Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Afghanistan Surge

The US has proposed a surge in Afghanistan--almost 30,000 troops--which would double the size of the US force there. As a percentage of the overall force, it is much higher than the force sent to Iraq. And the strategy will be greatly different from Iraq, as well. Afghanistan is not suffering from an ethnosectarian civil war. The insurgency is not urban--on the contrary, the government tends to have control of cities even in otherwise heavily-Talibanized areas. Militants thrive in the mountains and villages where the government and NATO struggle to exert their control--it's all a very different beast.

The strategy lies in a point made by JCS Chairman Mike Mullen: mainly that Taliban militants typically get routed when they engage US troops directly. A few notable exceptions remain, like the Khandahar prison raid in June. But in general, the Taliban makes trouble where the US _isn't_. (This is in contrast to Anbar province of Iraq, where trouble followed the US wherever it went)

The idea is that more troops can keep the peace in the south and possibly systematically root out Taliban presence from the north. An oil spot security strategy is doable, though it requires very deep integration (or intrusion) into the lives of Afghanis. But keeping peace down is unlikely to lead to a negotiation, like it did in Iraq (along with many other factors). The Taliban say they won't negotiate with Karzai as long as US troops are on their soil. And they're decades-old extremists that ejected the Soviets after nearly a decade. They're patient, and willing to put up with a lot of punishment.

So the only reasonable strategy here is to make Afghanistan a "safe zone" with overwhelming security, and then deal with Pakistan separately. The Afghan war cannot be won without Pakistan falling into place, of course: the minute US troops leave Afghanistan, free militants in Pakistan would pour in to reconquer the country, or at least some chunk of it that the Afghan army can't handle.

India is putting massive pressure on the Pakistanis--enough that they are letting leak that they are planning their own precision strikes in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The move is risky, and could risk war... but it is unclear whether the move on India's part would be harmful or helpful to NATO operations in Afghanistan. If there is a war, then the state falls apart and the militants thrive--unless NATO joins the war and makes it quick and decisive. Pakistan is unlikely to become an Indo-NATO joint mandate territory, but a decisive war could mean that certain parts of Pakistan's territory come under the security administration of NATO and India. China and Russia will certainly veto any resolutions to get the UN's blessing, and that will hinder such a deal from being made.

Pakistan knows it's in a lot of trouble. The US is still striking in its territory, and India is about to. The current government cannot afford to do nothing, but they also cannot afford a losing war with India. China would even be unlikely to get involved--Pakistan is an ally, but good relations with India are incredibly important. Domestically, the Pakistani government is rather doomed no matter what it does. Going after militants in-country is nearly impossible for Pakistan (due to domestic pressure, an ineffectual military, and a corrupted intelligence operation)--so ultimately, they're likely to face the wrath of India.

The Afghanistan/Pakistan situation has deteriorated to an unlivable level. General Petraeus, in charge of all of CENTCOM now, is going to try to work his magic a second time around in Afghanistan, and see if he can't save the second US-led folly in a row.


Unknown said...

1.What is the use of this surge?
2.what is the political aim of this surge?
3.What USA wants to achieve in Afghanistan militarily and politically?
4.Can the war in Afghanistan won without eliminating the rest and recreation sanctuaries in Pakistan provided by Pakistan army covertly?
5.What is the alternate for Khyber route for NATO supply line
Unless these questions are answered TRUTHFULLY BY american thinkers who always talk about Afghanistan/pakistan border instead of Wazirstan/FATA the surge is likely to be Obamas iraq.
Bruce reidel is talking about India placating Pakistani army rulers with kashmir valley as if this will satisfy the wolf of GLOBAL JEHADI TERRORISM FUNDED BY SAUDI ARABIA.

Unknown said...

So there are a few questions here. Politically, the US wants an ally in Afghanistan, and a stable democracy that is sortof a safeguard against terror. But the political goals have shifted since the American showed up 7 years ago. They still want to take down al Qaeda to as much of an extent as possible. There will always be bad guys out there, and the fewer the better. And indeed, the Americans have found that they drove al Qaeda and the Taliban into Pakistan. The US can't go into Pakistan, not completely. But a stable, secure state in Afghanistan is going to be important to that. The state needs control over that area, there needs to be rule of law, or some form of terrorism can come right back. You can't win the War on Terror just by killing folks.

And obviously, the war can't be won without work in Pakistan. It's unclear to me to what extent the Pakistani intelligence services are supporting terror anymore--especially when bombs are going off every now and then in their own territory. The current government is ineffectual in any way--an international mandate to put FATA under NATO mandate and Kashmir under Indian mandate might be a good idea--but it's politically impossible.

In reality, the US isn't quite sure what it's doing. It doesn't have a good plan, there's no way around that. It's hoping it can get enough of a handle on Afghanistan proper with security (which is a complete mess) that political options become more possible, that the Taliban starts wanting to negotiate. The ultimate answer is that the Americans have a lot of trouble giving up, have a lot of trouble admitting defeat. And for better or worse, the Iraq war has shown the Americans that doubling down and gritting one's teeth can be a viable strategy, if done right. And with Gen. Petraeus in charge of the entire region, US politicians are willing to have faith.

Anonymous said...