Archive for the ‘Taliban’ Category

Build, Buy, Leave

January 29, 2010

Following the conclusion of the London conference on Afghanistan yesterday, it became clear that the West’s exit strategy for the war-torn country can be summed up in three words: Build, Buy, Leave.

Build–The US and its NATO allies are trying to recruit and train more Afghans security personnel.  The Western coalition wants to increase the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA) from approximately 100,000 troops to 178,000 by October 2011 while adding 14,000 patrol officers to the Afghan National Police (ANP), which currently has 95,000 patrolmen.  Plans call for the security forces to eventually total 400,000, comprised of 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police.

Buy–Britain and Japan have agreed to donate $500 million to help the Afghan government persuade Taliban fighters and their commanders to lay down their arms and engage in peaceful politics.  Officials believe that militants can be bought off with promises of money, protection,  jobs and political appointments.

Leave–America and its European partners have said that they will begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year when security conditions are expected to improve.  Western leaders want to reduce casualties and costs at a time when the war is becoming increasingly unpopular at home.  They also fear that an extended foreign presence will alienate Afghans and make them turn against international forces.

The odds that the coalition’s exit strategy will work according to plan are low.  Nearly doubling the size of the Afghan army in less than two years may not be feasible because recruiting and training quality troops takes a lot of time, and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that 90 percent of Afghans are illiterate, which means that training manuals cannot be widely used.  Most Western soldiers are engaged in combat or combat support duties, so there might not be enough military trainers to do the job.  The current police force is considered by many to be corrupt and ineffective, so augmenting the ANP might not make much of a difference in terms of improving security on the local level.

Buying off the Taliban probably will not be as easy as some policymakers think.  Although some lower echelon militants have left the battlefield after being offered incentives by the government, the latter has not lived up to its end of the bargain; safety and employment for former fighters remain elusive.  In addition, many Taliban, especially senior leaders, are ideological fanatics and ardent nationalists who are determined to drive foreign elements out of their country and re-establish an Islamic state, and they seem to believe that their ultimate victory is inevitable if they continue their attacks.

Pullout Western troops out of Afghanistan next year would likely create a security vacuum given the strenth of the insurgency and the high probability that the Afghan security forces will not be much stronger by then.  In that case, the US and NATO will have to choose between maintaining their current operational footprint or letting the situation on the ground deteriorate.  If they go with the second option they will have to scale back their objectives, which now include defeating the Taliban, facilitating economic development, increasing the capacity of the government to deliver basic services to its citizens and protecting human rights.

The Cost of Expanding Afghan Security Forces

January 28, 2010

Today in London, 70 nations are taking part in a conference about the future of Afghanistan.  One of the main focus points is the plan to greatly increase the size of the country’s security forces.  The US and its European allies intend to fund the expansion and help train new recruits.  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that there will be 134,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army by October of this year, and 171,600 in October 2011; he also said the Afghan National Police force will have 109,000 officers and 134,000 personnel by the same respective dates. 

The Pentagon estimates that it will cost between $10 billion and $20 billion to bankroll the augmentation, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai estimated that it will take five to 10 years to complete the process and as many as 15 years before his government can finance its defense establishment.  According to these figures, the West will have to spend tens of billions of dollars to enlarge the army and police, and several billion dollars annually just to sustain the forces.  There is reason to doubt that Afghanistan will be able to pay for its national security apparatus on its own by the end of Mr. Karzai’s timetable because the country’s yearly tax revenue currently totals a mere $1.1 billion.  Considering the facts that the government will need to spend money on other programs and corruption is a major problem, it is highly unlikely that the state will be able to afford to maintain sufficiently large security organizations without a high level of financial assistance from the international community for decades to come, barring an economic miracle in one of the world’s poorest nations.

However, the American-led war effort is expected to cost more than $100 billion a year as long as the size of the foreign military presence remains the same, so requisite spending on indigenous forces would only be a fraction of current operational expenditures.  NATO members, including the US, have stated that they intend to begin withdrawing their combatants next year, but given the strength of the insurgency and the weakness of the Afghan National Army, it appears that a major drawdown in 2011 will be infeasible if Western leaders are determined to prevent the Taliban from taking over large swathes of Afghanistan.  The attendees at the London conference should recognize these facts before they devise plans for the future.

Walter Russell Mead Classifies Obama

January 27, 2010

In a cover article for Foreign Policy magazine, international affairs analyst Walter Russell Mead discusses President Obama’s strategic worldview and warns that the president may suffer the same fate as Jimmy Carter, whose presidency was brought down largely by foreign policy mishaps. 

Mr. Mead says that there are essentially four philosophical archetypes that US presidents can embody when it comes to determining America’s role in international affairs: Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Wilsonian and Jacksonian.

