The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news
Summary: We apply to Afghanistan the false lessons about COIN learned in Iraq, doubling down our involvement in foreign lands — projects unrelated to America’s needs, spending funds we do not have.
We are expanding the “Afghanistan Army” — our army, bought and paid for. We are sending more troops. We are increasing our control over the war. Inevitably this makes it our war, not theirs — weakening the legitimacy of the Afghanistan government. This contradicts one of the primary goals of COIN set forth in FM 3-24, to build up the local government.
As we see in Iraq, this strategy can fail even when it works. That is, if the local government gains sufficient strength to become viable it can establish its legitimacy only by kicking us out — negating many or most of the benefits to the US from the war.
Also, we probably repeat the history of the Iraq War. As we increasingly shift from supporting to direct combat roles, our Coalition allies left Iraq. We should expect the same to happen with NATO in Afghanistan.
“Gates Pushing Plan for Afghan Army“, New York Times, 7 August 2008 — Excerpt:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will endorse a $20 billion plan to substantially increase the size of Afghanistan’s army and will also restructure the military command of American and NATO forces in response to the growing Taliban threat, senior Pentagon and military officials said Thursday.
… Under a plan initially proposed by the Afghan government and now endorsed by Mr. Gates, the Afghan National Army will nearly double in size over the next five years, to more than 120,000 active-duty troops.
Such a large increase would not be possible without American funds, which will pay for trainers and for equipment, food and housing for Afghan forces. But Pentagon officials said that Mr. Gates would seek contributions from allies to help underwrite the $20 billion cost over five years.
In a closely related decision, Mr. Gates plans to reshape a command structure that has divided the NATO and American missions in Afghanistan, a system now viewed as unwieldy in the face of increasing insurgent violence, senior Pentagon and military officials said. Under an order expected to be signed by Mr. Gates before the end of August, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the four-star Army officer who leads the 45,000-member NATO force, would be given command of most of the 19,000 American troops who have operated separately. (The NATO force already includes about 15,000 other Americans.)
The moves come nearly seven years into the war in Afghanistan, a conflict that has claimed more than 500 American lives. The last two months have been among the deadliest in Afghanistan for American forces, who are trying to contend with a sharp increase in attacks by Taliban militants, some of them staged with support from insurgents based in the remote tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan.
Pentagon officials say they hope the creation of a more unified command structure under General McKiernan will help to coordinate all forces in Afghanistan – most notably American units near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan, which have operated independently of the NATO-led force in charge in southern Afghanistan.
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For more information about the Afghanistan War
- Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
- Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008
- Another perspective on Afghanistan, a reply to George Friedman, 27 February 2008
- One telling similarity between the the Wehrmacht and the US Military, 10 March 2008
- How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan? (9 April 2008) — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
- Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War, 8 June 2008