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Finding a New Way Forward in Afghanistan

A Presentation for Selected Members of the House of Representatives

A presentation by Douglas Macgregor, PhD Colonel (ret) U.S. Army Lead Partner Potomac League LLC

Bottom line up front:

Understand what it is you are trying to accomplish with military power!

Whats the purpose, appropriate method and desired, attainable end state in Afghanistan? The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.
Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book 1, Chap. 1, Sect 27, page 100.

Karzai is very dirty by all accounts, but I am not sure you could replace him with someone who isnt. Plus, its not our place to choose an Afghan head of state (as we did this one). The more I think about it the more I think we need to talk seriously about leaving.
A former CIA officer with extensive experience in the Middle East and Afghanistan recently returned from Afghanistan.

What you should take away from this presentation!

The United States cannot fix Afghanistan. We cannot undo nearly 40 years of continuous bloodshed, destruction, and occupation or manipulation by outside powers.

Afghanistan is a country, not a nation. It has four distinct national groups in it -- three tied by ethnicity and/or religion to one of the country's neighbors and divided from the fourth by the Hindu Kush; the fourth being a collection of loosely confederated tribes.
The best we can do is withdraw our forces with the publicly stated understanding that how the Afghans govern themselves is their business. However, if the Afghans harbor anyone al Qaeda or anyone else who threatens the United States and its allies, we must state clearly we will annihilate those who threaten us without concern for the welfare of those Afghans who harbor them.

Damage control, not total victory, is the most realistic goal for U.S. national military strategy in Afghanistan.

What does the McChrystal Report Urge the President to do?

The centerpiece of General McChrystal's "new" counterinsurgency strategy of "clear, hold, build" is the accelerated training and expansion of the Afghan Army and Police Forces (ANSF) (along with a major increase in the size of our forces by as much as 45,000 troops) to support clear/hold/build. The strategic goal is to establish an expanding zone of security for the Afghan people that would enable a steady build up of aid and development efforts to improve the Afghan populaces well being with jobs, new infrastructure, new education systems, new agricultural techniques, etc., thereby winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. There is nothing new in General McChrystal's strategy, it is merely a rehash of the failed oil spot (tache d'huile) strategy, first tried by French colonialist General Louis-HubertGonsalve Lyautey in Algeria; then tried again under various guises by the US in Vietnam.

The problem is clear/hold/build cannot be executed on behalf of another government (particularly a weak and corrupt government) by a foreign army (unless the foreign army plans to permanently and ruthlessly occupy on the old European or Ottoman colonial models). Americans dont want that!
Buying off the Pashtun Tribes with hard cash as Petraeus did in Iraq wont work! Incentive structure does not exist.

Whats wrong with the McChrystal Report?

Soldiers and Marines cannot control, secure, stabilize, direct, democratize, or secularize Afghanistan or the rest of the Islamic World. The numbers work against us, time works against us, distance works against us, and above all culture and religion work against us. (McChrystal Report (authored by Fred Kagan) is totally unrealistic). In Afghanistan the U.S. is repeating mistakes we made in Vietnam in 1965 we misconstrued a region of temporary, tactical importance as being of enduring strategic value. Afghanistan is not strategically vital to U.S. interests. The LBJ government had unfounded, naive, and unrealistic expectations of Vietnams near-term potential to evolve into a modern social democratic constitutional republic if the US put the "right people" in charge and provided a pile of cash and some "military assistance." The Muslim world does not want the United States to be its savior; or to Westernize through military occupation regardless of the material benefits American-led Westernization offers. For Afghanistan to become a unitary state ruled from Kabul, and to develop into a modern, prosperous, poppy-free and democratic country would be a worthy and desirable outcome. But it is not vital for American interests (Graham Allison and John Deutsch, The Real Afghan Issue Is Pakistan, Opinion, 30 March 2009)

If the large-scale commitment of general purpose ground forces is not the answer for Afghanistan, what is the answer?
Next Steps:
Economy of Force (damage control) is the principle that must shape future U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan and most of the Islamic World. Limit American involvement in Afghanistan when necessary to modest, low-profile SOF and covert operations backed by air and naval power to eliminate al-Qaeda elements/camps and local elements that support them. Meanwhile, work with those in the region who will work with us in the fight to destroy, suppress and neutralize Islamist terrorism. But scale back expectations regarding change in the Islamic World in general and Afghanistan in particular.

Remember, a culture that supports the "Rule of Law," respect for private property, pluralism/tolerance, due process, a standard of integrity and competence for public officials, as well as the separation between the government and private/communal sectors in society does not emerge spontaneously nor does it emerge through foreign military occupation. Remember, no matter what happens in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, al-Qaeda will survive and remain a threat, but not an existential threat. There are many options for them from Morocco to London, England!

Final Thoughts for Consideration

The objective in conflict or crisis is not to spend lots of American blood and treasure, but to spend as little as possible!
The goal is to make the AQ irregular bleed for his tribe/ religion/country while we expend as little blood and treasure as possible to secure vital US interests. (Key point is vital!)

Dont confuse liquidating al-Qaeda with liquidating the Taliban. Defeating the Taliban/Pashtun is on par with "eliminating global poverty. Its a bridge too far and it is unnecessary.
The Taliban are the organic socio-religious glue that unites the tribes against non-Pashtun invaders -- whether British, Russian, or American. They fight us because we are there. The Pakistani military and security services will use and manipulate the Pashtun (43 million people), but they are not going to give them WMD. When conflicts or crises involve U.S. forces, the use of American military power should be limited or terminated before the cumulative human and political costs defeat the original purpose of U.S. military action; destroying/disrupting AQ, not creating a modern nationstate in Afghanistan where none exists. (Selected SOF/CIA with air power makes sense.) In 1959, President of France, Charles de Gaulle confronted similar circumstances when he decided to leave Algeria. French generals insisted a withdrawal would deliver Algeria into the hands of Soviet-backed communists. It did not and de Gaulle replaced the generals.