Saturday, July 26, 2008

Afghanistan Surge Required?

Ben Smith writes about the need for more troops in Afghanistan. He notes that it is now the conventional wisdom, and that the Democrats believe that Iraq had kept more troops from being sent to Afghanistan.


There are several problems ongoing in Afghanistan, of which troop numbers is only a minor role.

A major problem in Afghanistan, the theater of operations that pretty much the world agreed was a just and necessary war to deal with the Islamists of the Taliban and al Qaeda following al Qaeda's massive terrorist attack on 9/11/2001 in which nearly 3,000 Americans were murdered, is that America's allies in NATO are not pulling their own weight and refuse to do more than basic peacekeeping.

They do not want to engage in combat. More troubling, however, is that our NATO allies are increasingly incapable of supporting combat operations because their military capabilities have atrophied to the point where they rely so heavily on the US for their security that they cannot take action independently. That means that the US bears the burden of combat and logistics operations while IFOR tasks out other operations to regions unaffected by Taliban incursions.

Smith goes on to quote Zbigniew Brzezinski worried that the US is risking becoming embroiled in Afghanistan much as the Soviets did, which is hilarious given that Brzezinski is in part responsible for the debacle in Iran and Afghanistan. The US response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was to boycott the Moscow Olympics. You could see the Soviets quaking in their boots with laughter at that.

Adding more US troops might do the trick, especially when the Taliban routinely cross the border into Pakistan for safe haven. The NWFP, Warizistan, and neighboring provinces in Pakistan are friendly to the Taliban and have enabled the Taliban to hold on, especially as the Islamists in Pakistan continue to provide them safe haven.

However, more troops of any kind will not solve that conundrum alone.

No, the big problem with Afghanistan is the country next door.


Any policy on Afghanistan must take Pakistan into account, and sadly no one has bothered to question Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain on what to do about Pakistan. There's little to be gained by simply sending more troops to Afghanistan if all they can do is fend off attacks launched from within Pakistani territory.

A comprehensive strategy must be developed that involves both lessons learned from Iraq - the counterinsurgency strategy (COIN) that Obama didn't even want to give a chance to succeed and who denied that there was any progress until it was undeniable to even the New York Times and the other media outlets - and new tactics that take into account the delicate situation in Pakistan.

More troops might help deter Taliban attacks and enable US forces to go after Taliban elements within Afghanistan, but will not do anything about the situation next door unless fundamental changes to US military and diplomatic postures towards Pakistan occur.

Pakistan may be a nominal ally of the US, but they are hardly reliable. I've argued that the US needs to better engage with India to counter the Islamists, but there has been strong opposition to do so within the US government for reasons that include India's dalliances with the Soviets. That time has long past, and the new realities are that Pakistan and India both have nuclear weapons, and Pakistan continues to cut deals with the Taliban in the border region, enabling them to attack the Afghans at will.

Those deals, cut by the Musharraf government and his successors, have bought the Pakistani government time, but the Islamists are repeatedly emboldened by such signs of weakness, and they use the autonomy granted to provide safe harbor for Taliban who attack into Afghanistan.

It is a cycle of violence that will not end by adding more troops to the Afghan theater of operations alone. It requires diplomatic pressure and action on Pakistan as well.

The US currently does engage in covert airstrikes against high value targets within Pakistan, but there is a very high price to pay for that. The Pakistani government has to walk a very fine line, and risks the possibility that the Islamist infested ISI will turn against the government. The Bush Administration has to walk this fine line because they know that those attacks are inside the territory nominally called Pakistan - a current ally with whom we have supported with billions in military aid.

The last thing this, or any, Administration wants to do is cross the line and precipitate an Islamist takeover in Pakistan that would leave its nuclear weapons in the hands of those that would seek to use them against the West, including the US, India, and our other strategic partners around the world.

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