x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

US and Nato need new Afghan strategy

In an implicit acknowledgment that the United States and its allies stand at the brink of failure in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander there, has called for a fresh approach as the war enters its ninth year. While McChrystal's report is not believed to call explicitly for an expansion in force size, experts expect a request later this year for as many as 40,000 additional troops.

In an implicit acknowledgment that the United States and its allies stand at the brink of failure in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander there, has called for a fresh approach as the war enters its ninth year. The Los Angeles Times reported that Gen McChrystal "has submitted his initial assessment of the war in Afghanistan, calling today for a full overhaul of the military's war strategy, Nato officials said today. "Gen Stanley McChrystal, the newly appointed head of US and Nato forces, wants to intensify development of Afghan security forces, improve the country's government and refocus economic development initiatives, according to a description of the assessment released by Nato officials. "The assessment is meant to be a more 'philosophical' look at the current situation and does not contain any explicit requests for more troops or other resources." BBC News added: "Gen McChrystal also wants more engagement with the Taliban fighters and believes that 60 per cent of the problem would go away if they could be found jobs. "More than 30,000 extra US troops have been sent to Afghanistan since President Barack Obama ordered reinforcements in May - almost doubling his country's contingent and increasing the Western total to about 100,000. "This report does not mention increasing troop numbers - that is for another report later in the year - but the hints are all there, our correspondent says." The Washington-based military analyst, Anthony H Cordesman, said that there is a consensus among experts on the scene that the US will need to boost its forces by as many as 20 to 40,000 troops. "The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months - any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new US commander, Gen Stanley A McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost. "The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade. Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the US Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources. "The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai's government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid." In The Guardian, Jonathan Steele suggested: "It is deja vu on a huge and bloody scale. General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, is about to advise his president that 'the Afghan people are undergoing a crisis of confidence because the war against the Taliban has not made their lives better', according to leaked reports. Change the word 'Taliban' to 'mujahideen', and you have an exact repetition of what the Russians found a quarter of a century ago. "Like Nato today, the Kremlin realised its forces had little control outside the main cities. The parallels don't end there. The Russians called their Afghan enemies dukhy (ghosts), ever-present but invisible, as hidden in death as they were when alive - which echoes Sean Smith's recent photographic account of the fighting in Helmand and the failure of the British units he was with to find a single Talib body. "The Soviet authorities never invited western reporters to be embedded, but you could track down Afghan war veterans in Moscow's gloomier housing estates. They were conscripts, unlike British and US troops, so perhaps they had a heightened sense of anger. But how many British vets would share the sentiments that Igor expressed, as he hung out with his mates one evening in February 1989 and let me listen? 'You remember that mother who lost her son. She kept repeating, "He fulfilled his duty. He fulfilled his duty to the end." That's the most tragic thing. What duty? I suppose that's what saves her, her notion of duty. She hasn't yet realised it was all a ridiculous mistake. I'm putting it mildly. If she opened her eyes to our whole Afghan thing, she'd probably find it hard to hold out.'" Major Jeremy Kotkin, a US Air Force officer who is currently working on developing the command strategy for US Special Operations Command, wrote in a commentary for the Small Wars Journal: "In our best Wilsonian imitation, we are determined to bestow the Peace of Westphalia upon Afghanistan, create a sovereign state in the best Western sense of the word, and allow them to move through the 'majestic portal' to bring them into the family of evolved nations. Somehow, this will be better for America than whatever locally legitimate ruling authority rises to power in Kabul or the rest of Afghanistan's provinces. In a utopian world, this might be fine, but in reality, where the native Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek people get a vote, it yields the quagmire we face today. Not only is this outside of our initial (and again, largely complete) mission in Afghanistan, it is outside of both the pragmatism and necessity of realpolitik and realism on one side and any cost-benefit analysis of political idealism on the other. To think that to secure the US homeland from attack we must install an amenable democratic government in Kabul awakens definite parallels in Afghani history. "Field Marshall Frederick Roberts who, during the Second Anglo-Afghan War, led a successful attack against Kabul and the later 300-miles-in-3-weeks march from Kandahar to Kabul (to rescue an embattled British force) eventually said: 'The less they see of us, the less they'll dislike us.' In the end, he, and the British parliament, realised that after three consecutive wars in the same region for the same strategic purpose, Afghanistan wasn't as strategically important to the British as they had supposed all along." Meanwhile, McClatchy Newspapers reported: "insurgents now control three Pashtun-dominated districts in Kunduz and Baghlan-i-Jadid, a foothold in a region that was long considered safe. With a force estimated at 300 to 600 hard-core fighters, they operate checkpoints at night on the highway to the north, now a major supply route, local officials said, and are extorting money, food and lodging from villagers. " 'The Taliban want to show the world that not only can they make chaos in southern Afghanistan, but in every part of Afghanistan,' Baghlan Governor Mohammad Akbar Barekzai said. 'This is a big problem. We don't have sufficient forces here.' "For US commanders, whose stretched forces have been unable to pacify the south and are taking record casualties, it's another looming problem. " 'What can we do to mitigate the risk? It's a question of means,' said a senior US defense official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorised to speak publicly. 'Clearly, the main effort is in the south. But we can't allow other areas of the country to be destabilised.' "

pwoodward@thenational.ae