Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Staying For Show Or Staying To Win?

What will our military presence in Afghanistan be after 2014?

Right now, the military would like a slower draw down of our 68,000 troops to help knock down the Taliban some more before the Afghan security forces have to take the lead.

But the post-2014 role is likely to be crucial, especially since Pakistan doesn't have any interest in policing their side of the border to defeat jihadis. That's always been the problem with our war in Afghanistan. Winning in Afghanistan doesn't even win the war with a safe haven in Pakistan for our enemies.

Thus we need to stay. And just putting in a special forces group and calling it a day won't cut it. If we wish to mentor Afghan forces in the field to make sure they are fighting effectively and gathering intelligence to direct counter-terrorism missions, we need advisors with the Afghan security forces. We need helicopters for the special forces and other missions. We need air bases to locate aircraft, helicopters, drones, and special forces. We need infantry to protect the air bases. We need logistics troops to supply the bases and secure supply lines to the bases. And medical personnel, of course. We need headquarters elements to command it all.

This adds up to about 30,000 troops to support special forces, a combat brigade, and an aviation brigade.

Yet that number is going to be hard for the Obama administration to swallow. We can beat these guys, and talk of how we've failed has always seemed like just an excuse to run. The Kagans agrees

We have argued that the current defeatism about Afghanistan is overdrawn and unfounded. But it is more important for Americans to internalize a simple fact: We must either stabilize Afghanistan at this minimum level or abandon the fight against al-Qaeda and its allies in South Asia. Any alternative “light footprint” strategy is a dangerous mirage.

We could get away with thinking about fewer troops for Iraq since so many support functions could be done from Kuwait, thus not counted in the troops allowed to be stationed in Iraq. But Afghanistan is pretty much at the corner of No and Where. The logistics hurdle just to live there is high, let alone allowing us to fight and win there.

And we never did come to an agreement with Iraq on that vital question, you'll recall.

So will the Obama administration base troop numbers for Afghanistan after 2014 on trying to win the war or on the argument that we are turning away from wars and ain't gonna study it no more?

UPDATE: The intention so far is to keep 10,000 in Afghanistan:

The U.S. plans to maintain 10,000 trainers and combat troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Currently there are 66,000 American military personnel in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in early 2011. After 2014, most of the security will come from over 330,000 Afghan police and soldiers. American forces will be there to take care of emergencies and provide some muscle to control the corruption. ... [The] major threat in Afghanistan will remain the drug gangs and corruption in the government (and most everywhere else as well). The Taliban and other Islamic terror groups will still grab the most headlines, but these fanatics are a sideshow.

As I've said, we can win this fight. But the fight eventually becomes one of fighting for rule of law to keep the bad guys down. That's why I wanted American troops to remain in Iraq after last year.

Sadly, if the intention of the administration isn't even up to the level of staying for show but to avoid blame for not staying--as with Iraq--the administration will have the Iraq excuse to use:

The issue of legal immunity for deployed U.S. troops in Iraq was the ultimate deal breaker that ended talks last year about a continued U.S. troop presence there.

Now the same issue is cropping up in Afghanistan.

As U.S. officials begin negotiations with the Afghan government about what a post-2014 mission for U.S. troops might look like, a key question will be whether the Afghan government will grant broad legal protections for U.S. troops and agree not to arrest them for alleged crimes and try them in the fledgling Afghan judicial system.

Another key question is whether the U.S will maintain the same hard line as it did with Iraq — no immunity, no deal, no troops.

We could have had the deal in Iraq. But we insisted on parliament rather than the executive agreeing to the deal.

We can win. Do we want to bother trying?