Sunday, June 03, 2018

Can America Win in Afghanistan?

So why would 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan succeed when 100,000 American troops failed to completely defeat the Taliban?

I'm just spit-balling here, but maybe because back in the surge period of 2009-2012, the Afghan security forces were too weak to be supported and America had to take the lead in combat; but today despite problems, the Afghan security forces can be supported with key enablers to defeat the Taliban.

Maybe it is kind of like America needing 170,000 troops to lead the defeat of insurgents and terrorists in Iraq in 2007; but in 2014, despite the clear inadequacies of the Iraqi army that partially collapsed, America was able to support the reaction and successful multi-year counter-offensive by Iraqi forces with only 5,000 American troops in Iraq--give or take a couple thousand, if memory serves me--providing support.

And do recall that in the Iraq War, people kept telling us America's military effort was doomed right up until the 2007 surge/Awakening when our offensive broke the back of al Qaeda in Iraq, allowing us to end combat operations in 2009 and allowing the Obama administration to think it could leave a successful and stable Iraq in 2011.

And the Taliban have been fighting a long time, too. The Taliban of today may not be as eager to die as they were at the beginning of our surge in 2009-2012; nor may they be as confident of outlasting America as they were post-surge right up to when we were still withdrawing troops in 2016.

Maybe we won't win. The statistics--if true or meaningful--really are troubling. And while the examples of tactical success over the Taliban and broader skill sets of Afghan forces noted in this news conference are real, that doesn't deny a concurrent Taliban increase in influence across the country. Which one is more significant?

Although the troop strength deterioration may be from more accurate statistics that didn't count ghost soldiers or may be from the decision to emphasize elite troops rather than line security forces (for example).

And corruption is bad, but it is bad for the Taliban and Pakistanis, too. That should be an unfortunate factor to cope with, but is it a decisive factor against the Afghan government side? (Although there is more to steal on the government side than on the Taliban side, admittedly, making it a bigger factor for the government.)

But we've barely begun the process of reversing the Big Skedaddle carried out at the end of the Obama administration and only partly reversed by that president before he left office.

And we shall see if the decision to make sure Pakistan doesn't undermine efforts inside Afghanistan can be made to work. If that can work, the chances inside Afghanistan go up quite a bit, I'd say.

I'm just not ready to declare defeat and go home. If we do that, how many people think the jihadis won't follow us home as they did on September 11, 2001?

As an aside, it really is amazing that in 15 years Kabul has gone from a city of 500,000 to one of 5 million. Security there is a far more significant objective than it was 15 years ago, whether or not Taliban influence is expanding in the countryside.