8 years ago
Wretchard of the Belmont Club weighs in on the British -American debate over strategy in Afghanistan. It is a lengthy and involved post, and in order to avoid republishing it here, the reader should follow the link to the full article. His summary follows:
Robert Gates’ remarks ripped the lid off a simmering disagreement between NATO allies and the US over Afghan strategy. The differences are not simply over troop levels and counterinsurgency competencies but at the level of basic national interest. For some NATO countries there is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting for at all for except the maintenance of good diplomatic relationships with America and the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance. But that will only go so far; and at any rate America can be counted on to carry the load alone because in contrast, the United States which directly suffered the September 11 attacks, sees a victory in the Afghan/Pakistani theater as a matter of vital interest. Therefore the US will carry on regardless. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama periodically declare their commitment to winning in that theater. The US and the European NATO countries may differ even in their conception of victory. For the US, victory is defined as creating and maintaining friendly governments in both Kabul and Islamabad by defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. For the Europeans it may mean bringing the Taliban to power in exchange for giving up its support of al-Qaeda.
Which side of the debate is correct I leave the reader to decide. But so far as I can tell this is what the debate is about.
The focal point of his analysis is the different conceptions of victory and what these conceptions mean to the methods and strategy by which it is pursued. His point that the coalition is fractured is correct, and the British are looking for finality sooner than traditional counterinsurgency doctrine allows. Thus, victory is redefined, i.e., the bar is lowered. However, because he fails to interact with my own analyses, or at least the line of thought I advocate in this series of posts, his analysis is shortsighted and impoverished.
It is true that there is currently a clamour in Britain to jettison duties in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but this has not always been the case. Soon after Phase 1 of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the British in Basra had a high time of it, working under the quiet confidence that regarding counterinsurgency, they had a few things to teach the Americans. They implemented very restrictive rules of engagement, wore soft covers, had minimal force projection, and fished the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. Before too long under under these conditions, troop movement into and out of the AO was done only at night and via helicopter because travel by day was too dangerous.
The British ended their campaign in Basra by evacuating the city because they believed that their lack of presence in Basra would stop the shooting at their soldiers. In other words, if they weren’t around to shoot at, they would’nt receive fire. The AO was turned over to sectarian thieves, thugs and Iranian henchmen, and the Police chief in Basra has sustained seven assassination attempts.
In contrast to this, the Anbar province is pacified, and contrary to the Shi’a militia who drove the British out of Basra, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Reesha has said that the U.S. must stay in Anbar in order to help maintain security. Force projection won Anbar and created the conditions under which it is safe for the U.S. to garrison forces there, and lack of force projection lost Basra. Yet the British have not lost their penchant for seeing counterinsurgency through a different lens than the U.S. The debate began in Basra before any part of the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan became problematic and before the British public was searching for a way out.
The debate continues, and the recent deals with the Taliban are a continuing function of the strategy promulgated by the British. It may be the case that the public pressure to disengage has become more prominent, but the strategy the British are pursuing is not a function of this public pressure. Only the speed with which they employ the strategy needs to change in order to acquiesce to the public pressure. The fracture in the coalition is deeper than mere public perception at home.