghazni province.

Instead of trying to reform the Afghan government, protect the civilian population and conduct security operations until Afghan forces are ready to take over — all of which Americans sought to do as recently as last year — a newly arrived brigade from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division plans to spend the summer attacking Taliban redoubts before departing in mid-September, regardless of whether Afghan soldiers are capable of holding their own.

The last of six American commanders, General John Allen, is overseeing the effort to get American forces out of combat in Afghanistan.

Unlike his predecessors, who had the luxury of troops and money, he has been forced to triage. He has narrowed targets for the development of local government, the pursuit of graft and the development of the country’s economy. His pragmatic focus is on the one prerequisite for America to head to the exits, as defined by the White House: Afghan security forces that are strong enough to keep the Taliban, which continues to enjoy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, from toppling the Kabul government. Although much of the Afghan army remains raggedy, with weak leadership and persistent supply shortages, he is betting that shifting responsibility sooner will increase the odds that Afghans will be able to stand their ground once the U.S. presence shrinks.

That sounds like wishful thinking but, at this point, General Allen has to play the crappy cards he's been dealt and the highest card he's holding is hope that it won't go all to hell.

Allen’s predicament has no equivalent in modern American warfare.

In Iraq, U.S. troops departed in a far less violent environment. In Vietnam, Creighton Abrams, the general who presided over America’s withdrawal, had more troops at his disposal and more time to transfer responsibility to local forces.

By the early 1970s, according to historian Lewis Sorley, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu’s government was more effective, and the country’s army was more competent, than Karzai’s administration and the Afghan security forces are today. Allen “has a much more difficult job,” said Sorley, the author of “A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam.”

Allen, 58, is an avid reader of military histories and sees the Vietnam analogies — the insurgent safe havens across a national border, the plummeting public support back home — but he is studying a different withdrawal: that of the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989.

“We’re fighting on the same ground,” he noted.

Afghanistan’s Communist government remained in power through the pullout, falling only three years later, after the Soviet Union collapsed and its economic aid to Kabul ended. To Allen, that fact argues for sustained American assistance to Afghanistan, particularly to pay for its army and police, which will grow to a combined strength of 352,000 this year.

In some ways Allen is having to ad lib the closing act of our Afghan war.   He figures the West will need to fund the Afghan Army and Afghan National Police to the tune of $4-billion a year indefinitely even as other nations, like China, saunter in to exploit Afghanistan's considerable mineral wealth all on our security tab.   No matter how much lipstick you put on it, staging a chequebook withdrawal from Afghanistan is simply a drawn out admission of defeat.

1 comment:

Purple library guy said...

One problem for General Allen's hopes is that from everything I've heard, Karzai's government is far crappier than the Soviet-era Communist government was. Not that it was wonderful, but the current one is worse. So I have serious doubts of it holding together for anything like as long.