Archive for March, 2009

The U.S. government wants your sons and daughters to kill and be killed for this:

Hamid Karzai signs law ‘legalising rape in marriage’

President Hamid Karzai has signed a law the UN says legalises rape in marriage and prevents women from leaving the house without permission.

Let’s not pretend that the war in Afghanistan is a battle between progressive, enlightened factions that care about women and those who want to subjugate them. We’re backing these guys.

Rule of the Rapists, indeed.

Get us out of Afghanistan now.

A: On Obama’s staff:

CAP and the five million member liberal lobby group MoveOn were behind Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), a coalition that spent tens of millions of dollars using Iraq as a political bludgeon against Republican politicians, while refusing to pressure the Democratic Congress to actually cut off funding for the war. AAEI was operated by two of Barack Obama’s top political aids, Steve Hildebrand and Paul Tewes, and by Brad Woodhouse of Americans United for Change and USAction. Today Woodhouse is Obama’s Director of Communications and Research for the Democratic National Committee.

H/t John Nichols.

Mid-East expert Juan Cole penned an excellent piece for Salon debunking the President’s rationale for escalation:

Obama realizes that after seven years, Afghanistan war fatigue has begun to set in with the American people. Some 51 percent of Americans now oppose the Afghanistan war, and 64 percent of Democrats do. The president is therefore escalating in the teeth of substantial domestic opposition, especially from his own party, as voters worry about spending billions more dollars abroad while the U.S. economy is in serious trouble.

Obama’s dark vision of the overthrow of the Afghanistan government by al-Qaida-linked Taliban or the “killing” of Pakistan by small tribal groups differs little from the equally apocalyptic and implausible warnings issued by John McCain and Dick Cheney about an “al-Qaida” victory in Iraq. Ominously, the president’s views are contradicted by those of his own secretary of defense. Pashtun tribes in northwestern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan have a long history of dissidence, feuding and rebellion, which is now being branded Talibanism and configured as a dire menace to the Western way of life. Obama has added yet another domino theory to the history of Washington’s justifications for massive military interventions in Asia. When a policymaker gets the rationale for action wrong, he is at particular risk of falling into mission creep and stubborn commitment to a doomed and unnecessary enterprise.

Read the full story. It’s worth it.  Cole blogs at Informed Comment.

We needed a game-changer in Afghanistan. The plan delivered by the new administration is not it.

The most important and destructive deficiency of the new plan is its willful ignorance of the bad effects of flooding Afghanistan with more foreign troops. For months, experts ranging from Richard Barrett (the UN’s al-Qaida/Taliban expert) to Gilles Dorronsoro from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have warned that adding more U.S. troops would fuse fractious elements of the Pakistani and Afghanistan Taliban into a cohesive–and deadly–opponent. As Barrett warned in September 2008, this development would play right into the hands of al-Qaida. And yet, here we are, in March 2009, adding more troops.

As predicted, the moment the administration announced plans to add more troops, the various factions among the Taliban on both sides of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border decided to drop their internal squabbling and to solidify their alliance with al-Qaida. According to today’s New York Times:

“After agreeing to bury their differences and unite forces, Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to ready a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to send 17,000 more troops there this year…In their written statement, decorated with crossed swords, the three Pakistani Taliban leaders reaffirmed their allegiance to Mullah Omar, as well as the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.”

As late as last week, President Obama declared that “there’s got to be an exit strategy.” But this plan, by leaving the door open to further escalation, fails to put us on a path to the exit in Afghanistan. Beyond the immediate bad consequences of the deployment of 21,000 new troops (17,000 previously announced plus today’s announced 4,000 “trainers”), reports indicate that administration plans to keep the door open to a further 10,000-troop escalation to be announced later this year. Worse, the white paper released this morning by the State Department continues to advocate “counterinsurgency” in Afghanistan, a military doctrine that would require a huge increase in both American and Afghan boots on the ground. Some estimates of troop requirements in Afghanistan for a true counterinsurgency strategy exceed 600,000 troops. This is not what an exit strategy looks like.

The President spent a great deal of his speech today discussing Pakistan and the measures the U.S. would use to entice or cajole Afghanistan’s neighbor into confronting extremists inside its territory. The recent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report, “Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War,” questions the wisdom of this strategy:

“Pressuring Pakistan to attain political objectives in Afghanistan has been U.S. policy since the Clinton administration. Except in times of crisis (2001 and 2002–2003), the results have been extremely limited. Some experts are calling for more pressure, but there is a point at which pressure becomes counterproductive…In other words, it is possible that more U.S. pressure on Pakistan could change the situation on the Afghan border, but it is not worth increasing the chances of Pakistan’s destabilization. And even in the best-case scenario, we cannot hope for significant results for at least a few years, far too late considering the accelerating deterioration of security in Afghanistan.”

