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What Next for Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Nate Fick — whom Center for a New American Security chairman Richard Danzig announced this morning as the next CNAS CEO; he’s barely in his 30s — and Andrew “Abu Muqawama” Exum are talking about their new paper on Afghanistan and Pakistan. I blogged about that paper here, so please read that post instead of making me reiterate their points since Ex talks extremely fast.

Two things he said are worth emphasizing. First, “There’s not going to be a civilian surge” in Afghanistan — a point Gen. David Petraeus made earlier — since there aren’t enough deployable and available regional-expert U.S. civilians for such a thing, so instead it makes sense to focus on placing civilian advisers in the ministries. Relatedly, Exum wonders whether the Obama administration is really going to devote sufficient resources to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Fick reiterated a point made by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in his confirmation hearings: a potent measurement of success is going to be the reduction of civilian casualties, both those caused by the Taliban and those caused by U.S. and NATO troops. “Killing noncombatant civilians fundamentally undermines” U.S. goals, Fick said. Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno offered some caution about that, saying that the “military opponents of the coalition” are trying to “take the air strikes off the table” by emphasizing the civilian casualties caused by the air strikes. That may strike COINdinistas as a good but problematic point.

More thorough criticism comes from Boston University Professor Andrew Bacevich, perhaps the most salient academic critic of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars out there. He first mentioned the Kennedy administration’s lessons-learned effort after the Bay of Pigs, which resulted in reaffirming all the faulty assumptions that led to the disaster, thereby contributing to the near-miss apocalypse of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then Bacevich said it’s “wrong” that Afghanistan is a critical security interest of the United States and that counterinsurgency can help. Why’d 9/11 succeed? “Federal, state and local agencies responsible for domestic security fell down on the job,” Bacevich said. Preventing the next 9/11 “does not require the semi-permanent occupation” of Afghanistan and other countries. Why not “fix Mexico” first? “Anyone who came to a gathering like this and proposed to send 60,000 troops to Mexico” and spend billions to “fix the endemic corruption… would be laughed out of the room.”

Bacevich then urged a “minimalist” approach. He disputed that the United States ought to be in “a global counterinsurgency campaign.” We “don’t need to undertake such a grandiose effort, and we can’t afford such a grandiose effort” while still ensuring that al-Qaeda “poses no more than a modest threat to U.S. national security.”

Here’s Army Col. Christopher Cavoli, who’s about to command an infantry brigade in Afghanistan, with some minor criticisms. “I don’t have real big problems” with much of Fick and Exum’s report. But Cavoli pointed out that Afghans’ “definition of security might be different than ours.” You need “a pretext” — “a political event or a material benefit” — for a U.S. or NATO unit to just show up and start population-protection operations. In other words, you’ve got to bring the Pashtun villages *something *if they’re going to accept nearby foreign forces. “There’s a level of external direction and control to ensure that what happens… is consistent,” Cavoli said. “Who is going to benefit and in what order from this counterinsurgency” is a “big question,” since a peaceful area that doesn’t receive as many resources from the U.S. as a violent one is going to raise questions among the populace about their incentives for continued cooperation. “That makes it difficult for me to see how [Fick and Exum's proposals] will generate momentum,” Cavoli said.

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