The (Failing) War in Afghanistan, in Bullet Form

by Joshua Foust on 7/11/2009 · 1 comment

Lots of stuff, probably not worth a full post, but worth reading anyway.

  • Anna Husarska, senior policy adviser to the International Rescue Committee, worries about the growing militarization of the humanitarian side of Afghan campaign. It is a problem familiar to readers of this blog, though obviously we’re a touch less absolutist (that is, we’re not 100% sour on the idea of PRTs, and see some cases where they can be useful). Even so, considering how the military’s solution to everything is more military, and most of President Obama’s Afghan advisers are from the military, it’s a good clarion call.
  • Is anyone else completely baffled as to why General McChrystal would wait until after a major operation gets launched with minimal Afghan support to ask for more training for local forces? Who briefs these people? Did the CJ3 or CJ5 ever mention the critical lack of ANA and ANP in Helmand?
  • The latest scheme to recreate the wheel tribal militia, the GUARDIANS, or Afghan Public Protection Force, face deep skepticism in their local districts. Talk about a major hurdle to overcome in the 12 months Obama has given the war to show progress.
  • It is interesting the DOD’s mandated reports to Congress (pdf) are significantly more pessimistic than their public statements about the war in Afghanistan. Such is the nature of things, but really: the contrast is painfully evident.
  • My friend Tolkun has a fascinating post up examining how Afghanistan could have negative spillover effects in the region, and not just in Pakistan. Something to keep in mind when we start to contemplate just what is at stake in Afghanistan, and how seriously our leaders seem to be treating it.

That’s that for now. Happy weekendz, everybody.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Eric Johnson July 13, 2009 at 2:13 am

Josh, I hope all is well for you. It has been a long time since I have posted to the website. In interest of full disclosure to your readers, first let me say I am a Red Team Analyst for the U.S. Military and while I agree with several of Ms. Husarska’s points in her article, I would like to point out the reasons for what has transpired in Afghanistan.

First, the military picked up the mission of humanitarian assistance isn’t because the military wants to take the lead. It is because the military had to take the lead. The vast majority of humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) will not operate in highly kinetic areas. Meaning, if you are going to shoot at me, I am going to try and hire locals to do it, who rarely have the skill set to complete the most remedial development and reconstruction tasks. No dig on the Afghans, but after 30 years of war and the brain drain that has resulted, there are few qualified, educated civil engineers and project and program managers left in the country. So by all means, when the NGO’s decide they will work in the Korengal Valley, or Nawa District in Ghazni or Gamser in Helmand and sustain the works at the funding and construction rate of Coalition Forces; we will happily turn over the mission to them. Just waiting for them to step up! It is easy to talk about theoretical humanitarian support, but reality is far harder. A few examples: 1992 Somalia and U.N. food distribution or the Oil for Food program in Saddam Era Iraq.

Not to say retribution does not exist. It absolutely does. Villagers who work with the coalition are often retaliated against. There are ways to deal with it as well. I think David Kilcullen’s 10th Rule of Counter Insurgency would reduce these attacks to a trickle. It states, “Be there. You can almost never outrun the enemy. If you are not present when an incident happens, there is usually little you can do about it. Therefore, your first order of business is to establish a presence.” This means pushing Combat Outposts (COP) from key geographic terrain and moving them to the key human terrain, the outlying villages.

Of course this gets into a political discussion. Remember Afghanistan is roughly a third bigger than Iraq, with a larger population that is based in rural settings as opposed to urban. Finally the geographical terrain is incredibly more daunting. Yet we have less than half the personnel Iraq does. So to put COPs into strategic villages (say any village of 300 people or larger) we would need thousands more troops. The question becomes; do our political leaders have the intestinal fortitude to support a strategy (read troop increase, COIN doctrine calls for a troop to population ratio of between 1:40 to 1:50) that could, at least have a possibility of success?

Your friend,

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