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Old 01-13-2013, 01:33 AM   #24
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Default Re: We're getting out of Afghanistan.

Tom Ricks's blog has a really interesting read on Afghanistan. A British officer who served three tours in Afghanistan just wrote a book with some new thinking on counterinsurgency, that we need to start thinking about using force to ensure political outcomes and not military outcomes, such as "won/lost." He says we need to move past such binary outcomes.

Emile Simpson's core observation on the Afghan war is that when war is simply violent politics, one shouldn't expect it to end, because politics doesn't end. As he writes in his book, "The outcomes of contemporary conflicts are often better understood as constant evolutions of how power is configured." (P. 2)

Once you see the conflict in Afghanistan as political at its core, then just talking about the enemy as a unitary force makes no sense. For example, when in 2005 Helmand's provincial governor was ousted from office and so could not pay his followers, he sent them to work for the Taliban, which was hiring. "Akhundzada and his men did not ‘change sides'; they remained on their own side." (P. 44)

Seeing military action through a political lens, as he advocates throughout the book, also puts coalition operations in a different light. Wresting control of Kandahar city from the Taliban might seem to make military sense if it is the enemy's center of gravity, he notes. But think of it instead as a political problem. "In political terms, to have identified Kandahar city as the decisive point was a bold move; however, for a political consultant in a US presidential election, it would be like the Democratic Party investing massive resources in trying to win Texas."

Simpson has a guest post where he says this about how we need to think about the Afghan war today.
Why is the conflict not likely to produce a binary outcome? {the Taliban will return or they won't return.}The ‘Taliban' is a franchise movement; most of its field commanders fight for their own self-interest, hence why many simultaneously have connections into the Afghan Government. The dynamics of the conflict are thus kaleidoscopic, with actors competing vis--vis one another, not polarised. The bulk of the coalition leaving will accelerate the kaleidoscopic dynamic, as we are the main object against which the Taliban ‘franchise' can define itself to maintain its cohesion (i.e. less cohesion means more self-interested dynamics). The Soviet experience of transition in 1988-90 supports this analysis.

The likelihood is the Afghan Government will maintain the cities and the roads only (they don't have the logistical capability or political will to hold more), but neither do the insurgents have the combat power, logistics, or command structure to mass, take over a whole city, and hold it. This will create (and is already creating) a ‘core' area held by the Afghan Government and a ‘peripheral' zone beyond. What will result is a patchwork of allegiances, with some villages, and even broad remote areas, controlled by power brokers linked to the insurgency, others to the Afghan Government, or more likely, linked to both. By maintaining a narrative that emphasises a binary outcome, we will be perceived as having failed, when in reality the Afghan Government controls the key areas, and over time, will make pragmatic arrangements with those who control the periphery to maintain relative stability in Afghanistan.

b. We should not invest any coalition credibility in holding the peripheral areas: Over the next three years, the Taliban flag may go up in some towns and villages. In our current narrative, that will be seen as a major victory for them. In reality, to control dusty villages on the periphery, and even remote district centres, means little. We need to adjust our narrative so people expect that, and when it happens, people believe us when, legitimately, we point out that this is insignificant. By so adjusting the narrative, we take pressure off the Afghans to hold the peripheral areas, which they do not want to, only being there because they perceive it as a condition for us giving them support. We also take the initiative away from insurgents by recognising that this is a war for political more than physical space: insurgents are attention seekers -- they want us to react to a provocative flag raising because by reacting we show the world that they matter -- should they raise a flag in a forlorn district centre and we appear neither to look nor care, they have a serious problem.

c. The narrative needs to allow for maintaining some (but significantly less than today) coalition combat power in Afghanistan beyond 2014: This is the insurance policy that ensures the Afghan Government does not lose the cities and roads. The model should be in extremis back up to the Afghan security forces (airpower based, with boots on the ground as a last resort). This is critical, as the perception (amongst the insurgency, the Afghan people, the Afghan Government itself, and international audiences) that the Afghan security forces will hold the core areas will create space for de facto political settlements on the ground..... the narrative now needs to emphasise Afghan sovereignty:

Last edited by KevinNYC : 01-13-2013 at 01:40 AM.
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