To make things worse, The Wall Street Journal reported today that the administration’s new strategy will continue to favor Predator drone strikes. These strikes kill civilians, devastate communities, and cause popular outrage against the United States. The drone strikes generate rage against the Pakistani government for being unable or unwilling to stop the strikes. The former helps our opponents recruit and expand and find safe haven; the latter destabilizes a fragile civilian government still struggling to bring its military to heel.

Describing the Pakistan/Afghanistan problem, former Ambassador Dan Simpson wrote:

“Bottom line: The United States is not going to get matters in Pakistan under control. Rest of the bottom line: If the United States can’t get matters in Pakistan under control…Mr. Obama’s escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan by adding thousands more U.S. troops simply is not going to work…If it is not going to work, there is no reason to pursue it, spending more of our money and blood.”

Carnegie’s report offers another strategy for changing the dynamic in Afghanistan: reduce U.S. troops in Afghanistan without negotiating with the Taliban, concentrating troop strength during the drawdown in strategic zones, including major population centers. This unilateral move would reduce the level of violence in Afghanistan and remove the unifying rationale for extremist coalitions. Let the fault lines reemerge among Taliban groups and avoid taking actions that prompt them to forget their divisions. Focus on building good governance in major population centers and help build an Afghan government that will outlive our presence. These steps, far more than the announced counterinsurgency attempt, offer a chance to get Afghanistan on a road to stability.

There is still time for the President to get Afghanistan right, but that time is rapidly running out. Mr. President, if you’re looking for the exit, turn around.

President Obama is set to announce his new Afghanistan strategy today. Any new plan for Afghanistan must answer two questions to determine its value:

  1. Will it lower the level of violence in Afghanistan?
  2. Does it put the U.S. on the path to exiting Afghanistan? (See also janinsanfran)

On both counts, the administration’s new plan fails.

News reports indicate that the new strategy will look something like this:

  1. Complete the already planned 17,000-troop escalation.
  2. Add 4,000 military “trainers.
  3. Leave the door open for an additional escalation of 10,000-11,000 additional troops next year, to be decided on by the end of 2009.
  4. Add hundreds of civilians to help with agriculture, quality of life and civil service projects.
  5. Pressure/entice Pakistan to to stop focusing military resources on India, so it can do more to confront terrorists inside its borders.
  6. Expand Afghan security forces.
  7. “Endorse the concepts of counterinsurgency as a means to fight the Taliban,” while redefining the mission as counterterrorism aimed at denying havens for Al Qaeda. This redefined mission would have 3 foci: “training Afghan security forces, supporting the weak central government in Kabul and securing the population.”
  8. Fight the narcotics trade.

[Compiled from: Mark Ambinder, NYT, and AP. Of course, this post will be updated should it turn out that these excellent reporters blew it.]

The new plan will not lower the level of violence in Afghanistan nor does it define the exit strategy.

– The continued policy of escalation galvanizes the Taliban by aiding their propaganda efforts to combine the ideas of nationalism and jihad.

Despite repeated warnings from numerous experts, the administration’s new strategy calls for more military personnel and the continuation of the previously announced escalation. The escalation has had exactly the feared result: the Taliban factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan are reuniting:

“After agreeing to bury their differences and unite forces, Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to ready a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to send 17,000 more troops there this year.”

This development and our reaction to it threaten to further destabilize Pakistan:

“At the same time, American officials told The New York Times this week that Pakistan’s military intelligence agency continued to offer money, supplies and guidance to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan as a proxy to help shape a friendly government there once American forces leave.

“The new Taliban alliance has raised concern in Afghanistan, where NATO generals warn that the conflict will worsen this year. It has also generated anxiety in Pakistan, where officials fear that a united Taliban will be more dangerous, even if focused on Afghanistan, and draw more attacks inside Pakistan from United States drone aircraft. “

Further, by galvanizing Taliban factions, the new strategy plays right into al-Qaida’s hands, as the UN’s AQ/Taliban expert warned last September.

Adding troops will increase violence simply by increasing the number of confrontations between U.S. troops and nationalistic fighters. We know this is true, since U.S. commanders keep warning of an “uptick” in violence expected upon the arrival of more U.S. troops.

