Whither Afghanistan Strategy? Find Out Next Week
The Senate Armed Services Committee just announced a hearing next Tuesday morning to get a status update on Afghanistan war strategy. Testifying will be two of the strategy’s architects: Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy; and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Central and South Asia.
Not testifying is anyone from the diplomatic or development or rule-of-law fields (although one of Flournoy’s advisers, Rosa Brooks, can help her out on that latter concern). Which may be jurisdictional, given that this is an armed services committee hearing, but it’s also problematic from the point of view of a war strategy that’s overwhelmingly focused on civilian concerns like legitimacy and capable governance and, now, peace-process outreach to insurgent groups. The already-underway “process” in Kandahar explicitly judges civilian attitudes to be decisive.
And this round of testimony occurs in the shadow of Afghan President Hamid Karzai forcing aside two of his security-sector ministers, Interior Minister Haneef Atmar and intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, whom the U.S. held in high esteem.
But if you’d rather not wait for Flournoy and Petraeus to give their take on the situation, check out Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (PDF). “For the first time in a war lasting more than eight years, there is some practical prospect of victory,” Cordesman writes. But:
It is still far from clear that the mission can be accomplished:
- The Ability of the Insurgent Threat to Adapt and Respond.The insurgent threat may still be relatively small and unpopular, but it has expanded into a near power vacuum in many areas of the country, and key ISAF leaders agree that its momentum has been arrested but not yet reversed. Its divisions cost it some capability but complicate attacks on its hierarchy in spite of growing successes by US UCAVs and elite forces. It has now had eight years of experience in irregular warfare, and has created far better trained cadres. For all of its weaknesses, it is often less abusive, and virtually always far less corrupt than the various elements of the Afghan government. It has learned to avoid direct combat when this only brings defeat, to infiltrate and create shadow governments, and exploit its ties with Pakistani extremist movements, Al Qa’ida, and a variety of foreign movements. It will win if it can adapt and outlast ISAF and GIRoA in a war of political attrition.
- Far too much of GIRoA is still part of the “threat.” The Afghan government has honest and capable elements at every level, but their impact is outweighed by a virtual kleptocracy at every level from the President’s office and family through Provincial and District Governors down to the lowest levels in the field. Eight years of capacity building have had limited effects. Training and advisory efforts are often more than offset by the constant flow of military and civilian contract and aid money to power brokers and corrupt officials. Afghan politics have become more divisive and power oriented since the election campaign in 2009, civil servants and judges remain grossly underpaid, and the efforts of the many honest Afghan officials and civil servants are either hamstrung or countered by the wealth and power of power brokers, cronies, and the corrupt. The lack of Afghan government integrity and capability remains a more serious threat to winning the war than the Taliban, and it is still unclear that the US, ISAF, and allied governments can work with honest and capable Afghans to counter this threat during the course of the coming campaign.
- There is still a critical lack of unity of effort and effectiveness within ISAF. The international command structure of NATO/ISAF has shown considerable strength, competence, and unity. The nations who contribute, however, still apply caveats and restrictions to key national forces that gravely limit their effectives. Pledges to provide trainers and mentors for the ANSF are not kept. Parts of the Afghan population are not properly protected. Military contracts of all kinds, including virtually every road shipment, often lack sufficient control to avoid empowering corrupt officials and power brokers, police and other elements of the ANSF, and sometimes the Taliban.