6 years, 10 months ago
Ann Marlowe, who has just completed her 10th trip to Afghanistan and third embed with U.S. forces, has a commentary at the Wall Street Journal claiming that Afghanistan doesn’t need a surge of troops.
Afghanistan needs many things, but two more brigades of U.S. troops are not among them.
Barack Obama said: “We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.” Mr. Obama should have supported the surge in Iraq, but that doesn’t mean that advocating one in Afghanistan makes sense.
Yes, Barack Obama should have supported the surge in Iraq, but let’s stop and observe two things. First of all, if this is about Barack Obama, then we are entirely in her camp. Obama’s thinking, which clearly never graduated beyond his childish Marxist college days, adds nothing to the debate about Afghanistan, Iraq, national security, or any other weighty issue. But it’s about more than that, because Ann has weighed in on one of the most important campaigns of the twenty first century.
This is the problem with going on record with such issues. The Captain’s Journal went on record more than half a year ago saying that the forces and force projection in Afghanistan were not sufficient. The fact that Obama is now singing the same song is not relevant to us; nor does it put us in the same camp on Iraq. Everyone is spuriously correct from time to time.
But back to Ann’s commentary for our second observation. Ann is right concerning the fact that two more brigades are not appropriate for Afghanistan, even if spuriously so. Properly resourcing the campaign will require at least – but not limited to – three Marine Regimental Combat Teams (outfitted with V-22s, Harriers and all of the RCT support staff) and three Brigades (preferably at least one or two of which are highly mobile, rapid reaction Stryker Brigades). These forces must be deployed in the East and South and especially along the border, brought out from under the control of NATO and reporting only to CENTCOM. Finally, NATO must implement a sound, coherent counterinsurgency strategy across the board in the balance of Afghanistan.
The forces and realignment above are bare minimum (we retain the right to weigh in later if the Pentagon implements our proposal and we need more resources later). As for Ann, her commentary goes down hill at this point.
Afghanistan’s problems are not the same as Iraq’s. Its people aren’t recovering from a brutal, all-controlling tyranny, but from decades of chaos and centuries of bad government. Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, is largely illiterate and has a relatively undeveloped civil society. Afghan society still centers around the family and, for men, the mosque. Its society and traditions are still largely intact, in contrast to Iraq’s fractured, urbanized and half-modernized population.
The Afghan insurgency has no broad popular base and doesn’t mirror an obvious religious or ethnic fault line. It is also far more linked with Pakistani support than the Iraqi insurgency or militias were with Iran. Afghanistan needs a better president, judiciary and police force — and a Pakistani government that is not playing footsie with the Taliban.
These are two important and pregnant paragraphs, so let’s unpack them a bit. It’s difficult to imagine, but Ann doesn’t see public raping of women for not wearing their Burka properly, public executions of potential Taliban detractors, schools which have been shut down (especially for women), extortion and kidnapping of children for the purpose of Taliban training as brutal tyranny. It assuredly is, and this is important for the purposes of understanding the single most important thing in counterinsurgency. Security.
As we have discussed in our coverage of Marine operations in Helmand:
Take particular note of the words of town elder Abdul Nabi: “We are grateful for the security. We don’t need your help, just security.” Similar words were spoken at a meeting in Ghazni with the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan: ““We don’t want food, we don’t want schools, we want security!” said one woman council member.”
Again, similar words were spoken upon the initial liberation of Garmser by the U.S. Marines: “The next day, at a meeting of Marines and Afghan elders, the bearded, turban-wearing men told Marine Capt. Charles O’Neill that the two sides could “join together” to fight the Taliban. “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you,” the leader of the elders said.”
The narrative emerging is not one of largesse, roads, education, crop rotation, irrigation and all of the other elements of the soft side of counterinsurgency. To be sure, these elements are necessary and good, but sequentially they come after security.
The Afghanis don’t care much about the things Ann does. As for the Taliban in Pakistan, they came like a embryo from the Taliban in Afghanistan, and have evolved into something even worse. We have addressed the issue of Pakistan by saying that the Pashtun have rejected the U.S.-led war on terror, and the initial place to engage the Taliban is Afghanistan. We will get little if any help from Pakistan, and continuing to rely on them is a pipe dream. Only after we have shown commitment to the campaign will Pakistan reconsider its position.
Ms. Marlowe could embed ten thousand times and it wouldn’t change her predisposition to see things her way. We recently said of COIN that “there is no magic to perform, no secret Gnostic words to utter, no tricks. Troops are necessary, and warrior-scholars who can fight a battle as well as govern a city council meeting.”
But The Captain’s Journal can smell the deep magic of counterinsurgency from a mile away. Find that single center of gravity, that pressure point that only a few are smart enough to understand, and suddenly counterinsurgency becomes much easier. Ann believes in the magician’s incantation version of counterinsurgency. It isn’t about religious radicalism, killings, lack of security, overbearing rules and regulations, and brutality. All Afghanistan needs is a good president, good judges and a good police force.
Every country needs a good president, good judges and good police. As we have pointed out before, “In this version of the problem, the root of the extremism becomes disenfranchisement, poverty, and valid grievances which require redress (regardless of the example of Bangladesh, which is 90% Muslim and one of the poorest nations on earth, but without the violent extremism).”
But in the end, the similarity between Iraq and Afghanistan is that the population wants and needs security for a legitimate government to be emplaced and grow and mature. Contrary to Ann’s view, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t believe in magic. We believe in killing the enemy, contact with the population and intelligence-driven operations. Special operations actions against high value targets (as recommended in Ann’s commentary) might make for interesting media reports and good movies back in the States, but black operations and surreptitious engagements don’t win the population.
The Marines did it in Garmser, and it can be done in the balance of Afghanistan while the believers in magic cite their incantations as they hope for special operations and a new President to bail them out of the mess that is OEF. In the mean time, what Barack Obama says about Afghanistan continues to be as irrelevant as what he says about Iraq. So we’ll continue to ignore him.