We are ready

by Sekundar on 6/25/2011 · 12 comments

“We are ready” –Gen Zahir Azimi, Afghan MoD, NYT.

Unfortunately, most of the country is not. Thomas Ruttig over at FP (by the way, who the hell is Michael Waltz and why did anyone print his anecdotal and poorly thought-out piece? Is Waltz seriously advocating an endless commitment?) seems to have hit the nail on the head; the surge (30,000+ troops) didn’t break the insurgency. Haqqani, Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar, and the ISI still run rampant. Possibly an even larger, much larger, commitment of troops would clear, hold, and build, over a period of years, but then again, maybe not. And among the Western democracies, it doesn’t matter, because voters don’t want to. And among the troops (to include senior officers) I’ve spoken to, most don’t want to stay, either; nobody wants to hang around to watch their military not win.

The shame is what Afghanistan, and normal, decent Afghans (those without Emirati cushions) will face when the last international troops leave. Scores will be settled, and a period of greater violence will ensue. Insurgent groups are already turning their guns on each other in anticipation, much as they did at the end of the Soviet occupation. Suicide bombings continue unabated on previously safe areas, and at previously unthinkable targets. The “transition” of security responsibilities is not going as smoothly as ISAF hoped, and probably will not in the future, either.

In a few decades, the history of what happened in Afghanistan will undoubtedly be rendered so simple that high-school kids will guffaw at the mistakes made in the ten years international forces were in Afghanistan, just as my generation did with Vietnam. But we (I) never fully understood how horrible it must have been at the time to withdraw, even if there was no reasonable alternative. I think I understand it now. In the meantime, I have to help my Afghan friends with all the visa applications they can pen.


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Sekundar works in national security, and has worked and studied in Central and South Asia.

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{ 12 comments }

M Shannon June 25, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I suspect a lot of future historians will ponder the question of how and why did a gaggle of poorly trained, largely illiterate peasants armed with 1940s and 50s era light weapons defeat NATO- the most powerful military alliance in history. Apart from some disgraceful episodes during the late British Empire this may be the most lop sided war in history. At least in Viet Nam we had the excuse of Russian and Chinese support and the overarching aim of not escalating into WW 3.

How do explain losing an insurgency to people who supposedly have minimal support among the people. On top of the enemy’s material and political weakness we have God’s gift to military genius in David Petraeus helped by boatloads of Jedi graduates of our premiere professional military educational institutions?

I hope we will use this set back and Iraq to reevaluate exactly how much value we’ve got from all the service academies, staff colleges and graduate degrees for the military we pay for.

anan June 26, 2011 at 10:52 pm

“future historians will ponder the question of how and why did a gaggle of poorly trained, largely illiterate peasants armed with 1940s and 50s era light weapons defeat NATO- the most powerful military alliance in history”

ISAF didn’t feel “responsible” for Afghanistan before MChrystal arrived in theatre. It was generally thought that the GIRoA and ANSF were responsible for developing Afghan capacity and defeating the Taliban. The international community was uncoordinated by UNAMA or ISAF. McChrystal was the first person who seriously tried to coordinate the international community [which failed because the international community doesn’t want to be coordinated.]

ISAF refused to contribute in a significant way to surging ANSF capacity until November, 2009; in part to appease the Pakistani Army. The war against the Taliban only really started in November, 2009.

Now Pres Obama has cut off the legs form the ANSF by cancelling planning fixed wing attack and fighter aircraft purchases for the Afghan Air Force and by cancelling tank procurement for the ANA. Obama has also rejected the Petraeus/McChrystal/Caldwell/CNAS/AndrewExum/ COINdinastas’ plea for an ANSF OOB that requires an $11 billion/year annual steady state budget. Obama has only signed off to $6 billion/year.

Is it any wonder that President Karzai is upset? Is it any wonder that so many ANSF don’t think ISAF is really committed to GIRoA/ANSF victory? Is it any wonder that so many Afghans are convinced that the internationals are determined to make a deal with the Pakistan Army and the Taliban behind the back of the Afghan people to facilitate Taliban oppression of the Afghan people?

Sekundar, could you specify what you disagree with Michael Waltz regarding?

Is there any reason to believe that the ANSF couldn’t win this war over 20 years with $220 billion in guaranteed predictable international funding and with international combat enablers? If so, could you elaborate?

Turkey, Russia, India are all planning to step up their contributions to the ANSF now that they think Obama might stab the Afghans in the back. The Turks say they have no “exit strategy” from Afghanistan and will stay in Afghanistan as long as the Afghans want. Iran, Pakistan and China also have no “exit strategies.”

Jacob, nation building in Afghanistan is far less challenging than you allege. The international community refused to make a coordinated significant contribution to Afghan nation building before November, 2009. They refused to even fund the ANA Training Command and ANP Training Command with more than a pittance.

Even “TODAY” after the surge, the NMAA [National Military Academy of Afghanistan] only accepts 650 recruits a year of which 50 are medical. This is the “ONLY” military academy in Afghanistan, a country of 34 million people. If there was any desire for “nation building” in Afghanistan or helping the ANSF defeat the Taliban, NMAA would get the funding to expand. The NMAA produces high quality 4 year graduates at a low cost per graduate.

Please stop peddling the mythology that any major international effort has been put into Afghanistan or that anyone is trying to convert “Afghanistan into something it does not want to be.” No, most of the international community including ISAF and UNAMA don’t care about Afghanistan that much, since it is very poor and doesn’t have any concievable strategic value of any kind other than its location next to Pakistan.

