Tag: afghan war

Internal British Study: Afghanistan ‘Unwinnable in Military Terms’

Recent news reports have missed a major item on Afghanistan. Last week, the Independent reported on an internal study from the British government’s Ministry of Defence (MoD). The study, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, examines the “extraordinary number of similar factors that surround both the Soviet and Nato campaigns in Afghanistan.” 

The study finds that despite their differences: 

Both interventions have been portrayed as foreign invasions attempting to support a corrupt and unpopular central government against a local insurgent movement which has popular support, strong religious motivation and safe havens abroad. In addition, the country will again be left with a severely damaged and very weak economic base, heavily dependent upon external aid. 

It goes on: 

The highest-level parallel is that both campaigns were conceived with the aim of imposing an ideology foreign to the Afghan people: the Soviets hoped to establish a Communist state while Nato wished to build a democracy,” it says. “Equally striking is that both abandoned their central aim once they realised that the war was unwinnable in military terms and that support of the population was essential. [Emphasis added.] 

In a questionable comment that one would expect a U.S. official to utter, the British government website states “We are in Afghanistan to protect our own national security by helping the Afghans take control of theirs.” The internal study, of course, comes to a contrary conclusion: “The military parallels are equally striking; the 40th Army [of the Soviet Union] was unable decisively to defeat the mujahedin while facing no existential threat itself, a situation that precisely echoes the predicament of Isaf [the Nato-led security mission].” 

To learn more about the international community’s inability to rescue Afghanistan—and why the international community made that grandiloquent pledge in the first place—register for the Cato Institute policy forum on Friday, April 5th , “The war in Afghanistan: What Went Wrong?” I will host Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the RAND Corporation’s Ambassador James Dobbins, and West Point Professor and COIN critic Colonel Gian Gentile to discuss America’s longest war.

Divided Government on Afghanistan

The Obama administration apparently plans to issue a positive Pentagon review of the war in Afghanistan.  Alas, this assessment evidently is not shared by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Reports the New York Times:

As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports’ executive summaries.

Obviously, any predictions about the future course of the Afghan war should be taken with a couple shakers of salt.  However, the fact that the U.S. remains at war nine years after intervening suggests that pessimism is the most realistic perspective. 

That certainly was the reaction of Malou Innocent and me after visiting Afghanistan earlier this year.  Even if the military has figured out the best strategy for fighting the Taliban, there is no competent and honest Afghan partner to replace the Taliban.  The Karzai government is as likely to impede as aid Washington’s efforts.  The U.S. cannot afford to sacrifice more lives and money in what has devolved into yet another attempt at nation-building that fails to advance Amerca’s security.

More Discipline for SEAL in Afghanistan than SWAT Officer in Fairfax?

You’ve probably heard that Linda Norgrove, the kidnapped British aid worker in Afghanistan who died in a rescue attempt, appears to have been killed by a grenade thrown by one of the Navy SEALs coming to her aid, not a suicide bomb vest as initially reported.

Two things come to mind here.

First, the fact that it was a grenade and not a suicide vest that killed her only came to light because of the video cameras capturing the event. The unit performing the rescue had cameras mounted on the helicopters and the helmets of the SEALs on the ground. As I said in this video and this blog post, cameras provide an honest witness in these dangerous situations.

Second, compare the accountability the SEAL will face with what would happen to a SWAT team member. It appears that the SEAL who threw the grenade will face disciplinary action. If I had to guess, this will be a memorandum of reprimand from a general officer. That would go into the SEAL’s permanent personnel file, and cause a “slow death” of his career. Unable to get promoted in an up-or-out personnel system, the SEAL could be forced out of the service before he is eligible for retirement.

This is an elite Navy SEAL performing a hostage rescue mission in an armed camp in the Korengal Valley, arguably one of the most dangerous places in the world. The SEALs didn’t know where the hostage was, and the last Taliban kidnapper alive on the objective was firing at other SEALs with an automatic weapon. Yet the SEAL who threw the grenade, in a situation that justifies the use of a dynamic raid, may face the end of his career.

Compare this with the discipline that Fairfax County Police Officer Deval J. Bullock faced for killing optometrist Sal Culosi. Culosi ran a sports betting operation, and an undercover officer had placed bets with him in the prelude to a prosecution. Fairfax officers served the arrest warrant with a SWAT team, and Officer Bullock had an accidental discharge with his handgun at point blank range into Culosi’s chest, killing him almost instantly. Bullock was suspended for three weeks and kicked off the SWAT team. Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Horan didn’t take Bullock’s case to a grand jury, declaring that when someone fires a gun without malice and accidentally kills someone, “they do not commit a crime.” Sorry, that’s negligent homicide. And, according to police union officials, the three-week suspension was still too stiff a punishment.

So, an elite military hostage-rescue team member may face more consequences for a judgment error – when a kidnapper is threatening the lives of everyone on the objective with an automatic weapon at the tail end of a 30-minute gunfight necessitated by the imminent threat that the hostage will be moved to a more hostile location across the Pakistan border – than a suburban police officer who negligently murders a non-violent offender in a situation that didn’t warrant the use of a SWAT team to begin with.

In some instances, to call this “police militarization” is to slander the military. Here are some parallel thoughts from Radley Balko, and a whole lot more on paramilitary police raids in Radley’s Overkill and at the Raidmap.

Matthew Hoh: A Great American Patriot

HohFormer Marine captain Matthew Hoh became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war. His letter of resignation echoes some arguments I have made earlier this year, namely, that what we are witnessing is a local and regional ethnic Pashtun population fighting against what they perceive to be a foreign occupation of their region; that our current strategy does not answer why and to what end we are pursuing  this war; and that Afghanistan holds little intrinsic strategic value to the security of the United States.

In his own words:

The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified….I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul. The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategy message of the Pashtun insurgency.

Click here to read the entire letter.

So, what’s the situations like now? Afghanistan’s second-round presidential elections scheduled for early November will do little to change realities on the ground. Counterinsurgency–the U.S. military’s present strategy–requires a legitimate host nation government, which we will not see for the foreseeable future regardless of who’s president.

What’s the political strategy? President Obama has painted himself into a rhetorical corner. He’s called Afghanistan the “necessary war,” even though stabilizing Afghanistan is not a precondition for keeping America safe. We must remember that al Qaeda is a global network, so in the unlikely event that America did bring security to Afghanistan, al Qaeda could reposition its presence into other regions of the world.

Should we stay or should we go? The United States must begin to narrow its objectives. If we begin to broaden the number of enemies to include indigenous insurgent groups, we could see U.S. troops fighting in perpetuity. The president has surged once into the region this year. He does not need to do so again.

This is the deadliest month so far, thoughts? Eight years after the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan still struggles to survive under the most brutal circumstances: corrupt and ineffective state institutions; thousands of miles of unguarded borders; pervasive illiteracy among a largely rural and decentralized population; a weak president; and a dysfunctional international alliance. As if that weren’t enough, some of Afghanistan’s neighbors have incentives to foment instability there. An infusion of 40,000 more troops, as advocated by General Stanley McChrystal, may lead to a reduction in violence in the medium-term. But the elephant in the Pentagon is that the intractable cross-border insurgency will likely outlive the presence of international troops. Honestly, Afghanistan is not a winnable war by any stretch of the imagination.