Archive for ANSF

Afghan Withdrawal by 2014

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, U.S. defense budget, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 21, 2010 by whatafteriraq

The NATO summit occurred this past week in Lisbon, and the major news that came out of it was that NATO ministers agreed to continue the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, the technical name of the mission there). According to the comminique at the end of the meeting, the focus of the agreement was to continue the commitment of declining numbers (unspecified) into 2014, when all combat tasks will have been turned over to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), leaving only a residue of NATO noncombatants (including American troops) behind. In other words, an Iraq-style drawdown and post-combat situation whre the U.S. is out but not out simultaneously.

This settlement, as it is chewed upon, regurgitated, and swallowed, is likely to please nobody, most of all the Afghans themselves (the Taliban has already called the decision “irrational”). People (myself included) who believe the active involvement of the United States should end much faster, are going to maintain that leaving NATO forces on the front lines will accomplish little substantively and simply represent greater human and material sacrifice for the troops and the Afghans themselves while not materially improving the prospects for the post-war peace. If one believes the war is unwinnable, as I do, three or more years of combat is a tragic waste. The NATO conferees anticipated this reaction (which will be more pronounced in other NATO countries than in the U.S.) and offered the bone that “if circumstances agree, it (withdrawal of combat troops) could be sooner.” How about tomorrow?

Critics on the other end of the spectrum will also be unhappy because of the simple fact of establishing any kind of deadline. Their consistent refrain about such deadlines (in Iraq, for instance) is that they simply encourage the opponent to wait out whatever the deadline is, wait for us to leave, then seize the moment. In their minds, setting a deadline is little more than a deferred form of surrender. 2014 is sufficiently far enough away so this objection will not be loudly raised at this point, but as the date grows nearer, it will. This criticism, of course, is only valid if one accepts the proposition that the war is in fact winnable in some sense, if one is perseverant enough to pursue it long enough. We are, after all, still hearing this argument about Vietnam, which has been over for 35 years.

The designation of 2014 also must be viewed through the lens of 2012–the next presidential year. It is a curious choice that, like so many the Obama administration has made recently, appeals neither to his core constituency or probably to the independent middle. Obama supporters on the left are pretty uniformly disappointed in Obama’s Afghan policy and want out now. The “shallow” withdrawals that NATO describes for 2011 are going to make them unhappier than they already are. It will not drive them into the arms of the Tea/GOP candidate, who is likely to adopt a “stay the course” position on Afghanistan, but it could make them less enthusiastic supporters of the campaign or even, at worst, cause them to sit out the election. The date is also unlikely to win any support from the right, which opposes any specification of withdrawal dates and would not vote for Obama if he promised to stay in Afghanistan for another 50 years.

That leaves the swing vote in the middle. They voted for Obama in 2008 and against him in 2010. Nobody seems to want to court them very badly. They are almost certainly going to be repelled by the Libertarian nut jobs the Tea Party has foisted upon the Congress, and they are generally less than enthusiastic about the deficits the administration is running up–part of which, of course, are powered by the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Which way they go in 2012 will determine who enters or stays in the Oval Office in 2013. The shape of the economy (and especially the unemployment rate) will likely determine who they vote for, but Afghanistan will play a part as well, on two grounds. First, budget cutting/balancing is going to be a major part of the 2012 campaign, and by then, the public may well have figured out that anything like a balanced budget is impossible without a major defense contribution. But where does that contribution come from? Since Americans also overwhelmingly say they favor a robust defense, they will not support major cuts in ongoing defense expenditures. If that is true, where can one look for cuts? Afghanistan virtually jumps off the page of candidates. Second, if the war continues to go poorly (as it likely will), the middle may decide overwhelmingly that they want it to end. Would Obama buck such sentiment?

The most hopeful interpretation of the 2014 deadline is that those who chose it did so because they know they are going to exceed it. The Afghans fairly clearly do not want us around for three more years, and most of the NATO allies join American public opinion in that assessment. A 2014 withdrawal date is dismal news–the worst case–and if we can exceed that expectation and bring the troops home sooner, wouldn’t that be grand? And wouldn’t we be grateful when we enter the voting place (assuming much of this happens before November 2012)? Does this all sound kind of cynical? Yes it does, but given the mess we are in right now, any shard of hope is to be grasped.


Extending Vietnamization to Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Vietnam, Iraq War with tags , , , , , , , on February 14, 2010 by whatafteriraq

 The war in Afghanistan took a familiar turn this week, as the U.S. Marines began an Aghan “surge” to wrest the city of Marja in the opium-infested province of Helmand from the Taliban. The term “surge” kept coming up to describe the purpose and intent of the operation, presumably because of the widely advertised “success” of similar operations in Iraq in 2007. The surge in Iraq, however, was only the first step in a process of Iraqification that is unfolding in that country and will be fully implemented by the end of 2011, if current timetables are honored. Is the Afghan surge the first step in a policy of Afghanization? It sure looks like it.

