Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is America Losing the Afghan War?

"We're not going to win this (Afghan) war", Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, the former British commander in Afghanistan's Helmand province, told London's Sunday Times in 2008.

Almost two years later, the NATO and US commander General Stanley McChrystal appears to be reaching essentially the same conclusion as his British predecessor.

Here are a few excerpts from a report about Gen McChrystal's latest admission that "nobody is winning" in Afghanistan:

"The US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who was boasting of military progress only three months ago, confessed last week that "nobody is winning". His only claim now is that the Taliban have lost momentum compared with last year."

"Pentagon officials increasingly agree with the Afghan villagers that the Marjah operation failed to end Taliban control and put the Afghan government in charge. This puts in doubt General McChrystal's whole strategy which also governs the way in which 10,000 British troops are deployed. He is being held to account for earlier optimism such as his claim at the height of Marjah offensive that "we've got a government in a box ready to roll in". Three months later, people in Marjah say they have yet to see much sign of the Afghan government."

"The one development over the past year which has hit the Taliban hardest happened not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. Prodded by the US, the Pakistan army has been taking over the federally administered tribal areas along the border where the Afghan Taliban once had safe havens. Soon the army may assault North Waziristan, one of the last Afghan insurgent enclaves and one which is already under repeated attack by US Predator drones. These find their targets because Pakistani military intelligence provides detailed information.

But loss of these safe havens in Pakistan may not be such a blow to the Afghan Taliban as it would have been three years ago when they controlled less of Afghanistan. It is impossible to seal the 2,600km frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan, supposing the Pakistan army wants to do so.

The semi-official Pakistani view is that the US, Britain and Nato forces have become entangled in a civil war in Afghanistan between the Pashtun community, represented by the Taliban, and their Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara opponents who dominate the Kabul government. They expect the Pashtun to go on fighting until they get a real share in power. One Pashtun, a former colonel in the Pakistani army, said: "It will be difficult for the Americans and British to win the hearts and minds of the people in southern Afghanistan since at the centre of Pashtun culture is a hatred of all foreigners."


Many an empires have walked into Afghanistan before the US, which gave them a false sense of invincibility to try and maintain domination. Each has been ejected by the ferocious Pashtuns.

"They should get out as soon as possible. Or they'll be picked off like clay pigeons in target practice."

The above words of warning to America are attributed by the NPR radio to former Soviet Afghan war veteran, Lt. Sergei Maximov, on the 20th anniversary of the humiliating defeat of the Soviet empire twenty years ago.

Because of America's overwhelming economic strength (27% of global GDP, US dollar as reserve and trade currency, etc), unquestioned technological superiority (most innovative people, top universities, etc.), ingrained political power (as architect of the biggest international institutions) and unparalleled military power, the US does have a much bigger margin of error than other previous empires did or currently competing nations or ideologies do.

But the margin of error currently enjoyed by the US is not infinite, however large it may be. It's gradually eroding with out-of-control war spending, mounting debt and deficits, and the emergence of other powerful nations around the globe. A recent book "The Godfather Doctrine" paints the United States as a power in relative decline, and it forecasts the emergence of a new, multi-polar world, with US being one of many power centers. In all likelihood, America will still be quite strong and powerful for a while, but its writ will no longer be unchallenged. It will have to rely on support from other powers to deal with the Solozzos (Iran, North Korea, al Qaeda etc.) of the world, as the authors Hulsman and Mitchell explain in their book.


Related Links:

US Afghan Exit: Trigger for India to Talk to Pakistan?

Facts and Myths about Afghanistan and Pakistan

Obama's New Regional Strategy

Webchat On Obama's New Regional Strategy

Stephen Cohen on India-Pakistan Relations

Obama's Afghan Exit Strategy

Obama's New Regional Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

US Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?

Can India "Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?

20th Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union

US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan?

FATA Faceoff Fears

FATA Raid Charades

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Honest, frank and professional approach to a problem usually leads to better decision making, can we say the same for Pakistan where TTP and other sectarian, Jihadi parties roam around freely? I am guessing, no. This is the crux of the problem, we continue to find excuses by building imaginary foreign enemies thus denying reality that we Sir do have a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Riaz Haq said...

anon: "Honest, frank and professional approach to a problem usually leads to better decision making, can we say the same for Pakistan where TTP..."

Americans have had been exposed to plenty of Afghan history of foreign interventions. And our British buddies have had real experience of dealing with the Afghans.

And yet, the US has been bogged down in Afghanistan for more than 9 years...making it the longest war for the Americans.

Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, the former British commander in Afghanistan's Helmand province, told London's Sunday Times in 2008 that "we're not going to win this (Afghan) war".

Almost two years later, the NATO and US commander General Stanley McChrystal appears to be reaching essentially the same conclusion as his British predecessor did a while back.

Anonymous said...

Riaz

America does not want the war to end. It just wants war in some part of the world preferbly not near their house.

This will keep their arm industry working over night. You can provide arms to the nationalist movement free of cost and sell arms at higher margin to the governemnt.

If i am not wrong that is the reason there is always violence in some part of the world including india and pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a BBC story about India's worries over "string of pearls" which describes ports China is building in Bangladesh and the Indian Ocean:

The various forms of Chinese assistance to Bangladesh have caused jitters in India - the huge country next door which some Bangladeshis still call "Big Brother."

India is concerned because a similar story is unfolding in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and in Burma - where China is also building roads and deep sea ports.

Indian defence experts fear that China is surrounding India with ports. They call it China's "string of pearls".

"This is not a fear, this is a fact," says Professor Shrikant Kondapalli of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

He believes China is "setting up shop" in smaller countries around the Indian Ocean because of oil. An estimated 80% of oil for China's resource-hungry economy comes from the Middle East and Africa, via the Indian Ocean.

Rapidly-growing India also needs oil, and it stands directly in the middle of China's supply route.

The Indians fear that although these deep sea ports will be for trade, China could call them in for military or strategic purposes if oil becomes scarce.

"When you put together all these jigsaw puzzles it becomes clear that Chinese focus in Indian Ocean is not just for trade," says Professor Kondapalli. "It is a grand design for the 21st Century."

'Indian paranoia'

In Beijing, India's fears are given short shrift. "During peace time, these kinds of facilities are only for commercial purposes," says Hu Sisheng, head of South Asia policy at the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations.

“ About 20 years ago, China was also a very poor country - but now it is developing ”
Chinese engineer Shar Wei

It's a tightly guarded government-run facility in Beijing which analyses foreign affairs and directly advises China's leaders.

China is keen to reassure the world that it has no hostile intent. Mr Hu says the Indians are being paranoid when they talk of a "string of pearls".

"It was minted by a young Pentagon guy," he points out.

The phrase "string of pearls" to describe China's strategy for building ports was originally used by analysts working for the US Department of Defense.

Mr Hu believes Washington is playing games and trying to cosy up to India, as it becomes increasingly concerned about China's rise.

Bangladesh is also adamant that there is nothing in its plans to concern India. "I don't believe if China helps us build this sea port, that China will be able to use it for other purposes," I'm told by Dr Dipu Moni, Bangladesh's foreign minister.

Bangladesh wants to be seen as a "bridge" from China to India, and is careful not to offend either of its giant neighbours.

"Bangladesh will never let any part of its territory be used for any kind of attacks or anything like that," she says.

Impoverished Bangladesh is hoping to capitalise on its location between China and India to develop its economy. I see the remarkable impact for myself on the outskirts of Chittagong.

I am stunned when a single track road surrounded by slums suddenly turns into a four-lane motorway. It then crosses a suspension bridge built of gleaming white concrete.

The funds for this bridge came from a Gulf country, and a Chinese firm has done the work.

Anonymous said...

Riaz

India has it own swot and it is developing on the same. Twenty year back nobody would have dreamt that china will be a economic power to threaten usa.

So it is too early either discount india or to prop up china.

Further if china is ready dish out freebies to neighbour of india to use against india, it is good for the people of the country as it leads to transfer of wealth and development. And india is instrumental for it. That is great.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from an Op Ed by Huma Yousuf today in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper:

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has announced that his country is not ‘pushing’ Pakistan to make this move, while Nato has declared that the timing and strategy of the operation are to be fully of the Pakistan Army’s choosing.

This magnanimity does not signal a shift in policy, nor does it indicate that the US has truly come to trust Pakistan as an equal partner in its prolonged war against terror. No, western security forces are backing off from plans to launch the offensive because it’s going to be messy, very messy.

North Waziristan has long been home to Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s militant group, which has struck two peace accords with the Pakistan government (in 2006 and 2008) and therefore refrains from launching attacks against government and army personnel and property in Fata or elsewhere. Previously, Bahadur has prevented other militants, including Baitullah Mehsud, from launching attacks against Pakistan from his territory, and is responsible for expelling many Arab and Central Asian militants from the agencies.

In return for this cooperation, the Bahadur group has been allowed to flourish and is now well-entrenched in North Waziristan: it runs a parallel administration boasting recruiting offices for militants, training camps, madressahs, separate courts and jails and its own taxation policy. If an offensive in the tribal agency disrupts the Bahadur group, the army will face a well-armed and well-organised force that will no longer have any reason to keep foreign fighters at bay.

North Waziristan also serves as a base for the Jalaluddin Haqqani network, which primarily targets coalition forces in Afghanistan. The Haqqanis are old friends of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, and continue to be cultivated as contacts that could prove useful as political allies in a post-US Afghanistan. This network, too, has not attacked the Pakistani state, but may change its modus operandi if a military operation were to be directed against its fighters.

As practically the only one of Fata’s seven agencies that has not been the site of a military operation, North Waziristan has recently seen an influx of TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) militants fleeing army action elsewhere. Indeed, a list of all the groups whose activities have been traced to the tribal agency reads like a who’s who of regional militancy. The agency is also believed to be the hiding place of Al Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri.

---------------

A limited operation will also rule out the need to bring more troops into the vicinity (there are currently about 140,000 troops in the agency, mostly stationed in Miramshah). This is important because military action in Fata since 2005 has earned the ire of non-combatant agency residents who complain they have lost more lives and property because of army action rather than the militant presence.

This perception has fuelled the rate of militant recruitment in the area, and the last thing the North Waziristan operation should do is win more youngsters over to the militant cause. To this end, the army should work with the civilian government to raise enough funds beforehand to accommodate the IDPs who will escape the operation, and to compensate civilians for property damage.

More importantly, the army should also limit US involvement in the form of sustained drone attacks in any operation. This must be Pakistan’s fight, fought on Pakistan’s terms, with Pakistan’s best interests in mind.

Riaz Haq said...

Australian Army is being trained by Afghan fighters, according to Australia's Sydney Morning Herald:

The Herald can also reveal that the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, discussed their relationship with the warlords at a meeting in Kabul on October 2. A leaked summary of their meeting reveals that Mr Karzai told Ms Gillard tribal leaders had praised Australia's co-operation with ''warlordy types''.

The fighters met Australian officers they will work alongside and were shown combat training displays at the Cultana base in South Australia and at Holsworthy Barracks in outer Sydney.

The militia is Oruzgan's most effective fighting force but moving closer to it risks undermining the Afghan institutions that need to be reinforced before Australian Defence Force troops can leave.

One Australian special forces officer said the militia was respected and had ''saved many Australian lives''.

Defence said that in the exercise, Leadership Look, the Afghans were ''intimately involved in the planning and execution of training objectives'' for the special forces soldiers as they prepared to go to Afghanistan.

But Martine van Bijlert, an analyst on Afghanistan, speaking from Kabul, said: ''We're shaping [Afghanistan] to our short-term needs rather than what the country needs in the long term. Does the country really need commanders with what are in essence private armies?''

The Dutch refused to work with Matiullah and blocked his appointment as the local police chief. He holds no formal government position but is allied with Mr Karzai and is considered the most powerful man in Oruzgan. He denies allegations of corruption and human rights abuse.

But Defence said: ''It is important the ADF works within the cultural norms of Afghanistan. Therefore in some areas where influential local Afghan leaders still operate, their co-operation can be crucial to maintaining security and stability.''

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston was at the Kabul meeting and was recorded telling Mr Karzai the partnership between Australian special forces and Matiullah's militia was ''a proud one''.

The Defence chief admitted that when Australian troops arrived in Oruzgan they did not understand the complex ''tribal dynamics'' but now had a more ''enlightened'' view.

The militia wears the uniform of the Provincial Response Company but is not controlled from Kabul and answers to Matiullah.

''They fight for their own group. They fight for very different reasons than, for instance, the Afghan army,'' said Ms van Bijlert.

The militia command group has been brought to Australia for improved training in a safe environment.

The visit came after negotiations between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence. Agreements were made about travel documents and warnings were given to the government that, as one source said, ''issues could arise'' if the Afghans claimed asylum in Australia in future years.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a BBC report today about the British Army Chief Gen Richards' pessimistic assessment of Afghanistan:

The West can only contain, not defeat, militant groups such as al-Qaeda, the head of the UK's armed forces has said.

General Sir David Richards, a former Nato commander in Afghanistan, said Islamist militancy would pose a threat to the UK for at least 30 years.

But he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show a clear-cut victory over militants was not achievable.

The BBC's Frank Gardner said the comments reflect a "new realism" in UK and US counter-terrorism circles.

Our security correspondent said such an admission five years ago might have been considered outrageous and defeatist....
Britain has lost 343 soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001.

But Gen Richards told the BBC it was not possible to defeat the Taliban or al-Qaeda militarily.

"You can't. We've all said this. David Petraeus has said it, I've said it.

"The trick is the balance of things that you're doing and I say that the military are just about, you know, there.

"The biggest problem's been ensuring that the governance and all the development side can keep up with it within a time frame and these things take generations sometimes within a time frame that is acceptable to domestic, public and political opinion," he said.

He said extremist Islamism could not be eradicated as an idea.

"I don't think you can probably defeat an idea, it's something we need to battle back against as necessary, but in its milder forms why shouldn't they be allowed to have that sort of philosophy underpinning their lives.

"It's how it manifests itself that is the key and can we contain that manifestation - and quite clearly al-Qaeda is an unacceptable manifestation of it," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a CBS interview with Pak UN ambassador Haroon:

U.S.-Pakistan relations are at an all-time low. Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Abdullah Hussein Haroon, speaking to CBS News about the allegations of Pakistani-ISI links to insurgents, said that Pakistan wants to end terrorism in his country and that Washington and Afghanistan are blaming Pakistan, making it the scapegoat for a conflict which victimizes Pakistan more than it hurts the U.S. or Afghanistan.

"For the past few months it's been the U.S. who keeps trying to put pressure by saying Pakistan this or Pakistan that," Haroon said. "That policy needs reappraisal. You need to talk as allies, don't talk down to us. This is not going to succeed. Politics should be transactional, not coercive. We want success. We don't want this mess on our doorstep for the next 100 years. It's not of our making, not of our choosing, not of our doing. We've paid the highest price for this war."

As the U.S. assesses the projected dates for the drawdown of U.S. troops and the recent spike in some types of violent incidents, a CBS News poll found that, although most Americans support the military, the American public thinks the United States should not be fighting in Afghanistan and the war has not been worth it.

Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador, who has been in his country's foreign service all his adult life, said bluntly that the U.S. had ignored the lessons of history in deciding to, and how to, invade Afghanistan.

"The Soviets lost Afghanistan by not learning the lessons of history... History is again repeating itself because the Americans have repeated the mistakes made by the Soviets and everyone else."

Haroon said U.S. leaders "overestimated their own capabilities and underestimated those of the Afghan guerillas."

The ambassador accuses the U.S. of underestimating the Taliban.

"I believe this needs to be reassessed because misappreciation of the enemy has always led to military setbacks."

Adding to his list of alleged U.S. failures, Haroon said American military commanders failed to assess the physical terrain on which they were planning to fight.

All the errors, he said, "contributed to the impasse which has resulted in Afghanistan."

As U.S.-Pakistan relations sour and anti-U.S. troop sentiment in Pakistan rises, Haroon offered some advice: "You cannot solve Afghanistan without Pakistan and Pakistan cannot be free of its own troubles without Afghanistan first being free of all its troubles. That is the conundrum."

"Whenever anyone has set a date for withdrawal in Afghanistan, before the army has effectively left their borders, their imposed government falls and runs with them towards the border. You have undermined yourselves completely... by setting an exit date."
-------
"We're getting treated like we're a pariah," complained Haroon. "Very, very sad shape, and it is not what we expect of a great country like America."

"Do you know why in New York, why nothing happened (this year) on September 11? You gave us a list of three people, 'help us find them,' you said. We went out of our way and did find them. The White House said fantastic, we have the people that could have harmed us and, by God's grace, nothing happened. Three key people were handed over on the 5th of September. Were people told in America that the reason that New York is safe is because Pakistan helped us capture these people?"


http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-20116573-503543.html

Riaz Haq said...

A recent book "Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan" by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrashekharan argues that it's failures primarily in Washington rather than Islamabad and Kabul that have hurt US goals in Afghanistan.

Chandrashekaran writes on page 329 of his book: "The reason was not be found in Kabul or Islamabad. It was in Washington: America's bureaucracy had become America's worst enemy."

Here's another excerpt as published in Washington Post:

To Holbrooke, a towering man with an irrepressible personality, brokering a deal with the Taliban was the only viable strategy to end the war.

He was convinced that the military’s goal of defeating the Taliban would be too costly and time-consuming, and the chances of success were almost nil, given the safe havens in Pakistan, the corruption of Karzai’s government and the sorry state of the Afghan army.

Obama told his aides that he was interested in a peace deal, and less than two months after he took office, the president said publicly that he was open to seeking reconciliation with the Taliban, comparing such an effort to a U.S. initiative to work with former Sunni militants in Iraq who were willing to break with al-Qaeda.

His comments alarmed top military and intelligence officials. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command, thought it was too soon even to talk about talking. They wanted to commit more troops first and then talk, but only to Taliban leaders who agreed to surrender. CIA officials argued that the United States could not negotiate with the Taliban until its leadership denounced al-Qaeda.

There was no clear path for Holbrooke to achieve peace talks. The Taliban had no office, mailing address, or formal structure. It was not clear that its leader, the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, wanted to talk — in 2009, the Taliban appeared to be winning — or whether he and his fellow mullahs would accept the United States’ conditions for negotiations: that they renounce violence, break with al-Qaeda and embrace the Afghan constitution.

Even if they did, would the terms be acceptable to the Karzai government? What about Pakistan and other neighboring powers? If Holbrooke was going to have any chance of success, he needed the backing of others in the administration, starting with the president.

But the White House never issued a clear policy on reconciliation during the administration’s first two years. Instead of finding common purpose with Holbrooke, White House officials were consumed with fighting him. Jones and Lute hated the thought of Holbrooke basking in the spotlight as he did after peace in the Balkans. They wanted him out of the way, and then they would chart a path to peace.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/little-america-infighting-on-obama-team-squandered-chance-for-peace-in-afghanistan/2012/06/24/gJQAbQMB0V_story.html

http://books.google.com/books?id=kvNNc1BIBPgC&pg=PA90&lpg=PA90&dq=rajiv+chandrasekaran+afghanistan+problems+in+islamabad&source=bl&ots=fGFOYBlUvn&sig=IuzeY49I1vrzTaxE4yOpAqg7jBg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZND0T_SUG6Ws2wWmt_3HBg&ved=0CFIQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=islamabad&f=false

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dexter Filkins' piece in the New Yorker on America's Afghan end game:

President Barack Obama, in his June 22nd speech announcing the beginning of the end of the American war in Afghanistan, couched the conflict in the most constricted terms. This is no great surprise. Obama’s discomfort with the Afghan war is visible whenever he talks about it. Last week, he spoke with a palpable lack of passion, and indicated no long-term commitment to the country. His message was clinical: Osama bin Laden is dead, Al Qaeda is disabled, and American troops can begin coming home. “We are meeting our goals,’’ the President said, in his most expansive description of American progress. Certainly, the large majority of Americans who believe that the war isn’t worth fighting will have little inclination to doubt him.

The President’s terseness had a purpose: it allowed him to skirt a more exhaustive, and dispiriting, discussion of Afghan realities. Two years ago, Obama signed off on the surge, which deployed an additional thirty-three thousand marines and soldiers to Afghanistan. Though the surge is now at its peak, almost every aspect of the American campaign is either deeply troubled or too fragile to justify substantial reductions in military support. It’s true that, with the help of extra forces, the Americans have cleared large areas of Taliban insurgents, many of whom had been operating without opposition. This success has opened the parts of the country that are dominated by Pashtuns—its main ethnic group—to Afghan government control, but it hardly constitutes victory. According to American officers, the level of violence in Afghanistan this year is fifteen per cent higher than it was at this time last year. The insurgents, far from being degraded, appear to be as resilient as ever. And their sanctuaries in Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership resides mostly unmolested, remain more or less intact.

Nor is there any sign that Afghanistan’s Army will be able to maintain control as the Americans leave. Although Afghan forces are growing in number, they are virtually incapable of planning and executing operations on their own. Exactly one Afghan battalion—about six hundred soldiers—is currently classified as “independent.” Ethnic divisions have made the situation even worse: some units, packed with ethnic Tajiks from the north, are said to need translators to operate in the Pashto-speaking areas of southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban predominate. The number of Afghan soldiers who quit or go AWOL remains alarmingly high. Most recruits are illiterate. It is these men, along with members of Afghanistan’s hapless police force, whom Obama expects to take the lead from the Americans three years from now.
----------
For the moment, the prospect of all-out civil war in Afghanistan rests safely on a distant horizon. Even after the thirty-three thousand troops have departed, by the end of 2012, the Americans and their NATO partners will have nearly a hundred thousand soldiers there. The effects of the drawdown might not be visible for years. But the moment of maximum American influence is passing without very much to show for it. “These long wars will come to a responsible end,” the President said toward the end of his speech. That’s an appropriately tortured construction for two badly managed occupations. As a prediction for Afghanistan, though, it seems more like a prayer.


http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2011/07/04/110704taco_talk_filkins