By adding more troops and trainers and leaving the options open for more troops down the road, the administration’s new plan fails to set us on a path toward an exit from Afghanistan.

Obama’s strategy of enticing/pressuring Pakistan to move away from orientation toward India and toward attacking extremist groups inside its borders is unrealistic. Because it is unrealistic, it will neither reduce violence nor set us on a path toward an exit in Afghanistan.

From the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Pressuring Pakistan to attain political objec-tives in Afghanistan has been U.S. policy since the Clinton administration. Except in times of crisis (2001 and 2002–2003), the results have been extremely limited. Some experts are calling for more pressure, but there is a point at which pressure becomes counterproductive. For the United States, to think of Pakistan only as an instrument in the Afghan war is to forget that Pakistan itself poses serious long-term security concerns. Practically all the major al-Qaeda leaders have been killed or captured in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan. The major strategic challenge is still the Pakistani–Indian conflict, even if its probability is lower than it once was, even after the Mumbai attack. In other words, it is possible that more U.S. pressure on Pakistan could change the situation on the Afghan bor-der, but it is not worth increasing the chances of Pakistan’s destabilization. And even in the best-case scenario, we cannot hope for signifi-cant results for at least a few years, far too late considering the accelerating deterioration of security in Afghanistan.

And here’s some words from the New York Times that should send shivers down your spine:

“In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating a strategy used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod governments in the region to take more responsibility for quelling the insurgency and building lasting political institutions.”

– Because the President endorses counterinsurgency principles, he will not be able to restrain his subordinates from pursuing counterinsurgency strategies and calling them counterterrorism. So again, we run the risk of getting in deeper with no reduction of violence.

– It’s a fantasy to think we have the resources to conduct counter-narcotics operations.

The President’s Afghanistan/Pakistan heavy, Richard Hollbrooke, recently said:

“It hasn’t hurt the Taleban one iota,” he said, “because whatever money they’re getting from the drugs trade, they get whatever they need whether we reduce the acreage or not…The United States alone is spending over $800m a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing,” he said. “It is the most wasteful and ineffective programme I have seen in 40 years.”

Carnegie’s report had some strong words for this too:

Opium crop eradication in Afghanistan has never worked except when the Taliban have undertaken it, and even then, while production was stopped in 2000, traf-ficking continued, generating important rev-enues for the Taliban and traffickers. The rea-son for this relative success is that the Taliban had reasonable control over the rural areas and were sufficiently organized, permitting them to carry out a policy that ended up proving very costly for them. For instance, tribes with eco-nomic interests in drugs betrayed the Taliban in 2001 to join U.S. forces and immediately planted opium poppies, even before the end of the fighting. Local programs can only change the organization of the production, not eradi- cate it. Second, the drug economy is probably the most important source of personal income in Afghanistan today (in cash at least). Farmers are dependent on the revenues. Government officials at the highest level and the Taliban alike benefit as well. Other than fighting on a small scale against trafficking and laborato-ries, it would be politically difficult to eradi-cate or even seriously limit drug production in Afghanistan. Drug eradication undermines the main objective and must be avoided, be-cause it diverts resources, produces uncontrol-lable social tensions, could weaken or alienate local allies of the coalition, and is not an effec-tive strategy against the Taliban.

Carnegie has it right. Instead of adding more troops, the U.S. should be withdrawing troops.

The key idea is to lower the level of con-flict (i.e., to reverse the current trend of ever-increasing violence). The only way to weaken, and perhaps divide, the armed opposition is to reduce military confrontations…The only meaningful way to halt the insurgency’s momentum is to start withdraw-ing troops. The presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban. Combat troop re-duction should not be a consequence of an elusive “stabilization”; rather, it should con-stitute an essential part of a political-military strategy. The withdrawal must be conducted on U.S. terms only, not through negotiations, because negotiations with the armed opposi-tion would weaken the Afghan government. Negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban cannot bring positive results until the Taliban recognize that the govern-ment in Kabul is going to survive after the withdrawal.

The United States and its allies apply military force to put pressure on the insurgents to join the government side or die. This cost-benefit analysis is fun-damentally flawed, because it does not take into account the effect of growing violence on Afghan society. Historically, the more mili-tary pressure is put on a fragmented society like Afghanistan, the more a coalition against the invader becomes the likely outcome. This is what happened in the 1980s with the Soviet occupation and against the British in the nineteenth century. The polarization strategy has historically failed, and the advance of the Taliban proves its inadequacy.

