Thursday, August 27, 2009

Questions and Answers on Afghanistan

Click the link to see the original post, very thought provoking, over at the Army's Combined Arms Center Blog

My take:

Taking each point in turn:

1-Why are we in Afghanistan right now? What possible national security interest do we have in setting up a transparent local government or economic opportunity in Herat (Western Afghanistan)? We went to Afghanistan at first to make sure Al-Qaida couldn't attack us from there again and that the Taliban couldn't offer Al-Qaida sanctuary. Seems we've met those goals.

A1: I think the answer is pretty straightforward here, given what the poster says in (4.) Given that there is not a viable central government with enough reach to ensure that AQ and the Taliban do not gain control of significant portions of the country, and given that our departure would probably eventuate in their regaining control of significant areas of the country, it follows that we still need to maintain a presence.

2-In terms of labels- you could say that we are the "insurgents" and the Taliban are the "counterinsurgents"- -since we are fighting for radical cultural change and they are fighting for the cultural status-quo. In other words, we are the revolutionaries in this instance (those wanting radical change).

A2 If we are worried about semantics here, my first response is to say, ‘who cares about labels’ it’s the realities that count. As to the assumption that we are looking to institute radical changes, perhaps centralization is radical vis Afghan political history, such as it is. But, if the Coin doctrine is to be followed similarly to its development in Iraq, then it will rely on and strengthen local controlling entities, and tribal alliances, which may form the basis of an expanding sphere of civil control. It may. I think that’s all we can truthfully say. We have to admit Afghanistan is significantly different than Iraq, both geographically, and culturally (with regard to education level, and literacy.)

3-Afghanistan is not a nation-state. The borders were drawn by European powers. Our soldiers are defending an Imperial European legacy.

A3 Yeah. Well maybe, but it seems the Taliban were pretty fiercely defending those same borders as were the folks that fought off the Soviets. That indicates at least a nascent sense of national unity, not only within the Taliban, but the general populace.
4-Our measure of success of "when the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) earns the support of the people" is arguably an impossible task. There has never existed a viable centralized government that ruled from Kabul. This is an American-centric idea of success that doesn't take into account what the regional historical power brokers in Afghanistan want. "Arguable" in the sense that it might be possible in a hundred years and with trillions of dollars and lots of American lives lost. Goes back to the "is this in our national interest" question- and/or is it worth the cost even if it is?

A4 This is really the nub, and the best point of the 4. The point of COIN seems to be that at heart, what the regional power brokers really want is civil order, not power. That being so, we can nudge them along in a “westerly” direction toward a more developed and Republican form of such order based upon democratic tendencies of tribal life, and honor codes in such. That is a gamble.

5-The problem with US Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine is that it cherry picks examples to prove its theory from relatively recent history and from examples that have nothing in common with the reality that is Afghanistan. A deeper understanding of successful COIN examples recognizes a few things that are not found in US COIN doctrine: 1) usually lots of people are killed and terrible abuses of humans are visited upon the populace in order to break the will of the insurgents, supporters, and fence sitters; and 2) limited objectives that usually involve leaving in place semi-authoritarian regimes with questionable human-rights records that allow for a quicker exit strategy.

A 5 (1): This may be an empirical fact, but the COIN doctrine seems to have been formulated as a way to avoid the morally questionable use of such tactics, and its strategic fallout. If the point is not simply to quell the insurgency, but to make a ‘friend’ of the country, or even a region within a country, it cannot be gainsaid that such tactics will not accomplish that end. We see that a similar sort of ‘realism’ bought us to our present dear friendship with Iran. This addresses 5 (2).

6.We should be more worried about groups and countries who pay Moslem families living in "The West" to send their kids to madrassas in order to keep them segregated from assimilating into these other cultures and thus becoming more "secularized" and breaking the international network of radical religious terrorists financing, especially tied to narco-trafficking.

A6 Cannot agree more with this. We need to develop domestic oil supply. Perhaps we need to step in and buy up the poppy crops at a rate higher than the Taliban pay. Use it for legit purposes, and/or destroy it. Farmers won’t care as long as they are getting paid. Of course the farmers will need protection as this proceeds, taxpayers in US will need convincing. The Taliban will threaten and kill those who deal with the foreigners, no doubt. But, money talks. This would seem to require an increased presence. I've read Afghanistan supplies 90% of the world's illegal poppy derivatives. A real problem, but also the one crucial vulnerability of the Taliban and their ilk. We should exploit it.