1. Hamiltonians are foreign policy realists who believe the a strong US government should actively pursue its strategic and economic interests at home and abroad.

2.  Jeffersonians want to limit America’s foreign policy commitments and focus on improving living conditions in the US.

3. Wilsonians are idealists who believe America should actively promote democratic values and human rights at home and abroad even if it means acting against its narrower strategic interests.

4. Jacksonians are conservative populists who distrust political/economic/social elites but tend to strongly support confrontation and the use of force when it comes to security policy.

Mr. Mead argues that the president is a schizophrenic Jeffersonian-Wilsonian.  However, an examination of his polices indicates that he is more of a Hamiltonian.  It is difficult to see how someone who bailed out the banks, enacted a huge economic stimulus package, tripled the US troop commitment in Afghanistan, ramped up the drone airstrike campaign in Pakistan, increased the military budget, downplayed China’s human rights violations and tried to diplomatically engage hostile authoritatian states like Iran and North Korea can be considered a Jeffersonian-Wilsonian.  I am not suggesting that all of the aforementioned policies are misguided (some of them are wise); I am merely disagreeing with Mr. Mead’s categorization.

Shifting Allegiances in Afghanistan

January 26, 2010

Yesterday, this blog noted that it would be difficult for Afghan officials and their Western allies to co-opt insurgents into supporting the government in Kabul.  A similar point can be made about other powerbrokers in Afghanistan, including warlords and tribal leaders who are not members of the Taliban.  Two weeks ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a darkly humorous article that highlights this problem (the article is titled “Afghan Warlord Not Sure Which Side He Feels Like Helping Today”).

Powerful figures in Afghanistan are notorious for switching allegiances whenever it serves their short term interests.  Warlords and other non-governmental players benefit from the weakness of the central government because it enables them to traffic in narcotics, form private armies, extort money from vulnerable people and generally exert power for egotistical reasons (an impulse that Nietzsche referred to as “the will to power”); consequently, it is highly unlikely that they will submit to the will of leaders in Kabul for a considerable length of time.  Thus, the future stability of Afghanistan is not only threatened by the Taliban, which is the main target of US and ISAF military efforts there, but also local and regional kingpins who exploit both sides of the conflict and pursue their own political and financial ends.  This fact does not bode well for the fate of nation-building efforts in the war-torn country.

Making Peace With the Taliban

January 25, 2010

Western officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai hope that a peace agreement can be reached with the Taliban as a way of ending the insurgency in his country.  The topic will almost certainly be discussed at an upcoming conference in London where world leaders will confer about the future of Afghanistan and the eventual withdrawal of foreign military forces from the war-ravaged nation.

Gen. David Patraeus, the head of Central Command, told reporters that “The concept of reconciliation, of talks between senior Afghan officials and senior Taliban or other insurgent leaders, perhaps involving some Pakistani officials as well, is another possibility” when it comes to counterinsurgency efforts.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, said “I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future and not the past” after he was asked if Taliban leaders should be allowed to serve in government posts.

But the prospects of a broad peace deal with the insurgents are slim for two main reasons.  One is that the insurgency is comprised of muliple factions with different aims and interests, including Mullah Omar’s Taliban, the Haqqani network and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG).  Mullah Omar and his comrades want to return to power in Kabul where they once governed before they were overthrown by the Northern Alliance with critical assistance from the US, whereas the Haqqani network is more like a criminal organization and HIG is a tool of warlord Gulbuddin Hekatyar.  All three factions have ties with Al Qaeda or have expressed support for the terrorist movement.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that various tribal leaders and other powerbrokers are connected with the insurgency out of loyalty, self-interest or fear, and it would be difficult for the central government to win their allegiance.

A second key reason that the outlook for a peace agreement is bleak is that the insurgents, many of whom are radical ideologues and hardcore nationalists, do not appear to be at all interested in laying down their arms.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said “We cannot say how soon we will achieve victory.  Our mission is sacred.  Victory and defeat are in the hands of God.  But Afghans will defeat this regime as they did that of the Russian-backed regime.”

Mr. Hekmatyar also claims that the US will suffer the same fate in Afghanistan as the Soviet Union, which withdrew in defeat after 10 years of fighting guerillas.

Even if some sort of tentative peace pact or ceasefire were reached, it would likely be fleeting and merely give the Taliban and other anti-government forces the opportunity to regroup and rearm before returning to battle.  Offers of reconciliation may ultimately succeed in luring some low level fighters away from the insurgency, but militant leaders and most of their followers will probably reject such overtures for ideological, political and financial reasons.  Therefore, Western policymakers and Afghan officials should not be too optimistic that extending olive branches will bring an end to the war anytime soon.