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February 23, 2012

Afghanistan: The Gaps Grow

by Mike M

Three useful tidbits on the evolving strategy morass that is Afghanistan.

Two intelligence chiefs testified recently, and the message was not hopeful.  Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of DIA, started his statement this way:  “I would like to begin with current military operations in Afghanistan where we assess that endemic corruption and persistent qualitative deficiencies in the Army and police forces undermined efforts to extend effective governance and security.  The Afghan army remains reliant on ISAF for key combat support, such as logistics, intelligence and transport.  While Afghan Army performance improved in some operations when partnered with ISAF units, additional gains will require sustained mentoring and support.  Despite successful coalition targeting, the Taliban remains resilient and able to replace leadership losses while also competing to provide governance at the local level.  From its Pakistani safe havens, the Taliban leadership remains confident of eventual victory.”

So there’s that.  Meantime the US is reportedly circulating proposals, based on assumptions of declining resources, to cut the size of the ANSF from 352,000 to 230,000 after 2014.  Afghan defense minister Wardak pronounced such proposals a looming “disaster” and “catastrophe.”

Third is a persuasive analysis, up at Small Wars Journal, arguing that the much-touted night raids are not having the claimed effects on the Taliban.  The author, Jonathan Smith, makes a range of points, arguably the most persuasive of which is the chart showing total insurgent attacks, which are again up in 2011.  If we’re really having any sort of strategic effect on the insurgency, why don’t we see it in any measurable outcomes?

The accumulating risk in all of this, the combination of accelerating toward an exit along with growing anti-Americanism and lack of clear momentum etc., is that we are lurching toward a tipping point at which the credibility of the current approach collapses in a heap.  We’ve been yanking the core assumptions out of the strategy one at a time, and for a while nobody will notice—but at some point, gravity will do its work.  Meantime all the good doobies continue to publish their hortatory pieces about Staying the Course and Full Partnership after 2014 and all that nice business, which in theory is fine but looks less and less meaningful in practice.

Yet another example of the distance between Rhetoric and Ambition on the one hand, and Will and Resources on the other.  For the moment, we’re managing to paper it over.  When and if the whole thing gets exposed, though:  What’s our plan?

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