Does This Make Sense?

by Joshua Foust on 6/27/2011 · 10 comments

The President’s terseness had a purpose: it allowed him to skirt a more exhaustive, and dispiriting, discussion of Afghan realities. Two years ago, Obama signed off on the surge, which deployed an additional thirty-three thousand marines and soldiers to Afghanistan. Though the surge is now at its peak, almost every aspect of the American campaign is either deeply troubled or too fragile to justify substantial reductions in military support. It’s true that, with the help of extra forces, the Americans have cleared large areas of Taliban insurgents, many of whom had been operating without opposition. This success has opened the parts of the country that are dominated by Pashtuns—its main ethnic group—to Afghan government control, but it hardly constitutes victory. According to American officers, the level of violence in Afghanistan this year is fifteen per cent higher than it was at this time last year. The insurgents, far from being degraded, appear to be as resilient as ever. And their sanctuaries in Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership resides mostly unmolested, remain more or less intact.

—Now that Dexter Filkins is no longer working for ISAF The New York Times, he can admit that the war in Afghanistan is a pretty abysmal failure. What he seemingly cannot do, even now, is admit that the correct response to two years of a failed strategy is not to “tough it out,” as Michael O’Hanlon would put it, but to consolidate our losses and withdraw.

Alas.


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– 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 Registan.net. 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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{ 10 comments }

Brett June 27, 2011 at 11:08 am

I can’t entirely blame him for not going that far, yet. That’s a tough pill to swallow, accepting the strong possibility that the Taliban will take the country again (and the near-certain possibility that they’ll have some strong role in a potential negotiated government).

Dafydd June 27, 2011 at 11:36 am

Brett, just think on what you are saying there. A tough pill for him to swallow? How many young soldiers (or young Afghans) have to swallow some lead while this man comes to terms with being wrong?

As a very much younger John Kerry nearly said , “how do you ask someone to be the last one to die for a mistake”?

anan June 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Joshua, this isn’t a binary choice. The US can also go very long and focus on building Afghan capacity. Maybe at long last give some support to the ANPTC and ANATC, and publicly commit to funding the ANSF over the long term.

Surge NTM-A from 3,600 to 6 K and keep them in theatre for the long term. Focus hard on advisors and enablers for the Afghans a la CNAS and Bing West.

Maybe finally tell Karzai he can ask Russia, India and Iran for help. In fact, tell him he has to publicly ask Russia for help if he wants continued American help over the long term. No more buying Mi17s for the Afghan Air Force with ISAF dollars because Karzai and the Afghan parliament don’t want to formally ask Russia due to domestic politics.

anan June 27, 2011 at 1:08 pm

As Andrew Exum has said in the past, this isn’t about “ending the war” or peace in the distance or any other misleading metaphor. This is about reducing American involvement in a long term international war being fought in Afghanistan. If America reduces its involvement, violence and Afghan deaths are likely to skyrocket . . . at least in the medium term.

President Obama should be honest and say that likely violence in Afghanistan will greatly escalate as the ANSF and Northern alliance go at each other. Or worse yet the Afghans fight the Taliban through the old Northern Alliance.

anan June 27, 2011 at 1:09 pm

President Obama should be honest and say that likely violence in Afghanistan will greatly escalate as the ANSF and :”TALIBAN” go at each other.

Don Bacon June 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm

This success has opened the parts of the country that are dominated by Pashtuns—its main ethnic group—to Afghan government control, . . .

But, to cop a phrase from General Petraeus, that “control” is fragile and reversible, with Pashtuns walking around (metaphorically) with their hands in their pockets waiting for NATO to leave, while they temporarily put up with Tajik overseers.

Meanwhile the India involvement isn’t without its pluses and minuses.

Afghanistan has shortlisted a total of 22 companies for the Hajigak contract. Of these, 14 are Indian companies. Tata Steel, JSW and Jindal Steel have joined hands with staterun units SAIL, NMDC and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam to form a consortium that will bid for the Hajigak iron ore deposits in Afghanistan, considered to be the second largest in the world. To ship the ore they would construct a railway line running westwards to Iran, along the Zaranj-Delaram highway that India had built in the mid-2000s, to the Iranian port of Chabahar.

Speaking of the Zaranj-Delaram highway, this just in: The Zaranj-Delaram highway in Afghanistan built by India and handed over to the Afghan government on January 22, 2009 is now under Taliban control. Within two years of the commissioning of this strategic highway, Taliban effectively dominates this road link, which has in turn allowed it to take control of the Nimroz province.

anan June 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Don Bacon, generally speaking the more international private sector involvement with Afghanistan the better, regardless of country.

GIRoA has steady state annual expenditures of $15 billion/year [even with Obama trying to force large spending cuts it will still be more than $12 billion/year] compared to $1.7 billion/year revenues. Afghanistan needs all the foreign aid it can get irrespective of the country that provides it.

“The Zaranj-Delaram highway in Afghanistan built by India and handed over to the Afghan government on January 22, 2009 is now under Taliban control. Within two years of the commissioning of this strategic highway, Taliban effectively dominates this road link, which has in turn allowed it to take control of the Nimroz province.” And hawks fly backwards. Please feel free to e-mail your source.

2-215 ANA to my knowledge has overwatch of the road. Need to look up what ANP have responsibility for the road. 1 Georgian combat battalion augments 2-215 ANA Bde in Delaram.

Don Bacon June 27, 2011 at 9:30 pm

generally speaking the more international private sector involvement with Afghanistan the better, regardless of country.

Not true. Pakistan is threatened by (US-promoted) India involvement in Afghanistan. Reportedly ISI paid Haggani to kill Indian road construction workers, which they did. I know the Marines are in Delaram, and probably ANA, but not along the road. Tue or not, I doubt Taliban will destroy Afghan trucks even if they’re hauling India ore — probably simply collect tolls.

Regarding Karzai nobody needs to tell him anything. He’s skillfully playing all the angles. Last weekend it was the participation of the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan in the international conference on terrorism held in Tehran — a major diplomatic and political victory for Iran at the present juncture of regional politics. Both Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai were received by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.

NattyB June 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Josh,

Please don’t despair. The next 6 months look to be real important in determining the future of Afghanistan.

Let’s just tough out the next 6 months and re-evaluate then.

Or, we can just get the f–k out because, ya know, they don’t call Afghanistan the graveyard of empires for nothing.

Michael Drew June 29, 2011 at 3:05 am

Why would anyone “admit” something that isn’t necessarily true? Consolidating losses and withdrawing is a possible response to two years of a failed strategy, but it would take a good argument to make it so clear that it is “the correct” response that not holding that position is failing to “admit” something that ought to be admitted. There isn’t even any argument as to why that is the case here, much less a good one. It seems to me at least a possibility that the correct response to two years of a failed strategy could be to… change your strategy.

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