New Afghanistan Plan: Ineffective, Costly Escalation

Posted: March 27, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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:

  1. […] from Return Good for Evil.) var addthis_pub = […]

  2. […] New Afghanistan Plan: Ineffective, Costly Escalation posted on April 3rd, 2009 at Return Good for Evil […]

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