Sunday, October 19, 2008

Strategy and Operations

A couple weeks ago, General McKiernan, commander of ISAF, hits three issues that are critical for thinking about the war in Afghanistan:

GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think first of all, I find it sometimes not very helpful to try to compare Iraq and Afghanistan. I think they're two very different environments. But as I said earlier, I believe that in looking at what is winning the campaign in Afghanistan, a couple things are important.

First of all, it's important that winning is seen in Afghan terms. It's about extending a viable level of governance in Afghanistan which is -- meets the needs of the people and provides for certain level of security and economic promise for the future.

I also believe that part of that solution in Afghanistan must be seen as a regional problem set. I've consistently said that it's very difficult for me to imagine the right outcome in Afghanistan without the right outcome in the militant sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border.

So I think it's a regional problem set that will require regional solutions. And I think that stability in that region is of a vital national interest to this country.

Q General, Gerry Gilmore, American Forces Press Service. Is it plausible to -- I hate the word speculate, but -- are we going to try to use these additional troops to hammer these militants that are operating along the Afghan-Pakistan border with Pakistani help, in other words, more unity of effort with the Paks as well? Do you see like a hammer-and-anvil type of scenario?

GEN. MCKIERNAN: I think -- I think there is certainly an opportunity for greater coordination on both sides of the border on military operations and objectives, as well as mutual border security concerns. We are just scratching the surface, if you will, on how the Pak military and Frontier Corps, Afghan military and ISAF coordinate mutual border security concerns along a very porous, historically open border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I think there is a potential for increased military synchronization in the future.

One, our objective in Afghanistan is far more limited than in Iraq. We don't need to think of the need to develop democracy in Afghanistan the same way we do in Iraq. A democratic Afghanistan will not be an example for the Arab Moslem world. And Afghanistan's problems can be addressed with a far lower objective: a viable government responsive to the people with certain level of security and hope for a better economic future. We just don't want Afghanistan to be a sanctuary for terrorists and I've always felt that pushing hard for more than this is a potential waste of our efforts.

Two, the problem in Afghanistan cannot be addressed just in Afghanistan. Indeed, it is risky to our military to focus on Afghanistan alone. Pakistan must be addressed if our limited objectives in Afghanistan are to be achieved. A lesser problem unstated is Iran's involvement in Afghanistan. But Pakistan's frontier area where jihadis thrive and surge into Afghanistan to kill is the biggest problem.

Third, since the Afghanistan problem is in Pakistan, adding US troops to Afghanistan only makes sense as a hammer and anvil strategy, as we achieved in Iraq in the surge, where our troops on the border are the anvil and Pakistani forces, whether lashkars that we organize for a new type of campaign that bypasses the Pakistani government, or--as seems the case now with their surprisingly persistent military campaign--by the Pakistani military itself, are the hammer.

I feared we'd need the alternate hammer but it looks like the Pakistani government is doing the job, now. Next year could see a stronger anvil on the Afghanistan side of the border. If Pakistan renews the offensive next year, maybe this will be the last jihad.