What To Do In Afghanistan
There’s an extremely important interview with David Kilcullen in the New Yorker in which the anthropologist addresses some of the questions I’ve been asking here lately about Afghanistan. In the interview he observes that counter-insurgency efforts are failing in Afghanistan because the forces in Afghanistan are being out-fought by the the Taliban and the Kabul government is being out-governed by the Taliban:
(1) We have failed to secure the Afghan people. That is, we have failed to deliver them a well-founded feeling of security. Our failing lies as much in providing human security—economic and social wellbeing, law and order, trust in institutions and hope for the future—as in protection from the Taliban, narco-traffickers, and terrorists. In particular, we have spent too much effort chasing and attacking an elusive enemy who has nothing he needs to defend—and so can always run away to fight another day—and too little effort in securing the people where they sleep. (And doing this would not take nearly as many extra troops as some people think, but rather a different focus of operations).
(2) We have failed to deal with the Pakistani sanctuary that forms the political base and operational support system for the Taliban, and which creates a protective cocoon (abetted by the fecklessness or complicity of some elements in Pakistan) around senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
(3) The Afghan government has not delivered legitimate, good governance to Afghans at the local level—with the emphasis on good governance. In some areas, we have left a vacuum that the Taliban has filled, in other areas some of the Afghan government’s own representatives have been seen as inefficient, corrupt, or exploitative.
(4) Neither we nor the Afghans are organized, staffed, or resourced to do these three things (secure the people, deal with the safe haven, and govern legitimately and well at the local level)—partly because of poor coalition management, partly because of the strategic distraction and resource scarcity caused by Iraq, and partly because, to date, we have given only episodic attention to the war.
To solve the first problem, securing the Afghan people, he suggests that beyond an increase in the number of troops a change in how they’re employed is required:
The first thing we have to do is to “triage” the environment: figure out the smallest number of Afghan population centers that accounts for the greatest percentage of the population. Once we understand that lay-down (e.g., in the South, it’s two towns that account for eighty per cent of the population, but the east is more rural, so it’s a different calculation there), then we tailor a security plan for each major cluster of population, and for the key communications—roads, essentially—that link them together. Then we will have an idea of the extra troops we need, if any. But we can start right away with the troops we have.
To deal with Pakistan he suggests:
(a) encouraging and supporting Pakistan to step up and effectively govern its entire territory including the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], and to resolve the current Baluch and Pashtun insurgency, while
(b) assisting wherever possible in the long-term process of state-building and governance, but
(c) reserving the right to strike, as a last resort, at al Qaeda-linked terrorist targets that threaten the international community, if (and only if) they are operating in areas that lie outside effective Pakistani sovereignty.
while expressing doubt about the prospects for Pakistan ever becoming an effective nation-state which echo those of Col. Pat Lang’s I quoted yesterday.
He also casts cold water on the notion of an Iraq-like surge strategy for Afghanistan. Note, too, that Dr. Kilcullen does not address his own points (3) and (4), specifically, whether the Kabul government as constituted is capable of delivering good governance or whether, even if coalition management had been flawless, there had been no strategic scarcity, and attention to the war in Afghanistan had been continuous, it would have been sufficient to achieve the mission’s strategic objectives.
By all means read the whole thing. There’s lots more.
The interview closes with Dr. Kilcullen’s assertion that although the situation in Afghanistan is dire, it’s still winnable. I continue to be skeptical that any victory worthy of the name in our original objectives in Afghanistan, which I interpret as unseating the Taliban and al Qaeda from their control there, apprehending or eliminating al Qaeda in the area, and creating a secure nation-state in Afghanistan capable of preventing the Taliban and al Qaeda from re-establishing themeselves in Afghanistan if we leave, can be achieved in a timeframe and at a cost that the American people will find acceptable.