Consider the prototype: Vietnamization. In 1969, the new Nixon administration finally realized that it was not going to be able to achieve a World War II-style victory in Vietnam and that the American public (in no small part because of the impact of the Tet offensvie of 1968) would not tolerate an indefinite extension of a war with no decisive ending in sight. The solution was to turn the war over to America’s South Vietnamese allies: Vietnamization.

To implement the decision to quit the war without appearing simply to bug out with our tails between our legs and leaving our erstwhile allies to the wolves, the policy of Vietnamization entailed two essential elements. The first was to train and equip the South Vietnamese (to “stand them up,” in a truly awful military term) so that they had a chance of winning the war themselves. The other element was to stabilize the military situation as best possible to give the ARVNs (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) the best possible chance of success. This amounted to “preparing the battlefield” and included such things as the incursion into Cambodia and extensive attempts to interrupt the Ho Chih Minh Trail through Laos.

In the process of formulating and implementing Vietnamization, the American political objective changed as well. During active American combat operations (1965-1973), the goal had been to guarantee the territorial integrity of South Vietnam. Under Vietnamization, that goal was modified to providing a “reasonable chance” the South Vietnamese could succeed.

How do Iraq and Afghanistan measure up in these terms. Remarkably similarly. In Iraq, the United States has spent a great deal of time and energy training and equipping the Iraqi armed forces, and the purpose of the 2007 surge was clearly to weaken opponents of the regime, thereby preparing the battlefield for the Iraqis once the Americans leave. The same process is underway in Afghanistan, although it is not as far along. The United States is currently trying to “stand up” the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), including the army (ANA) and has put additional human training and monetary resources into the effort. Whether that will succeed is problematical, for reasons discussed in this space. At the same time, the current, first surge in Marja looks and sounds a lot like “preparing the battelfield” for the ANA by rooting the Taliban out of places they have historically dominated.

How did Vietnamization work out? It is a fair question if the intent of Iraqification and Afghanization is roughly the same as the intent in Vietnam. In Vietnam, obviously, the answer is unhappy and negative, since the “reasonable chance” proved not enough to prevent the fall of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975. While some apologists continue to argue that had the United States not effectively left our South Vietnamese allies out to dry that this would not have been the outcome, The objection misses the point that the primary purpose of the policy was to extricate the United States from a no-win situation, which it accomplished. Our allies surviving was a hoped-for outcome, but not the heart of the policy and implementing strategy.

Will the outcome extend to Iraq and Afghanistan? The answer is that we do not know, since the policies of Iraqification and Afghanization are not fully implemented and won’t be until the final American withdrawal. Certainly, the process is further along in Iraq, and we should have some idea not too long after the final U.S. withdrawal scheduled for 2011. In Afghanistan, the process is less far along, with the first U.S. troop draw down not scheduled to begin until mid-2011 and no date for total withdrawal yet established. The answer in Iraq is closer than it is in Afghanistan, but in both cases it is a matter of conjecture.

The Vietnamization prcedent does, however, suggest a couple of probable parts of the outcome. The first is that the United States will leave before there is a definitive politico-military outcome in either country. If one assumes U.S. presence artificially affects the environment in both countries and is part both of the solution and problem and a barrier to natural internal process reaching fruition, the outcome cannot be decided until we leave. When that occurs, however, there will be no surrender by either side, no white flags waving, and nobody holding up one finger (presumably the index) crying “we’re number one.” The second is that since American withdrawal will only begin the process of internal settling of the war in an atmosphere in which the United States no longer has much leverage, there will be recriminations over leaving. These will be especially hysterical if our side fails (as it may well in both cases), but charges of “bugging out”–which, of course, is the ultimate purpose of the policy–will be frequent and shrill.

The current surge is almost certainly the first step in the policy of Afghanization of the war there, beginning a painful process of disengagement. It is not, of course, being advertised that way, for fear that admitting it to be the case would submit the administration to withering rhetorical fire from the right. It is, however, likely the policy in Afghanistan (and Iraq) for the same reason it was the policy in Vietnam: it was the only real option available. The only way to have avoided Iraqifying or Afghanizing those wars would have been to heed what many at the time thought was the lesson of Vietnam: to avoid those kinds of wars in the first place. If you ignore that entreaty, count on the same thing happening again, and again, etc.