Academic journal article Military Review

The Way out of Afghanistan

Academic journal article Military Review

The Way out of Afghanistan

Article excerpt


WE HAVE A problem. Our counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine states that "Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation-builders as well as warriors." In ten years, we haven't built an Afghan nation, but the effort to do so has diverted and weakened the warrior ethos.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in order to destroy the Al-Qaeda network. However, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban escaped over the border into Pakistan. Instead of pursuing them, America stayed in Afghanistan, vowing to build a strong democratic nation that would prevent the return of the terrorists.

To lead the new Afghanistan, the United States, acting in concert with the UN, selected Hamid Karzai in 2002, a politician from a prominent Pashtun family. The United States also facilitated a revision of the Afghan constitution to give Karzai authority to appoint all provincial governors. Karzai in turn placed tribal relatives and cronies in those positions of power.

Worse, the United States gave Karzai absolute authority in selecting military and police leaders. So command positions were put up for sale, requiring payoffs and political connections. The result was corrupt, unprofessional leadership that allowed the Taliban to reassert control in the countryside east and south of Kabul.

When President Obama took office, Afghanistan was lurching out of control. Obama stressed partnership with Pakistan, increased the number of American troops to 100,000, and promised to begin a withdrawal in mid-2011. During his first two years in office, three different American generals took command in Afghanistan, the U.S. military strategy concentrated upon population protection, Pakistan continued to shelter the Taliban, and Karzai proved erratic and unreliable.

Where Are We?

Let's start with the enemy. The Taliban move unchallenged across the 1,400-mile-long border with Pakistan, easily avoiding Americans encumbered by armor and heavy gear. In the north, the Taliban are supported by subtribes in the capillary valleys. In the south, they take a cut of the drug trade, while warning the poppy-growing farmers that the government will eradicate their livelihoods. Overall, some Pashtun villages are friendly, others hostile, and most unwilling to partner with Americans because firefights and destruction are sure to follow.

Jihad against infidels emerged as a powerful war cry of the Taliban. Eighty-four percent of Afghans identify themselves foremost as Muslims. An ideology as much as a religion, Islamic beliefs are intended to form the basis of governance. But the Kabul government has failed to project itself as the true protector of Islam, while the Taliban have won disciples among the rural mullahs. Worse, the Taliban, drug lords, and many rural Afghans continue to conspire to provide 95 percent of the world's heroin.

The strengths of the Taliban are their Islamist fervor and their sanctuary. Pakistan is determined to remain a supporter of some Taliban cliques in case the United States quits the war and the extremists again seize power. As long as Pakistani territory remains a sanctuary, the war will not end.

The vulnerabilities of the Taliban are threadbare logistics and popular disinterest. Having lived under Taliban control in the 1990s, most Pashtuns dislike rather than support the Islamist cause. While the Taliban add recruits every year, there has been no overwhelming groundswell of popular support.

In the net, neither side is winning. On the one side, the United States lacks the numbers to secure thousands of villages and the Afghan security forces lack confidence; on the other side, the Taliban cannot mass forces due to U.S. firepower. The Taliban believe that after an American withdrawal, the rural districts will topple like dominos.

What is Our Military Strategy?

Arrayed against the enemy are the 47 nations of the coalition. …

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