Thursday, March 01, 2012

Blunt admissions and excuse-making for the Pentagon from Tony Cordesman

Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has done some of the best research on the Afghanistan War. But he also has a tendency to make excuses for the Pentagon, though he also tries to stick to the facts. Which means he has also been a critic of bad and misleading reporting on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars by the military.

The bottom-line, concluding paragraph in his Afghanistan: The Death of a Strategy 02/27/2012 is:

The most likely result at this point is not an Afghan "transition," but rather an Afghan "muddle through." What is not clear is what, exactly, this "muddle" will look like and whether its outcome will be one that the United States can accept. What is clear is that this means the past strategy is dead, and we desperately need either to decide on a workable "transition" strategy for the future and then actually fund and implement it or develop an honest exit strategy that will do minimal damage to the Afghan people and our national interest.
Our glorious generals are never likely to say that they've screwed the pooch in Afghanistan and that there's no point in pretending we have any better option than to pull out quickly and try to minimize any new messes we make in the process. And Cordesman likewise seems willing to believe that there is still some constructive outcome to be salvaged from the wreckage.

His article is a long one, and he does explain his perspective. And he's enough of a realist about the situation to make clear that there is plenty of blame to go around.

Still, when you look at the five bullet points he makes about the problems in the relationships between the US and the Afghan Security Forces, it's hard to see much room for optimism that our glorious generals are going to be able to redeem this situation no matter how much money or cheerleading they have:

Building up a force of military and police of over 300,000 men has been the most expensive aspect of the U.S. aid program. The force goals and funding levels set in early 2011 are now clearly unaffordable, but there is no real plan for the future. At the same time, the United States and ISAF are rushing toward transfer to an Afghan force that is not ready and doing so at a pace of training and partnering that U.S. experience in Vietnam and Iraq indicates is far too quick. The NATO Training Mission for Afghanistan (NTM-A) has ceased any meaningful public reporting on what is happening, and the data that the United States and ISAF do provide on Afghan readiness is tied to past spending levels and has little to do with effectiveness and future capability.
In other words: just like in Vietnam, the US built up an expensive force that can't be sustained without substantial outside help; plans aren't being met, and the Pentagon has apparently thrown up its hands about coming up with one beyond 2011; the Afghan forces aren't ready for the mission they are expected to do and have no reasonable prospect at this point of ever being ready; and, things are so screwed up the Pentagon is trying as hard as possible to keep the US public from finding out how bad.

The United States and ISAF are talking about creating Afghan forces than can stand on their own after U.S. and ISAF troops leave by embedding advisers. This requires the equivalent of highly trained Special Forces with linguistic and cultural skills that are in very short supply. Such advisers become vulnerable and need protection from Afghan forces, and a willingness to take casualties in the face of inevitable clashes driven by culture and religion and the fact the insurgents see advisers as a key target.
Translation: the training program ain't working. And after nearly 10 years of war in Afghanistan, US personnel who have to work closely with them on critical operations can't speak their languages (Pashto and Dari, mostly). Of course, that also means that disloyal Afghan troops could plot to kill Americans within earshot of American personnel and the Americans wouldn't know the difference.

Success requires massive funding indefinitely into the future. .... All of these cuts are taking place in spite of the fact that no one now has a stable funding plan for Afghan forces, and this critical aspect of transition planning is as unstable or missing as p[l]anning on the civil side.
Translation: no way in blazes the Afghan force the US has trained can do what they were trained to do. And by the way, the touchy-feely parts of the program about kindly US troops painting girls' schools and handing out candy to the delighted Afghan children also blows.

The previous Afghan military plan had elements like an air force that were not scheduled to operate on their own until 2016 at the earliest. There is no clear plan now for the Afghan military.
Translation: we trained them to rely indefinitely for US airpower. Just like in Vietnam.

The mix of Afghan regular police, local police, and security forces is totally unstable. Cutbacks in the Afghan regular police seem inevitable given their present cost, but it is unclear what will happen. Moreover, the present Afghan courts, jails, and legal system are far too small and insecure to support transition or to allow the police to function properly.
Translation: morale sucks and people don't stick around that long. Oh, and the Afghan force we stood up is too dang expensive for Afghanistan. Plus, the Americans see it as an American war anyway, so why would we trust the Afghan government to do important stuff, like hold prisoners or try suspects in court?

And those points were only one of the four areas in which Cordesman says there are big problems:

The reality, however, is that the strategy developed under General Stanley McCrystal has been dying for a long time and for many more reasons than the growing distrust between U.S. and ISAF personnel and the Afghans. It was already clear in 2009 that the odds of success were no better than 50 percent. ...

It was clear that there were four roughly equal threats to success, of which the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani, and Hekmatyar were only the first. The second was the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan government. The third was the role of Pakistan and its tolerance and support of insurgent sanctuaries. The fourth was the United States and its allies.
Translation: we couldn't beat the armed opposition; the Afghan government couldn't beat the armed opposition with massive US and other NATO help; Pakistan is far more worried about having Afghanistan as an ally of India (as Karzai's government is) than they are about NATO goals in the region; and nobody in the US or NATO countries want to keep this up, except the Pentagon and Christian Rightists who love war no matter what.

Just to call attention to it, has the Pentagon or the Obama Administration ever said to Congress or the American public, "It was already clear in 2009 that the odds of success were no better than 50 percent"?

While I'm on the subject, Gareth Porter had a couple of good pieces on the sad state of the Afghanistan mission in February at the IPS News even prior to the outbreak of new violence over the Qur'an burnings: Army Officer's Leaked Report Rips Afghan War Success Story 02/11/2012 and (with Shah Nouri) Karzai Demand on Night Raids Snags U.S.-Afghan Pact 02/20/2012.

The Army officer's report to which Gareth refers is from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, called Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leaders’ Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort 01/27/2012.

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