Last week, the Pentagon issued a report based on an independent study on the future of Afghanistan. As reported in the Washington Free Beacon, the Taliban will resurge in Afghanistan following the drawdown of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan later this year.That is what I call a Bravo-Foxtrot-Oscar (Blinding Flash of the Obvious).
The report says the Taliban are expected to regenerate their capabilities in sanctuaries in Pakistan as military pressure on them declines. Over the next three years, the Taliban will expand control and influence in areas left undefended by U.S. and allied troops. They also are expected to “encircle key cities and conduct high-profile attacks.This is truly dire news for President Obama and his proposed “zero option” force posture for Afghanistan – how’s that working out for Iraq? It seems former SecDef Gates’ assessment of Obama is true: his heart is not in it.
No wonder Karzai is letting Taliban prisoners go free.
A few of us who served in Afghanistan have been chatting via email about what the future holds for that country. When I was there during 2005-2007, several members of our advisory team had served in Vietnam in combat. One had served as a Special Forces team member and worked with the mujahedeen, training and advising, during the Soviet-Afghan War. While we were there in southern Afghanistan based out of Kandahar Airfield (KAF) we would often talk about the similarities to Vietnam. How in Vietnam we initially had the “strategic hamlet” that put forces out in the countryside with villages and denied the enemy access. Then we shifted the focus to larger bases and larger scale operations.We would sometimes sit outside the “hooch” and thought about how we saw KAF expand to the point where there was a bus service to transport troops. We would look around at how many troops were on KAF as opposed to how many were actually out “Taliban hunting.” What we saw in those years was the transition from a US-led operation in southern Afghanistan to a NATO-led mission.
Mission responsibility was divided by province and then by nation. Canada had Kandahar province. The Netherlands had Uruzgan province. The Romanians had Zabul province. The British had Helmand province. I just have to tell you, if we’d fought World War II that way, lots of folks would be speaking German today.
Each country had its own rules of engagement and employment and there was no resource sharing. The enemy quickly learned the TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) and where the gaps existed for exploitation.We focused more on COIN (Counterinsurgency) operations than CT (Counterterrorism), which meant nation-building and supporting central government institutions. We failed to understand the culture was not about Kabul, it was about the tribal elder at the local level.
Here is what should have been done in Afghanistan, and can still be done now. The United States — let’s be honest, we are the coalition — should establish a cross-border engagement zone into Pakistan. In military terms, you cannot control your AO (area of operations) unless you interdict the AI (area of interest). We must control the AI and let it be clear that we will engage enemy forces operating there. That does not just mean drones! And we don’t need to coordinate — i.e. tell — anyone the depth of that AI. We need to focus clearly on CT. It is all about finding the enemy, fixing him in position to negate his repositioning, engaging him with all available weapon systems (screw this restrictive ROE nonsense), destroy him in place, and pursue him (No sanctuary! That is the purpose of interdiction into the AI).
Our footprint in Afghanistan does not need to be large, but it needs to be robust and effective. Most importantly, we need civilian leadership dedicated to bringing the Islamist terrorist forces to their knees. That is what the Afghan culture understands — relentless warriors, steely-eyed and determined to destroy the enemy. That is how you get respect.And we don’t need some mammoth Afghan National Army — that can also be a smaller, well trained, and thoroughly vetted force. Empower the tribal elders, not the corrupt central government. Find younger leadership who want a better future for Afghanistan — and that includes women.
In Afghanistan, all is not lost. But what we have lost is strategic courage in Washington DC.