AFGHANISTAN: The Surge-istan Dilemma Continues

June 17, 2010 at 1:09 am Leave a comment

Relying on the Unreliable

A question at a Washington think tank’s conference last week on American Security in the 21st Century underscores the continuing dilemma confronting the U.S. in Afghanistan.

A member of the audience at the Center for a New American Security gathering asked about the “double bind” the U.S. faces and what the White House should do since: “If we stay, we radicalize the population. If we leave, we radicalize the population.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at Fort Campbell, Kentucky (U.S. Army Photo by Sam Shore)

In a nutshell, that’s the dilemma. Support for the U.S.-NATO mission is waning among Afghan civilians who have suffered threats or reprisals from the Taliban for cooperating with the outsiders. They are also unhappy with the central government in Kabul which allows corruption but fails to deliver necessary services in the countryside.

Conversely, analysts fear if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan prematurely it will embolden terrorists to attack U.S. interests the way  the retreat from Somalia did two decades ago. It will also strengthen the hand of Afghan warlords and drug lords — and lead the Kabul government to strike deals with them as well as the Taliban and al Qaeda.

A surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops is expected to be completed by August, raising U.S. troop strength to 100,000. But NATO nations have fallen short by more than 300 on promised trainers for the Afghan National Police. Meanwhile, President Obama has set a July 2011 deadline for the start of troop withdrawals in Afghanistan.

For the past several weeks, the news out of Afghanistan has not been good. Attacks on U.S. and NATO forces are up – and consequently casualties among the troops are also rising.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the combined U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has been forced to delay until Fall the much anticipated operation in Kandahar Province, a Taliban stronghold, because it appears the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not ready to fill in behind the Western troops once they have taken and cleared Taliban-held territory.

On top of that comes news from NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan that Afghan National Security Forces – army and police – have shown improvements in recruiting and training but they face numerous daunting hudles on their way to becoming an effective force. In previous postings 4GWAR has reported that:

– Corruption remains a chronic problem throughout the Karzai government but nowhere is it as bad as in the Afghan National Police . “If we don’t beat corruption and if we don’t fix corruption in the Afghan National Police, it might be impossible to win the counterinsurgency,”Canadian Army Maj. Gen. Michael Ward, NTM-A’s deputy commander for police training, told a bloggers’ roundtable.

–It takes an estimated $6 billion a year to feed, train, equip, transport and pay the army and police but Afghanistan – much of its infrastructure wrecked after three decades of war – has a GDP of only $23 billion a year. However, the economy is just starting to see the development of companies that can make army boots and other relatively simple goods.

–The Afghan government is hoarding 6,300 metric tons of aged, obsolete and dangerous ammunition while new ammo supplied by NATO has to sit in substandard bunkers where it will deteriorate more quickly.

The news from Afghanistan isn’t all bad, however.

Gen. Gary Patton, deputy commander of both NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and the Army Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan says recruitment and retention are up in the Afghan National Police and attrition is down. Training is improving, too. In November, 2009 only 35 percent of Afghan basic Army trainees were qualified on their weapons. That number now stands at 65 percent. Officer and non-commissioned officer schools are turning out new leaders.

The Fly in the Buttermilk

For weeks these cascading developments in Afghanistan have reminded me of a scene in at the beginning of John Wayne’s flawed film masterpiece, The Alamo. A desperate Gen. Sam Houston explains the strategic value of the mission-turned-fort to his officers.

An Afghan soldier scans the mountains for threats at Forward Operating Base Baylough, Zabul province. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Eric Cabral)

“I’ve been given command of the armies of Texas. But the fly in the buttermilk is, there ain’t no armies in Texas! … I’m going to have to knock some of these men into an army, and to do that I’m going to need time.”

While there is an army — and a national polic force in Afghanistan — U.S. and NATO forces are going to need time, too, to get them to a place where they can secure their homeland. At the same time, theNATO coalition will have to deal with political pressure at home and an ambivalent government in Kabul that is losing credibility with the Afghan people because of corruption and ineffectiveness.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress Wednesday (June 16)  that there is still time to repair Afghan security forces and things aren’t as bad as they seem.

It’s worth noting that Sam Houston was, in fact, able to knock together an army that won independence from Mexico for Texas. It’s also noteworthy to remember that Houston was leading the insurgency.

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Special Operations, Washington. Tags: , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (June 11, 2010) ENGINEERS AND SCHOLARS

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