Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

In Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection, we discussed the Afghan and NATO battle to retake Musa Qala, and expanded into the small footprint characteristic of the counterinsurgency campaign, along with an Australian officer’s call for more forces.  The battle is being hailed as a victory, with “hundred’s of Taliban dead while two British soldiers and one U.S. soldier lost were killed.  Actually, with seven U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division wounded, this constitutes a casualty ratio of 10:1 or slightly greater, which is routine in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  To be precise, hundreds of Taliban were said to be killed or captured, but many are still reported to have fled prior to the battle.

While it is a positive sign to win back Musa Qala, the operation required heavy air power, and the city was deserted of families after the battle.  The battle for Musa Qala is a poster child for the Afghanistan campaign, with the British having entered into a gentleman’s agreement with tribal leaders to prevent the return of the Taliban (in agreement for British force departing the area), when the tribal leaders clearly lacking the means to enforce their end of the agreement.  Adequate troops didn’t exist to perform reconstruction or constabulary operations for Musa Qala, and the question remains how either Afghanistan or NATO will now have the forces necessary to maintain order in Musa Qala when they did not before.

A telling indication of the U.S. expectations was given to us in preparation for a summit of NATO leaders concerning the Afghanistan campaign.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates sharply criticized NATO countries Tuesday for failing to supply urgently needed trainers, helicopters and infantry for Afghanistan as violence escalates there, vowing not to let the alliance “off the hook.”

Gates called for overhauling the alliance’s Afghan strategy over the next three to five years, shifting NATO’s focus from primarily one of rebuilding to one of waging “a classic counterinsurgency” against a resurgent Taliban and growing influx of al-Qaida fighters.

“I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point,” Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. Ticking off a list of vital requirements — about 3,500 more military trainers, 20 helicopters, and three infantry battalions — Gates voiced “frustration” at “our allies not being able to step up to the plate.”

The defense secretary’s blunt public scolding of NATO, together with equally forceful testimony Tuesday by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put on display the growing transatlantic rift over the future of the mission in Afghanistan. The Bush administration over the last year has increasingly bristled at what it sees as NATO’s overly passive response to the Taliban, but European leaders have repeatedly rebuffed entreaties by Gates and President Bush to do more.

In recent months, officials said, Bush and his advisers have grown more concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, where, in contrast to Iraq, violence is on the rise and the U.S.-led coalition is struggling to adjust to changing conditions on the ground. As the White House reviews its Afghanistan policy, officials have concluded that wide-ranging strategic goals set for 2007 have not been met despite tactical combat successes.

Gates has made a stark admission; the campaign in Afghanistan has gone from one of rebuilding to one of classical counterinsurgency.  More involvement is necessary by NATO forces.  But Australia is prepared to talk tough as well.

Australia’s new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will deliver a blunt message to NATO countries meeting in Scotland on Friday, telling them that there will be no more Australian troops sent to Afghanistan until European countries increase their commitment.

Before the conference of defence ministers kicks off in Edinburgh this weekend, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been outlining his country’s future strategy in Afghanistan.

NATO is not winning, but they are not losing either.

Australian aid workers have told ABC Radio’s AM program that it is better to have the 40,000 allied troops in Afghanistan, but they are not enough to be the solution.

When Mr Fitzgibbon is in Edinburgh, his simple message will be that the new Labor Government could send more troops, but only if countries like Spain and Germany also send more troops to the south.

Also in preparation for the upcoming meeting, Mr Brown gave a speech in the British House of Commons.

“Let me make it clear at the outset, that as part of a coalition, we are winning the battle against the Taliban insurgency,” Mr Brown said.

“We are isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taliban. We are not negotiating with them.”

But indeed Britain does support negotiations with the Taliban and sees a role for them to play in the new Afghanistan.  “Britain will support deals with Taliban insurgents to give them places in Afghanistan’s new government and military, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yesterday, distancing himself from the Canadian and U.S. strategy of refusing to sit down with the Taliban.  In a speech to the House of Commons announcing a new Afghanistan strategy, Mr. Brown said that Britain will join Afghan President Hamid Karzai in making money and job offers to “former insurgents.”

Brown is referring to an effort underway by Hamid Karzai to obtain the loyalties of the lieutenants of Mullah Omar and thus split the organization.  The price for this loyalty is a place at the table in the new Afghanistan.  The U.S. brought the Anbaris into a peaceful solution to the insurgency from a position of strength rather than weakness, and the indigenous Anbaris were not, for the most part, fighting from a perspective of religious jihad.  This fact and the stark difference it presents against the backdrop of the Taliban seems to be lost on NATO and the Brits.  This circus-like atmosphere is made worse given the solution proferred by the NATO secretary general: increased involvement by Japan in the Afghanistan campaign!

Force projection is needed in Afghanistan, and this force projection will involve kinetic operations to capture and kill Taliban.  Co-opting them into a new Afghanistan defeats the original purpose of the war, and deprecates the sacrifices of the men who have died in Afghanistan to make the U.S. safe.  NATO will not be able to do the bidding of the U.S.  This is our task, and the message over the last year of the campaign is that it will be done by us and not someone else.



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  • Brian H

    This fl***ing European delusion that you can talk to and cut deals with absolutely anybody is going to be the death of them, and innumerable others besides. The Taliban have stated flatly that the Koran and Sharia must take absolute precedence over any treaties or constitutions or laws of any area they rule or help rule.

    The lesson has been taught with millions of deaths around the world: Believe absolutists and tyrants when they tell you what they plan to do. It is not “incredible”. It’s what they MUST do to hold power, and everything is subordinated to that.

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You are currently reading "Clarifying Expectations in Afghanistan", entry #831 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Featured,NATO and was published December 14th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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