Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Will We Win the War Formerly Known as "Good?"

I noted Afghan security force casualties recently, but mostly wanted to compare what is considered "unsustainable" in Afghanistan to Assad's far heavier casualties that don't seem to lead to hand wringing about his doom. I wasn't so sure that Afghan casualties are really unsustainable. Strategypage addresses it.

Yes, Afghan security force casualties are heavy. But Taliban casualties are heavier and Afghanistan is used to high casualties:

Afghan security forces (army and police) are suffering higher combat losses this year; about 2,400 dead per 100,000 troops. In 2013 it was about 1,890 dead per 100,000 troops. ...

As high as this is, it’s higher for the Taliban and such loss rates were common in Afghanistan, when the tribal irregulars fighting Russian troops in the 1980s suffered even higher losses. ... Afghans will endure high loss rates if they have good leadership. Today this means the government forces have to get the troops paid on time and use tactics that keep the Taliban casualty rate higher. The Taliban are backed by the drug gangs who have more money to operate with than the government and can survive a Taliban defeat. ...

The Afghan security forces, despite corruption and occasional poor leadership, have outfought the Taliban in the last two years. Taliban attacks have actually decreased this year because of the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces. ...

[From] data that has leaked out it appears that the Taliban has lost at least five as many men as Afghan and foreign forces have lost. In other words over 80,000 since September 11, 2001. This is not particularly high by Afghan standards[.]

Afghanistan relies on outside money to pay for the troops and police in service. This doesn't mean that the government isn't valid. The Taliban rely on outside financial support, too, but that comes from individuals at the end of the drug supply chain rather than tax dollars from outside governments.

Afghanistan is not doomed to defeat. But we do need to stay involved to keep Afghan forces fighting and various levels of government functioning.

The bad news is that unless we can break the drug gangs, Afghanistan cannot afford an adequate security force capable of defeating the drug-supported Taliban without outside financial support. How long will cash-strapped governments keep that money flowing?

The only long-term strategy for success involves getting Afghan forces to a level that the locals can finance--and that requires more decentralization of the government, as I wrote on the eve of our double escalation:

The end result in Afghanistan, if all goes well, will be a nominal national government that controls the capital region and reigns but does not rule local tribes and which actually helps the locals a bit rather than sucking resources from the locals, who in turn do not make trouble for the central government or allow their areas to be used by jihadis to plan attacks on the West. We press for reasonable economic opportunities, with bribes all around (I mean, foreign aid), to keep a fragile peace.

And we stick around this time, unlike after the Soviets left Afghanistan when we ignored the place, for a generation or two to see if we can move Afghanistan into the 19th century (hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Hopefully our military surge recedes by the end of 2011 and we can get down to a single combat brigade plus air power that function as a fire brigade and a hammer for the central government should a local difficulty exceed Afghan military capabilities.

Oh, and of course the anti-war side will stop seeing Afghanistan as the "good war." The Left will start advocating defeat there, too.

While special forces will remain to go after the enemy, there will be no fire brigade. And our support will be limited and scheduled to end at the end of 2016. I doubt that timetable will work. Especially since right now the effort seems to be very Kabul-centric.

Sadly, I was spot on about the demise of the "good war" label.

Our side is doing pretty well. But they need our help to outlast the well-financed enemy. I worry whether we'll stick around long enough to establish the conditions for a self-sustaining, decentralized, terrorist-free territory in the region we call "Afghanistan."