Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I Guess This Year We Find if President Obama Got His Decent Interval

Since early 2016 (at least), I've been worried about trends in Afghanistan. I figured the winter would be very important to reverse the trends in this year's campaign. Hold on tight, this will be rough:

Afghan army units are pulling back, and in some cases have been forced to abandon more scattered and rural bases, and the government can claim to control or influence only 57 percent of the country, according to U.S. military estimates from earlier this year.

"The intelligence community assesses that the political and security situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in (the)military assistance by the United States and its partners," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a Senate hearing.

President Obama escalated massively in Afghanistan (the "real" war); ended the military's staged offensive plan a year too early; and then left too few troops with too many restrictions to hold the limited gains made.

Will modest additions of American and allied troops reverse the trends allowed to develop?

And if American troops are allowed to routinely accompany Afghan forces on missions for advice and calling in fire support and medical evacuation, we really should deploy a brigade's worth of infantry with tanks and helicopters at various bases to be quick reaction forces in order to mount rescue missions for American advisors when necessary.

Did abandoning untenable outposts create sufficient Afghan reserves to take on the Taliban and deny the Taliban the initiative?

Does President Obama get a decent interval between his leaving office and the fall of Kabul?

If he does not get even that, what was the bloody point of all the additional American casualties that resulted from the president's 2009 escalation orders?

Or do we try to win?

Mattis and McMaster know it will take time, that simply withdrawing is not a viable alternative, and that the American people will accept low-level sustained engagement with strong leadership from the White House to persuade them on its necessity. This is the leadership that the United States showed under Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy with long-term strategies to improve places like South Korea and Germany as a means to defeat the ideology of communism. Many look forward to seeing the same from President Trump.

We do have a lot of Afghan allies who we can support to win this fight. Are we to abandon all that we created just because our enemies are persistent?

We keep bemoaning the need to take direct action against jihadis, but when we have local allies are we really in danger of walking away from them in Afghanistan to allow them to be defeated--and for Afghanistan to be a jihadi sanctuary again?

In Afghanistan, Trump Is Poised to Re-Escalate a Hopeless War

It's a Beinert article. He bemoans the idea that Trump would "escalate" the war--to all of about 14% of what Obama escalated to. Why would Trump do that, he asks?

Well, he might do that so we don't lose the "real" war. But then, I predicted long ago that Afghanistan had a short shelf life as the "good" war of the left:

If we are not fighting in Iraq, I've long held, the so-called "good war" in Afghanistan will become bad in the views of our anti-war side. Now the anti-war side protests Iraq and claims that they oppose Iraq in order to commit resources to the "real" fight in Afghanistan.

When Obama went back into Iraq in Iraq War 2.0 in 2014, even that didn't inspire the left to protest and elevate Afghanistan back to the "good" war. No, President Obama decided to stop fighting the Taliban and carry out a parallel war against international jihadis while leaving the Afghan security forces largely on their own.

That's why things went sour. It isn't because the war is inherently "hopeless."

Why we would accept defeat when our enemies are so persistent that they are still fighting and believe we can walk away without any problems at home? You really believe that?

And just because few Americans are paying attention to the country is no excuse. Darned few paid attention to the country on September 10, 2001, too.

Honestly, I wouldn't seek Beinert's advice on what color to paint tanks for the desert, let alone for operational or strategic advice.

One real problem is Pakistan which functions as a sanctuary for Afghan jihadis. I've long complained that this sanctuary limits what we can do in Afghanistan.

The article about trying to win above says we have to play hardball with Pakistan. But how? The best basic alternatives for supply are through Pakistan, through Iran, or through Russia. If we go to the mat to pressure Pakistan, is Russia a safe alternative? Is Iran? (And this is just one reason I've long wanted to support the overthrow of the mullah regime in Iran.)

Logistics to landlocked Afghanistan is a problem. Sure, in theory we could string together a route through Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. But is that a real option?

And Pakistan is nuclear armed with way too many Islamist nutballs for my comfort. How much pressure do we want to put on Pakistan?

One option may be my old proposal for doing what we have done in Syria to fight ISIL: arm and support locals in the Pakistan tribal territories who will deny the use of the Afghan-Pakistan border area to jihadis in the absence of a Pakistani desire to truly control their border.

Hang on. The ride is beginning.

UPDATE: More. It's a long fight we can't afford to abandon and we should aim for de-centralization of governing to bolster support for resisting the Taliban. I'm on board those ideas.

I contest the author's notion that the concept of winning or losing is irrelevant because eventually--like many insurgencies--negotiations will end the war.

On the contrary, a lasting peace based on negotiations rests on defeating the Taliban so they admit defeat rather than using negotiations or deals as just another means of achieving victory.

So we should not make the mistake of suspending military offensive operations while we negotiate. That just gives the enemy the incentive to talk when they are weak in order to recover.

So we can talk. But the enemy negotiators should know that every day they talk is a day that Afghan forces backed by the American-led coalition go after them and kill them.

Victory is never obsolete.