Tag: war

The Hazards of Expanding the War into Pakistan

This morning, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration may expand the war in Afghanistan deeper into Pakistan in order to target Taliban safe havens in Balochistan.

The war would have a very different character if the Pashtun and Balochi areas of western Pakistan did not act as de facto sanctuaries for the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban. As I’ve written before, NATO’s stalemate will continue so long as Pakistan is unable – or unwilling – to uproot militant sanctuaries.

But I’ve also argued about the hazards of the United States using unmanned aerial drones to strike targets within Pakistan. These aerial strikes lead to collateral damage that undermines the authority of sitting Pakistani leaders, fuels violent religious extremism in a nuclear-armed Muslim-majority country and exacerbates anti-American sentiment even among the more moderate elements of the country.

U.S. policy in this region is beyond complicated. It’s a complete mess. Right now, more than three-quarters of provisions for U.S. and NATO troops must travel through Pakistan’s worsening security conditions to make it into land-locked Afghanistan. But after previous U.S. aerial drone strikes within Pakistan, leaders in Islamabad have more than once closed their main supply route.

As I argue in a forthcoming Cato policy analysis,

Our dependence on [Pakistan] constrains the usefulness of their support… To make matters worse, Washington’s diminished leverage over Pakistan means that elements of its military and intelligence service will continue to take advantage of America’s dependence by failing to tackle terrorism more vigorously.

Other routes for the Afghanistan mission are currently being considered, but the leaders of these countries bring their own problems, as other scholars have written both here and here.

For the foreseeable future, the war in Afghanistan will remain hostage to events inside Pakistan. And sadly, Washington’s attempts to stabilize Afghanistan will likely continue to destabilize Pakistan.

Our Problem on the Ground in Afghanistan

Virtually no one believes that things are going well on the ground in Afghanistan.  The reasons are many.  Some of the practical frustrations are captured by my friend Joshua Foust, who is working with the military on attempting to better understand Afghan society.  He writes:

 Over scalding cups of tea in mid-February, an elder in Nijrab, Afghanistan said to me, “For two years you have come here and asked me the same questions. I like you, I like the French, but you people never learn.”

He was referring to the generic questions Westerners ask Afghans: What is your life like? Where is the Taliban? What are your village’s needs? This particular elder has regular contact with American troops, and likes Americans enough to have tea with us. Nevertheless, he was deeply frustrated by the way, for all our questions, we never seem to learn from our experiences.

Very few people in Kapisa province assume that coalition forces are there to do them harm. They acknowledge that ISAF behaves fundamentally differently than the Soviets did. Yet as the seventh year of the war begins, there is enormous frustration with the coalition for not learning from its mistakes, and also with the Afghan government for being unresponsive.

One elder from northern Tagab said, “We can sit down and have tea with you, but we can’t with our own government.” He said he wished the coalition would focus more on the people and less on the government. “Governments come and go,” he said, “but the people will always be here.”

Indeed, countless interviews indicate that people in Afghanistan have very little confidence in their local government or the police, instead trusting their shuras (community and district councils) and the Army to represent their interests.

His reports on his blog also are well worth reading.  Josh is a skeptic of preventive wars and nation-building, but his posts are more reportorial, giving us ivory tower sorts a better sense of the reality that America’s military and civilian personnel must confront every day in Afghanistan.

New Podcast: ‘Blood and Treasure and Costs of Foreign Policy’

President Obama has promised to make spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq more transparent during his term. That’s a step in the right direction, says Christopher A. Preble,  director of foreign policy studies, but have Americans looked at the true cost of the wars the nation is fighting?

In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, Preble examines the price the United States has paid for the past six years of war.

The costs of maintaining a US presence in Iraq through the end of 2011…will continue to be quite substantial. We’re spending on the order of $10 to $12 billion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined each month.…The costs in terms of dollars will continue to be quite high.

Preble is the author of a forthcoming book, The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free, now available for pre-order.