Instead, the key idea should be to lower the level of conflict and so reverse the current trend of ever-growing violence.”

Withdrawing our troops is important “be-cause it creates a space for politics in which the Afghan state can become relevant and legiti-mate, which is not the case when the situation is polarized between foreign powers and the Taliban.”

If press reports accurately depict the President’s Afghanistan plans, the strategy team blew it.

What you can do:

Carve this in stone: the first rule in Afghanistan should be, “Do no harm in Pakistan.” The second rule in Afghanistan should be, “If the solution to your problem is ‘fixing’ Pakistan, you’re screwed.”

Earlier in this series, we dealt with counterinsurgency doctrine’s assumption of a self-contained battle space. We saw how U.S. attempts to create that seal along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border for the purpose of counterinsurgency leads us to empower and expand possibly the most corrupt piece of the Afghan national security forces. But that considerable catastrophe is nothing in comparison to the most consequential effect of the attempt to create the seal: dangerous interference in Pakistan, including civilian-slaughtering Predator strikes and destabilization of the Pakistani political order. Pakistan’s political order is in constant flux. From CRS:

[Pakistan’s] history has included the assassination of politician and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, just ahead of scheduled general elections. In February 2008, parliamentary elections brought to power a coalition of former opposition parties including Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, led by her widower Asif Zardari. In August 2008, General Pervez Musharraf, who had come to power in a military coup in 1999, resigned as the President of Pakistan. In September 2008, Zardari was elected president, completing a transition to civilian-led rule. The ability and will of that civilian-led government to exercise authority over Pakistan’s security forces, and to take steps to stop insurgent activities, is not yet completely clear.

Describing the tumultuous political situation in the country, former Ambassador Dan Simpson recently wrote:

[Pakistan] is a very divided and diverse country. It includes big, mostly peaceful political movements, based for the most part on tribal and regional differences. They are what has the current civilian government of Pakistan, headed by President Asif Ali Zardari, a thoroughly crooked scoundrel whom the United States nonetheless prefers to the alternatives, in domestic political turmoil. Mr. Zardari’s principal civilian opponent is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, equally crooked and villainous.

The conflict between these two civilian politicians — and others — leaves Pakistan in such a state of civil disorder that the other political force in the country, the military, which has seized power at countless junctures since independence in 1947, always has a wet finger in the air to determine whether it is time for it to carry out another coup d’etat against another civilian government.

In this context, our attempt to seal off Afghanistan undermines stability in several ways. First, our favored weapons of choice in Pakistan–Predator drones–kill civilians, devastate communities, and cause popular outrage against the United States. Just as dire, the drone strikes generate rage against the Pakistani government for being unable or unwilling to stop the strikes. The former helps our opponents recruit and expand and find safe haven; the latter destabilizes a fragile civilian government still struggling to bring its military to heel. That in turn drives Pakistani populations to withdraw their support for chasing down the opponents of the U.S. inside their territory. Again, from CRS:

For example, in October 2008, the Pakistani parliament unanimously passed a resolution calling for an end to military action against extremist groups, and its replacement with dialogue. The resolution stressed the need for an “independent foreign policy” for Pakistan, and stated that “the nation stands united against any incursions and invasions of the homeland.”

I highlight this last bit not to criticize the parliament’s resolution. Rather, I hold it up as evidence of a political class that knows full well its people at large will not tolerate continued American interference and U.S.-caused death in their territory. If popular outrage rises to the level of prompting a legislative body to pass a resolution like this, you can bet that its risen to the level high enough to cause the Pashtuns on the border region to grant safe haven to their militant kinsmen across the Durand Line. In other words, the U.S.’s counterinsurgency actions have the paradoxical result of creating more of the safe havens they’re trying to eliminate.

Second, the U.S. has zero chance of creating anything remotely approaching a seal between Afghanistan and Pakistan without the cooperation of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. Regardless of the administration’s signals that new funds would be contingent on their pursuing extremists, getting Pakistan military help means giving the Pakistan military funds. Like the Pakistani political order, there are factions within factions inside the military and intelligence services, and some of those factions helped create the Taliban and continue to support them. From today’s NYT:

The Taliban’s widening campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, despite Pakistani government promises to sever ties to militant groups fighting in Afghanistan, according to American government officials. The support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders who are gearing up to confront the international force in Afghanistan that will soon include some 17,000 American reinforcements. …There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections.

Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders publicly deny any government ties to militant groups, and American officials say it is unlikely that top officials in Islamabad are directly coordinating the clandestine efforts. American officials have also said that midlevel ISI operatives occasionally cultivate relationships that are not approved by their bosses.

The fact that senior commanders do not totally control their subordinates raises the possibility that even in cases where U.S. funds flow to the Pakistani national security establishment in exchange for good policy changes, those funds could filter down into the middle ranks and find their way into extremist hands. But even if the military and intelligence services totally reformed and cut ties with the Taliban (unlikely, but still…), funding the Pakistani military could be toxic to the internal politics of Pakistan. The civilian government does not fully control the military or intel services, so any moves to strengthen them runs the risk of strengthening their hand in the internal power plays of Pakistani politics.

Unless you’ve been living in cave–wait, strike that, the people living in caves absolutely know this–you know that Pakistan has nuclear weapons to deter its arch-rival, India. It’s one of the few places in the world where it’s conceivable for a nuclear-armed state apparatus to fall under the control of an Islamist extremist movement. We should be working as hard as possible to support stability and calm inside Pakistan and to strengthen the hand of the civilian government. Trying to kill the border closed does just the opposite. These and other complications and paradoxes in Pakistan led Ambassador Simpson to pen a sharp rebuke of ongoing military action in Afghanistan and attendant interference in Pakistan:

Bottom line: The United States is not going to get matters in Pakistan under control. Rest of the bottom line: If the United States can’t get matters in Pakistan under control — and as even Mr. Obama’s own special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, has said, the problems in the two countries are inextricably linked — Mr. Obama’s escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan by adding thousands more U.S. troops simply is not going to work.

If it is not going to work, there is no reason to pursue it, spending more of our money and blood. Whoever in Washington wants this — those wishing to preserve the beloved heritage of one of President George W. Bush’s wars, supporters of Israel who might want to distract us from pursuing a Middle East peace settlement, contractors and others who make money off such wars or those who wish to save the hide of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, should be told to stay out of the way while Mr. Obama gets us out of this losing, lost contest.

Let’s review:

  1. Despite the humanitarian bromides, counterinsurgency is not a humanitarian exercise in chivalry. It’s an anti-Christian exercise in brutality, just like every other war doctrine.
  2. COIN doctrine’s real-world effect on troops undermines its basic assumptions.
  3. Massive deployments required by counterinsurgency doctrine will damage our economy when we can least afford it.
  4. Attempts to create a sealed environment required for counterinsurgency have driven us into bed with the most corrupt faction of the Afghan security services: the Afghan Border Police. Coda: U.S. backed counterinsurgents killed St. Romero de America and brutalized El Salvador.
  5. Counterinsurgency will severely complicate a thaw in U.S./Iranian relations and incentivize bad Iranian behavior in Afghanistan.
  6. Counterinsurgency strategy will destabilize Pakistan.

There are rumblings that tomorrow’s announcement from President Obama will refocus the U.S.’s policies on counterterrorism vs. counterinsurgency. That’s better than an all-out COIN doctrine, but what remains to be seen is whether Obama can overcome resistance within the Armed Forces and congressional leadership for abandoning COIN. Speaking from experience, they absolutely love COIN. It’s been beaten into their heads for years now. The deepest test of the mettle of this president will be his ability to reign in his subordinates’ love for chivalrous language and massive troop deployments. By all accounts, his new strategy will add military personnel to Afghanistan, and that’s the wrong move.

What you can do:

Flooding any area with large numbers of armed people will always have larger ramifications than just the security implications in the immediate area. In Afghanistan, we have to look to the borders, to Pakistan and to Iran, to understand the implications of an escalation. In both cases, escalation poses grave risks for U.S. interests.

Let’s start with Iran.  According to the Congressional Research Service:

On one hand, Iran enjoys close, long-standing cultural, linguistic, and religious ties with significant portions of Afghanistan’s population. ISAF officials estimate that Iran is the second-largest contributor of reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan, after the United States – its efforts are most evident in Herat Province in western Afghanistan. And since Iran is a major destination for Afghan heroin, with all of its attendant concerns about crime and drug addition, Iranian officials share with their Afghan counterparts a vested interest in effective counternarcotics approaches. Some officials also point to the generally positive role Iran played at the 2001 Bonn Conference, to help forge consensus among Afghan factions about the creation of a post-Taliban government, as evidence that Iran can play a constructive role on Afghan matters.

