The recently-resigned U.S. top commander in Afghanistan told ISAF allies the local insurgency was enhanced since the Obama-led surge. Karzai’s best option is negotiating with leaders of opposing militant factions.
General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ominously briefed the defense ministers of NATO allies just days before he resigned, Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady reported today at The Independent (UKI).
Documents obtained by the UKI show the COMISAF told coalition allies that the Afghan insurgency is expanding as the Kabul government grows more illegitimate and its security forces are not expanding the reach of Kabul to obtain a monopoly of force:
Sacked U.S. General Stanley McChrystal issued a devastatingly critical assessment of the war against a “resilient and growing insurgency” just days before being forced out.
Using confidential military documents, copies of which have been seen by the IoS, the “runaway general” briefed defence ministers from NATO and [ISAF] earlier this month, and warned them not to expect any progress in the next six months. During his presentation, he raised serious concerns over levels of security, violence, and corruption within the Afghan administration.
Details of General McChrystal’s grim assessment of his own strategy’s current effectiveness emerged as the world’s most powerful leaders set the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, a five-year deadline to improve security and governance in his country.
He pinpointed an “ineffective or discredited” Afghan government and a failure by Pakistan “to curb insurgent support” as “critical risks” to success. “Waning” political support and a “divergence of coalition expectations and campaign timelines” are among the key challenges faced, according to the general.
Australian Lieutenant-Colonel David Kilcullen, a former advisor to new COMISAF Gen. David Petraeus and contributor to dominant counterinsurgency (COIN) theory, identified “four basic problems” between the status quo and what would be deemed as ‘success’ in Afghanistan:
- Political: Karzai and the Kabul government
- Strategic: The Obama Administration’s deadline
- Operational: Pakistan government elements supporting the Afghan Taliban; and
- Tactical: Lack of resources
In a Sunday interview with Fareed Zakaria at CNN, he identifies that all but #3 is “self-inflicted”.
The UKI report adds sources credit this briefing to the COMISAF’s forced resignation, as much as the controversial Rolling Stone article released online this week. That Pres. Obama wants to get the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, but mask it as a success for the 2012 election:
It was this briefing, according to informed sources, as much as the Rolling Stone article, which convinced Mr Obama to move against the former head of U.S. Special Forces, as costs soar to $7bn a month and the body count rises to record levels, because it undermined the White House political team’s aim of pulling some troops out of Afghanistan in time for the U.S. elections in 2012. In addition to being the result of some too-candid comments in a magazine article, the President’s decision to dispense with his commander was seen by the general’s supporters as a politically motivated culmination of their disagreements.
The reality, according to a senior military source, is that General McChrystal’s candour about the reality of the situation was an obstacle to Mr Obama’s search for an “early, face-saving exit” to help his chances in the 2012 presidential elections. “Stan argued for time, and would not compromise. Rolling Stone provided an excuse for Obama to fire the opposition to his plan without having to win an intellectual argument,” he said.
General McChrystal knew “his time was up” and had been told by White House aides his “time-frame was all wrong”, with the general thinking in years while the President was thinking more in months, he added.
The briefing displays that Pres. Obama’s deadline is not consistent with the conditions on the ground. It highlights that there is no way to prolong the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan without burning large portions of political capital at home or using misinformation to manufacture consent:
General McChrystal’s presentation to NATO defence ministers and ISAF representatives provided an uncompromising obstacle to Mr. Obama’s plan to bring troops home in time to give him a shot at a second term, according to senior military sources. The general was judged to be “off message” in his warning to ministers not to expect quick results and that they were facing a “resilient and growing insurgency”.
All of these problems faced by ISAF cannot be be solved by this deadline, no one disagrees when they’re being honest. “What makes them a crisis is the deadline,” Lt.-Col. Kilcullen added.
“We’ve got to fix all these problems by next summer, or we’re not going to meet the objectives. And that’s something that we can do something about,” he added. That “something” is, of course, removing the deadline, but prolonged war isn’t the same as the perpetual war fantasized by most COINdinistas. He emphasizes the dynamic of foreign occupation as a self-defeating tactic without aggressive reconciliation with insurgency leadership:
Well, I think—you know, I just wrote another book called Counterinsurgency, which, unlike my first book, takes a very large and perspective look at the 385 or so insurgencies since the end of the Napoleonic wars.
And one of the interesting things about that large body of data is in about 80 percent of cases, the government wins and the insurgents lose. But if you look at those, you normally find there are two things in common: you’re fighting in your own country and you’re willing to negotiate politically.
And if you’re not fighting in your own country and you are willing to negotiate, you still have a reasonably good chance at success. But if you’re not willing to negotiate and you are in somebody else’s country, you are screwed.
There’s an anecdotal comparison to the Iraq Surge, he makes, but credits the politicization of Iraqi resistance to the “strong force” of the U.S. military presence. This is wrong.
It wasn’t “just good luck” that he strawmans a portion of COIN critics with labeling the Sunni awakening, he’s right. But it wasn’t U.S. military might. It was one part bribery, another part U.S. allegiance with certain factions to eliminate opposing factions instead of brokering reconciliation and installing leaders of the excessively hierarchical resistance factions in positions of political power.
This does not solve the fundamental problem with the “objectives” in Afghanistan, which revolve around bolstering a government deemed as legitimate.
The U.S. strongly opposes Pres. Karzai conducting dialogue with elements of the resistance labeled as ‘Taliban forces’, so he’s forced to take such productive steps underground, Al Jazeera reported today. It is meeting with Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of one of the two strongest resistance factions in Afghanistan, that is vital to breaking such networks from being puppeteered by Pakistani intelligence to prolong conflict. At the same time, it is genuine cooperation that also combat’s Pak’s largest worry: Afghanistan becoming an Indian proxy.”Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network… into a power-sharing arrangement,” Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Carlotta Gall reported Thursday at The New York Times (NYT).
Both the Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura—the Afghan Taliban which ruled the territory until being ousted by the 2001 invasion by the Bush Administration”—are ready to break ties with al-Qa’ida, according to Pak intelligence and military sources.
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the Pak Army, brokered Kabul communication with Quetta Shura leader Mullah Mohammed Omar—who is reportedly in the custody of the Pak government—that involved a 15-point peace deal offered in March, the NYT added, and that the Haqqanis “could tell Al Qaeda to move elsewhere because it had been given nine years of protection since 9/11”.
“Afghanistan is a nation, not a state in the conventional sense,” former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote at The Washington Post. “The writ of the Afghan government is likely to run in Kabul and its environs, not uniformly in the rest of the country. The attainable outcome is likely to be a confederation of semi-autonomous, regions configured largely on the basis of ethnicity, dealing with each other by tacit or explicit understandings. American counterinsurgency strategy—no matter how creatively applied—cannot alter this reality.”
He adds that deadlines “should be abandoned” because “our interests coincide substantially with those of many of the regional powers”, but his logic conflicts with the fact because it’s in the governments of China, Russia, India and Pakistan for Afghanistan to be stabilized, destabilization to any significant level relating the interests of other governments and people are primarily in the hands of those four governments. What the hawkish wing of the political science establishment also hates about the naked truth is that:
- America is not exceptional and Washington’s deficiencies—financial, political and moral—make it less able that these other nation-states;
- That a strong relations between Kabul and Tehran are inevitable.