Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Afghanistan: Stay The Course or Re-Strategize?

In the above linked 9/1/09 Washington Post article "Time to Get Out of Afghanistan" by George Will, Mr. Will puts forth an argument that the current counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is doomed to fail for, among others, the following reasons.
  1. the U.S. strategy is increasingly troop intensive, only matched by the increasing American impatience for a resolution
  2. a protracted Afghan engagement with reluctant NATO support
  3. Afghan nation building efforts are extremely challenging given the Taliban's elusive nature
  4. the Afghan election of President Hamid Karzai in 12/04 failed to realize a strong central govt.
  5. it would take decades to re-build the economy of Afghanistan
U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. Mr. Will believes that prior counterinsurgency tactical results in Afghanistan have been insufficient and increasing troop size would only contribute to the risk of putting more coalition lives in harms way. He also feels that hundreds of thousands of troops over a long protracted period would be required support a counterinsurgency strategy, which, from his perspective is untenable.
Mr. Will is not suggesting a complete withdrawal of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan but a revised strategy. Mr. Will states that
"... forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."

Mr. Will's arguments have been a causal agent for debate. Christian Brose, a senior editor at Foreign Policy and editor of Shadow Government, is among those taking issue with Mr. Will's premises. In his 9/1/09 Foreign Policy article "George Will is Wrong about Afghanistan" Mr. Broses puts forth a counter argument to Mr. Will's premise that counterinsurgency is not working in Afghanistan. He believes the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy hasn't been adequately applied. 

Mr. Brose states the strategy Will proposes looks a lot closer to the one we've been following for the past few years -- to little effect -- as opposed to the one General McChrystal is now proposing. He states that when you starve the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy of resources and rely on leaders who seem either unwilling or unable to implement it, you are largely left with "whack-a-mole" counterterrorism, which results in:
  1. a reliance on airstrikes that have produced huge civilian casualties
  2. increased loss of territory to the Taliban
  3. a President Karzai government that has grown less effective and more corrupt the weaker it has become.
According to Mr. Brose,
"...In short, everything that Will is inveighing against at present. I find little reason to think that things in Afghanistan will improve to the benefit of our national interest if we do more of what clearly hasn't been working these past few years."

Mr. Brose points out that the problem in Afghanistan is not that a U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has failed, but that is hasn't really ever been implemented properly.

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