5 years ago
Washington Post Associate Editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran penned an article entitled Go all-in or fold. In it he touched on recurring themes here at The Captain’s Journal. Excerpts are reproduced below.
There were two battalions to the north of Kandahar city. Another to the far south. Canadian forces were going to swing to the west. About 5,000 new U.S. troops in all.
“But there, there and there,” the officer said, pointing to towns just outside a belt where the Americans and Canadians were stationed, “and there,” putting his fist on the city, which with 800,000 residents is the country’s second-largest population center, “we don’t have anyone.”
If more forces are not forthcoming to mount counterinsurgency operations in those parts of the province, he concluded, the overall U.S. effort to stabilize Kandahar — and by extension, the rest of Afghanistan — will fail.
“We might as well pack our bags and go home . . . and just keep a few Predators flying overhead to whack the al-Qaeda guys who return,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “There’s no point in doing half-measures here” …
McChrystal’s 66-page confidential assessment makes the case for a far more expansive counterinsurgency mission, one that would involve sending more troops and civilian reconstruction personnel to Kandahar and other key population centers to improve security, governance and economic opportunities for Afghans. Although the general never used the term in the assessment, his strategy amounts to a comprehensive nation-building endeavor.
He wants U.S. and NATO personnel to expand training programs for Afghan soldiers and policemen, reform the justice system, promote more effective local administration and ramp up reconstruction. If that occurs, he and other counterinsurgency experts contend, then Afghans who have sided with the Taliban out of fear or necessity will eventually switch sides and support the government. Building an effective state, in McChrystal’s view, is the only way to defeat the insurgency.
The opposite view, espoused for some time by Vice President Biden and a growing number of liberal Democrats, is that such an effort has a slim chance of success given Afghanistan’s size and complexities: the suspicion of outsiders, the harsh terrain, the lack of an educated civil service, the endemic corruption and the tribal rivalries. Instead, they argue, the United States should scale back its operations and focus directly on trying to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaeda, the core counterterrorism goals for Afghanistan that Obama endorsed this spring. Special Forces teams and combat aircraft would remain at the ready to target any terrorists with international ambitions who seek to set up shop in the country.
Such an approach, proponents say, would result in far fewer U.S. casualties in Afghanistan, and it would reduce the strain of repeated deployments on the American military.
Given the profound gulf between those options, and the political risks entailed by either, some in the Obama administration, as well as Democratic leaders in Congress, have begun to look for a way to split the difference, to do “counterinsurgency light” or “counterterrorism plus” …
The fold approach — to engage simply in counterterrorism operations — is riddled with its own drawbacks: The Taliban would effectively control the country’s south and east, and a civil war would probably resume among it and ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras for control of the west and the north. Counterterrorism missions would be hindered by a lack of on-the-ground intelligence. Pakistan could be further destabilized as the Taliban reverses its operations and starts using Afghanistan as a base from which to launch attacks across the border.
The last paragraph is the most salient and clear-headed. As we pointed out with Senator Kerry’s approach and many times before, the light footprint will end in danger for SOF troopers who cannot get logistics, supplies or reliable air support.
With a small footprint of only SOF located in Afghanistan, logistics would be the first to go, and our troops wouldn’t have supplies for more than a couple of months. Every person who has ever driven a fuel supply truck for us will have been beheaded. The Afghan National Police will be killed by the population within a few months as retribution for the corruption, and the Afghan National Army will last a little longer – maybe three months. Rescues will be attempted as a means of egress for the American HK (hunter-killer) teams lest they die.
The proposal to conduct mini-COIN operations from offshore “assumes first that in using SF and SOF we have the actionable intelligence and logistics to support their interdictions, raids and HVT killings. We will not have that with a small footprint. Intelligence sources are killed in small footprint campaigns because their is no force projection on the ground. Logistics would be nonexistent because every participant in trucking supplies into the FOBs or launch points for these operations would have been beheaded or shot. Thinking that this can all be done from offshore platforms is not serious analysis. It’s wishful and even mythical thinking.”
As one of the first to predict the Tehrik-i-Taliban focus on the Khyber pass and Torkham Crossing to interdict logistics, I have watched as NATO lethargically engaged Russia, refusing to engage the Caucasus in order to create new lines of logistics. The Northern logistics route into Afghanistan is now beginning to suffer from security problems due to the lack of NATO force projection and troop presence.
But an important question comes up for Rajiv Chandrasekaran during an online chat about this very article.
Fort Dix, N.J.: Sir,
Does the U.S. Army even have 45,000 troops available to send to Afghanistan?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Good question. I’ve heard different things from different folks at the Pentagon. Some contend that we don’t have those forces at the ready. That’s true, but could some units being readied for Iraq, and others on training rotations, be quickly retooled to go to Afghanistan? Probably. A ramp-up in Afghanistan would also probably mean a modest acceleration in the withdrawal from Iraq.
It’s important to parse the arguments and objections. The conversation becomes confused when too many objections are thrown out without the proper response – perhaps something at which the opponents of the campaign in Afghanistan are aiming.
I have addressed the issue of force availability before, but let’s do it again for good measure. Not since before Operation Iraqi Freedom have so many Marines been aboard Camps Lejeune and Pendleton. The Marines are essentially out of Anbar (except for a few remaining at places like al Asad air base). The Marines have more than met their recruiting goals, and there are currently so many Marines at Camp Lejeune that many units cannot be garrisoned in the same barracks. More barracks are being constructed, but not fast enough. If Marines are not at Camps Lejeune or Pendleton, they (entire Battalions of Marine infantry) are aboard Amphibious Assault Docks as forces in readiness, awaiting orders that never come because of policy decisions that orient the U.S. away from using our forces in readiness.
The forces are available to pacify Afghanistan. Several more Marine Regimental Combat Teams and/or air-ground tack forces could be deployed to the Helmand Province, and even several more to Kandahar. The two provinces that constitute the home of the insurgency could be pacified by the U.S. Marines with the right commitment of resources.
So if the objection is that the campaign will incur losses, then the national conversation should be preoccupied with that problem. The rules of engagement are another issue entirely, and without changes it’s doubtful that even the Afghans will believe that will be protected from the Taliban. But the national conversation should forthwith jettison the notion that America doesn’t have the forces.