At the same time, ISAF officials state that Iran has provided some weapons and training to Afghan insurgents. Some add that Tehran may be concerned about a growing U.S. military footprint along both its eastern and western borders, as additional U.S. military forces flow into southern Afghanistan, and U.S. forces assume battlespaces in southern Iraq that were formerly  manned by coalition partners.

One official argued that Iran’s interest is to “keep it simmering” in Afghanistan. Most practitioners and observers suggest that, in some capacity, a comprehensive solution for Afghanistan must take Iran into account.

Iran has a much, much deeper interest in a stable Afghanistan than we do since it shares a border with them…until you account for the presence of U.S. troops. The relationship between Iran and the United States, despite the historic opportunity after 9/11 to make some real breakthroughs, degenerated markedly throughout the Bush II years. Now, at the beginning of the Obama administration, Iran finds itself surrounded by U.S. troops, with a key U.S. ally in the region rattling sabres at it on regular intervals. President Obama can make all the friendly holiday videos he wants; the most important immediate decision he must make with regard to U.S./Iranian relations is whether or not to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

Here’s the context we must consider: despite the President’s public declaration of an intended end-date to the Iraq occupation, because of the way troops are being shuffled around in Iraq, more U.S. troops are taking up positions near the Iranian border, not fewer. If President Obama wants to avoid raising all sorts of alarm bells, the last thing he should do is engineer a situation where more troops suddenly materialize on both Iranian frontiers at the same time. A military escalation to provide resources for counterinsurgency strategies, however, would do exactly that: already, U.S. troop strength is expected to rise between 50 and 100 percent if current escalation orders stand. If the president’s advisers sway him to fight a full-out counterinsurgency, that percentage could increase at a geometric rate.

In addition to U.S. forces garrisoning it’s neighbor, Iran also has to consider the effect of a U.S. counterinsurgency push on the Afghan National Army. It will simply not be possible, absent a draft, for the U.S. to field the numbers required by counterinsurgency doctrine. Already, the numbers being pushed to argue for the feasibility of a very limited escalation policy assume maxed-out numbers of reliable ANA forces, and as we’ve pursued counterinsurgency strategy, we and our favored allies in Kabul consistently raised the target number for final ANA end strength.

For example, according to CRS’s report, at the time of the Bonn Agreement right after the Taliban’s initial fall from power, ANA’s endstrength target was set at 70,000 personnel. In September 2008, the Afghan government raised that number to 134,000, almost double the previous target. John Nagl, one of counterinsurgency’s luminaries, has pushed for an ANA comprised of 250,000 troops. Another U.S. official said 300,000.

Where things get dicey from Iran’s perspective is when we push the Afghan government to grow its forces beyond what their national revenue stream can sustain. When that happens, foreign aid will be required to fund the ANA. Guess where that money will come from? You guessed it: the United States.

Growing the ANA to 134,000 – or more – raises the twin questions of funding and sustainability. It is expected that the currently planned ANA growth will be funded by the international community; the United States is currently the leading contributor. If GIRoA wanted to sustain the force beyond that time frame, theoretical options would include continued U.S. and international support, or Afghan assumption of some level of financial responsibility. Alternatives could include demobilizing some part of the force – if GIRoA had the ability to do so – or, hypothetically, making part of the force available to serve in multi-lateral peace operations, in which case the international community might bear some of its costs.

For the future, one option, in the absence of GIRoA ability to shoulder the burden, would be sustained international support, a responsibility likely to fall to the U.S. Government, based on current patterns.

So because of U.S. insistence on a counterinsurgency, Iran must now take into account not only actual U.S. troops on its borders, but also the numbers of U.S.-client military troops on its borders. By transforming the ANA into a force backed primarily by U.S. dollars, we’ve changed how Iran will assess them in its geopolitical considerations. Instead of a neighbor with whom Iran shares common interests and concerns, Afghanistan becomes a local military toadie for the Great Satan. This U.S.-backed transformation will severely undermine any remaining Iranian rationale for continued humanitarian support for Afghanistan, while heavily incentivizing their second track: “keeping it simmering” to cause us headaches and humiliation.

In short, if President Obama chooses to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, he will waste a historic opportunity to thaw relations between the U.S. and Iran. That’s a huge opportunity cost, and not one we should pay.

Next: Counterinsurgency doctrine destabilizes Pakistan (and why you should care).

What you can do until then: