Friday, July 07, 2017

4 Ways America Can Fix Afghanistan - National Interest

James P. Farwell
July 4, 2017

As the U.S. government considers whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, the real issue is what political outcome we’re plausibly trying to achieve? Military force is useful only as a means to achieve a political end.

Today, the Trump administration is debating whether to send four thousand additional troops to the country. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis indicated to Congress that a new deployment would aim to bolster U.S. air-power capabilities and to strengthen the train, advise and assist mission. How realistic is that hope? In 2010 and 2011, the United States had one hundred thousands troops in the country. Led by able commanders such as Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, success proved elusive. Before we commit more blood and treasure to this conflict, the United States needs to ask hard questions. Jim Mattis earned high respect as a military commander. I express no opinion on military strategy. But a successful outcome to this conflict will turn on political dynamics.

Expanding the U.S. military presence makes sense only as part of a realistic political strategy that offers a plausible possibility of stabilizing Afghanistan and the region, and keeping both the Taliban and ISIS from winning. A Taliban victory is unacceptable. During the 1990s, it focused internally on Afghanistan.

Today’s Taliban holds expansionist ambitions. Victory in Afghanistan will turn its eyes towards nuclear-armed Pakistan in an effort to overthrow the Pakistani government. That would be difficult. As a nation, the Pakistanis are more hostile to violent religious extremism than outbursts of violence against its minorities might indicate. Still, the Taliban might succeed in destabilizing Pakistan and cause regional effects that harm U.S. security interests.

The United States has spent countless dollars training the Afghan military. Afghan soldiers are rooted in a warrior culture, but the Afghan National Army has failed the hopes once held for it. Traditional resistance to a dysfunctional centralized government, widespread corruption and the abuses of the Afghan Local Police and pro-government militias have undercut the government. Pakistan’s covert support of the Taliban is merely one element of a difficult equation, but remains an obstruction to success.

In carefully parsed language, Mattis promised Senator John McCain in hearings a new strategy that rejects losing. Still, absent radical change centered on good governance, the current Afghan government seems unlikely to achieve military or political victory. The United States needs a hard-nosed approach. Let’s provide troops as Mattis and his team believe militarily appropriate, but with the goal of solidifying a political foundation for a favorable outcome.

What are the key elements to such an outcome? - Read More

4 Ways America Can Fix Afghanistan | The National Interest

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