It is also deeply racist and deceiptful to imply that most Afghans don’t want quality world class institituions, a prosperous private sector, civilian governance capacity and a capable ANSF.

Don Bacon June 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

Win this war in twenty years?
The UK and Russia failed, and now it’s NATO’s turn to learn. The German and Japanese empires were defeated in less than four years. Of course there were consistent military strategies then. The AfPak strategies have changed locale from the eastern front to the southern and now back, apparently, to the eastern. And I don’t think airplanes and tanks would help much.
From what I’ve learned the Afghans especially in the east mainly want to be left alone by outside influences, including those from the corrupt politicians in Kabul. That’s not “mythology.”

anan June 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Could you clarify which districts and tribes you refer too?

Eastern Afghan Pashtuns are over represented in the ANA. They less “outsiders” than the Taliban . . . or Sirajuddin Haqqani and gang and Peshawar Shura since we are talking east. The ANA is also more popular and legitimate than the Taliban in most Eastern districts.

Why do you think the ANSF would lose? They would likely withdraw to a smaller ink stain and fight forever, or until the Taliban made a reasonable offer to the GIRoA.

Dafydd June 29, 2011 at 11:38 am

There is only one way to win a war, and that is to keep on going until the other side gives up.

Did you ever really think that the Taliban would give up before the US did?

The mistake is in thinking that victory comes from killing the enemy or capturing their territory.

So long as the enemy is not broken and can fire a few shots back, then victory is not won. They always have the chance to stage a comeback.

This is what makes it possible for a small poorly equipped force like the Taliban to beat a standing army like ISAF.

The reason they haven’t given up, and are unlikely to do so, is because they are fighting for their homeland. Why is the US fighting there, exactly?

On the bright side, ten years is quite quick for an arrogant oversized power to learn this lesson. The Brits took that nearly many centuries to learn it in Ireland.

Don Bacon June 25, 2011 at 9:05 pm

This is the most sensible piece I’ve read recently on the “necessary” war, which none of them are, and its terrible after-effects. But hey, it paid well to those in the know. Their profits are in the bank.

Jacob Czekanski June 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm

All I can say is “long overdue.” I have always been a proponent for finishing what we started but that seems to have been a shifting target. Defeating al Qaeda was a noble (if not impossible) proposition but at least it was a definable goal. The nation building dream on the other hand was ridiculous from the start. We do have a large pool of talented individuals involved in this endeavor but the hubris this country seems to embed in military leadership (enhanced by those war hawks who have never served a day in uniform) makes them disregard historical and cultural realities that we as Americans do not stand a chance against. The reality as I see it is that our plan to mold Afghanistan into a functioning democracy enshrined in human rights for all and safe from the snares of Islamic militarism was doomed from the start because it was being led by Westerners. When faced with the choice of siding with the infidels or extremists (who, right, wrong or indifferent did manage the corruption and graft that seems to be endemic in the current Afghan government) I believe most will choose the Taliban over a return to lawless “warlordism.” That being said, we’ve expended enough blood, sweat and treasure trying to make Afghanistan into something it does not want to be.

Sekundar June 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I’m with you until the last line; I think most Afghans do want justice, transparency, and choices in life. It’s just that the coalition is unable to give those to them.

Johnny Matrix June 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm

While warranted, placing a generalist blame on the military disregards the fact that other parties have an equal amount of fault in their corner. The State Department and general politicians have yet to make a clear and defined plan. Injected the economic shot in the arm doesn’t count…this said, there’s still a lot the military has to answer for in respect to preparing the ANSF for their inevitable authority as they are the most trusted organization in the country.

anan June 27, 2011 at 4:30 am

The truth Jonny Matrix is that most of the blame belongs to the Afghans, specifically President Karzai and other GIRoA leaders, and even the ANSF commanding generals. It was and is their responsibility to articulate a vision and a clear path to achieving it. It is their responsibility to inspire Afghan and international alike to help them execute their roadmap. It is their responsibility to very clearly articulate exactly what international enablers they want in what sequence and why. And it is their responsiblity to fight like a bull dog to execute, and to force the international community to coordinate. When a member of the international community fails to execute their commitments, then the Afghans should publicly, politely and firmly call them out on it and aggresively lobby different internationals to fill in the gaps.

Instead of being mad that internationals stopped the Afghans from accepting military aid and trainers from India, Russia and Iran; the Afghans should politely and firmly notify their international allies that Afghanistan has accepted the following international offers. If other internationals object, then the Afghans should publicly and politely say . . . “you are either with us or with the terrorists” . . . we have “moral clarity” . . . do you? Call their bluff.

Ditto for any country that doesn’t want to coordinate all their aid and enablers through the GIRoA.

If only President Karzai was more like Golda Meir. Tough as nails, stopping not until the goal is reached.

Sovereignty and success isn’t “given” by others, it is siezed by oneself; much the way PM Maliki siezed and exercized Iraqi soverignty 2006-2008. During that time Gen Petraeus dutifully and obediently followed PM Maliki’s lead.

Deep down, ISAF wants to follow a strong Afghan leader. But they are getting no clear guidence and hearing no clear plan from a strong Afghan leader.

Don Bacon June 27, 2011 at 11:04 am

Karzai is not like Meir because Afghanistan bears no political resemblance to Israel.

anan June 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Many differences, but also similarities. The first Pashtun and all Pashtuns say they are descendents of King David of . . . “Israel.”

There are many good strong Afghan leaders. I think even Karzai has the potential to be one.

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