Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan
John A. Nagl wrote the counterinsurgency field manual used by General David Petraeus in Iraq in during 2008. Though the jury is still out on the long-term prospects of peace and stability in Iraq, so far the Nagl strategy appears to be succeeding as demonstrated by last week's peaceful elections that went quite smoothly with a fairly good turn-out in most Iraqi provinces. In a piece he has co-written with Nathaniel C. Fick for Foreign Policy magazine, Nagl offers his thoughts to General Patraeus on how to fight the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Flick and Nagl argue that the American strategy in Afghanistan must deal with the following five paradoxes:
Paradox 1: Some of the best weapons do not shoot.
Paradox 2: Sometimes the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be.
Paradox 3: The hosts doing something tolerably is often better than foreigners doing it well.
Paradox 4: Sometimes the more force is used, the less effective it is.
Paradox 5: Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.
The fifth paradox in particular talks about Pakistan in the context of the US strategy in Afghanistan.
The authors oppose the current US raids into Pakistan in pursuit of insurgents. They say, "Cross-border raids into Pakistan to pursue insurgents have strained U.S. relations with Pakistan at this critical juncture in the Afghan campaign. Pakistan is, of course, inextricably connected to the Afghan insurgency. The Pashtun belt, as the border area between the two countries is known, constitutes the real battleground in this war. Counterinsurgency operations in Pakistan, therefore, are a necessary component of any strategy in Afghanistan. Without Pakistani support, however, unilateral cross-border raids will create more blowback than they are worth".
The authors argue that "a better strategy for persuading Pakistan to act as an ally—and not a spoiler—in Afghanistan involves giving up the short-term tactical gains of such raids in favor of the regional diplomacy necessary to broaden and deepen the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Even after Islamist extremists bombed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September in an attempt to assassinate the new civilian leadership of Pakistan, the Pakistani Army remains more focused on the perceived threat from India than on the actual threat from inside its own country’s borders. U.S. and international efforts to broker confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan (translation: resolve Kashmir) are likely to have a far greater impact on Pakistani counterinsurgency efforts than any number of unilateral U.S. raids".
The authors agree that more U.S. troops are absolutely necessary to turn the tide in Afghanistan, but American troops are a short-term answer to a lasting set of problems. Supporting Afghan and Pakistani governments that can meet the needs of their own people—including security—must be the long-term solution. The paradoxes of counterinsurgency detailed here, counterintuitive though they may be, provide the best guideposts on the rocky trail toward success. It will not be the death or capture of every last enemy fighter that wins this war, but creating a position of strength from which to negotiate a lasting political solution to a cycle of conflict with no other end in sight.
To read the full text of the article by Fick and Nagl, please visit Foreign Policy magazine website.
The ideas offered by Flick and Nagl appear to be a break from the US strategy pursued by the Bush administration and so far continuing under the new Obama administration. However, it's not clear if the time for such ideas to be effective has already passed. "Of all the lands of the earth, Afghanistan has been among the least hospitable to foreigners who come to rule, or to teach them how they should rule themselves", wrote Patrick Buchanan in his opinion on Creators.com.
As the conservative American columnist further wrote: "America and NATO have never been nearer to strategic defeat". In this latest assessment, Buchanan joined Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, the UK's commander in Afghanistan's Helmand province in Afghanistan who declared in October that the Afghan war can not be won. "We're not going to win this war", he told London's Sunday Times in October.
"It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army." he added. Later, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has retained his job in the Obama administration, basically agreed with the British brigadier's assessment without admitting that "the war can not be won". Instead, Gates said, "despite challenges, there was no reason to think success could not be achieved in the long run".
Before arriving in Kandahar recently, Gates spoke grimly of a "sustained commitment for some protracted period of time. How many years that is, and how many troops that is ... nobody knows."
While the US and NATO forces struggle in Afghanistan, their growing frustration is finding an outlet in frequent US strikes inside Pakistani territory further fueling Pakistan's anti-American public opinion. With the country's ongoing crises, and the growing US demands on Pakistan, the future of US-Pakistan relations and the chances of success in Afghanistan do not look particularly bright. The solution to this darkening mood in both nations is a serious and sincere effort by each to improve their bilateral relationship based on a recognition of mutual interests and genuine needs, as recommended by Nagl and Flick. The Obama administration has an opportunity to change the US tone with Pakistan to make the friendship genuine and useful to both partners in the war on terror. Barack Obama's oft-repeated position that Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations can not be isolated from the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world offers a good starting point for discussion.
The sooner the Obama administration and the US allies accept the futility of a military solution in Afghanistan, the easier and less costly it will be in terms of loss of life for all parties involved. Rather than desperately widening the Afghan war into a dangerous regional conflict, a comprehensive political solution with a timetable for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan seems the only way to bring this long, deadly war to an end.
Polls show very strong support for removing all US military forces from the region. In a 2007 WorldPublicOpinion.org (WPO) poll, conducted in conjunction with the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START) Center at the University of Maryland, large majorities supported the goal of getting "the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Islamic countries" in Morocco (72 percent), Egypt (92 percent), and Pakistan (71 percent). Winding down the twin wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will go a long way toward restoring a positive US image in the world, particularly the Islamic countries.
Let's hope Obama, Gates and Petraeus are persuaded by the sound advice offered by Fick and Nagl to try and find a way out of Afghanistan at some point in not too distant a future.
Here's a video clip of Fick and Nagl talking about Patraeus:
Rand Report: US Strategy in Muslim World Counterproductive
Nagl Talks With NPR Radio
Obama's Kashmir Focus
Can Obama Win the Afghan War?
Can India "Do a Lebanon" in Pakistan?