Exum: “Introducing the Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue”

A powerful challenge by Andrew Exum:  “Introducing the Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue“, posted at Abu Muqawama, 7 August 2009 — The reply I submitted appears after this excerpt.

Afghanistan war

Upon returning from Afghanistan, one of the things I have noticed is how quickly support for the war in Afghanistan has diminished in the United States (especially in progressive circles) and the frustrations of those who feel we are prosecuting a war into its ninth year without debating whether or not the war is in U.S. interests.

Traditionally, this blog – like its author – has focused on counterinsurgency operations and tactics without getting involved too much in either policy or strategy. Many critics of this blog – and, indeed, some of the readership – have contended that it is at best irresponsible and at worst immoral to be talking about operations and tactics independent of the larger strategic issues. Point taken.

Today, I am starting an experiment at Abu Muqawama that will hopefully provide an intelligent forum in which readers of this blog can debate the key question concerning the war in Afghanistan. I invite the readers, then, to submit their answers to the following questions:

  1. Is the war in Afghanistan in the interests of the United States and its allies?
  2.  If so, at what point do the resources we are expending become too high a cost to bear?
  3. What are the strategic limitations of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and operations?
  4. And if the war is not in the interests of the United States and its allies, what are U.S. and allied interests in Central Asia – and how do you propose to secure them?

The only 2 of the above questions that you must answer are the first and, depending on your answer to the first, the last. (I will publish no “COIN is stupid” or “I hated The Gamble” emails. If you don’t like the current direction in which we are heading, you must propose an alternative.) Each day for the next few weeks, I will publish a new and intelligent answer to those questions.

The answer I submitted

Question #1:  Is the war in Afghanistan in the interests of the United States and its allies?

Whatever technical geo-political reasons, we’re told it prevents another 9-11.

“The mission is to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other transnational extremists. That’s what it had become before the operations conducted in the wake of 9/11. Al Qaeda wants to carry out further attacks on the US and our allies, and we need to deny them safe havens in which they can plan and train for such attacks.”
— “The Battle Ahead – General Petraeus on US Strategy”, Ralph Peters, op-ed in the New York Post, 19 May 2009

“Failure in Afghanistan would mean not only a possible return of pre-9/11 safe havens, but also a sharp blow to the prestige of the United States and its allies.”
— “Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan“, David Kilcullen et al, Center for a New American Security, 10 June 2009

Both are absurd, in my opinion.  We should spend billions of dollars and nobody knows how many American lives to prevent “a sharp blow to the prestige of the US and its allies”?

What evidence shows the relevance of al Qaeda “safe havens” in Afghanistan to 9-11?  Their camps primarily trained fighters against the Northern Alliance. The training of the 9-11 terrorists took place in US flgiht schools.

Any minimal additional training needed could have been done anywhere — even in the wilds of the Western US.  They needed no substantial physical infrastructure.  For more on this:

Looking beyond a new 9-11 — if al Qaeda established new bases in Afghanistan, what would prevent us from destroying them?  We had the capability to do so before 9-11, and have a greater capability to do so today.

The initial invasion of Afghanistan was an effective reprisal.  Striking at al Qaeda’s major ally proved that aiding America’s enemies has a high costs.  But 9-11 cannot justify our current operations in Afghanistan.

Question #4:  What are U.S. and allied interests in Central Asia?

The USA has no strategic interests in Central Asia that justify waging war at this time.  Nothing that justifies the cost in money or blood.  Nothing requiring more than the conventional tools of diplomacy plus financial and military aid (including advisors, perhaps use of special operations forces).  As many experts in this area have said, the Taliban has inadequate resources to overthrow Pakistan (which would be a strategic threat) — and our military intervention might further destabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan (infidel foreigner invaders often do that).  For more about this see:

What area experts support the war (not geo-political or military experts, but people with deep knowledge of the area and its people)?

For more information about this topic

To see all posts about our new wars:

Some posts about the war in Afghanistan:

  1. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  2. Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
  3. Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
  4. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  5. “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
  6. “Strategic Calculus and the Afghan War” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 17 July 2009
  7. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
  8. We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
  9. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009

5 thoughts on “Exum: “Introducing the Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue””

  1. Nicholas Weaver

    I argue that we have a huge interest in #4 in ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons remain in control of a stable state and that Pakistan and India do not engage in a nuclear war.

    However, I believe the best way we can achive our real interests in central asia is stay out of the way, as pretty much everything we do active has the side effect of destabilizing the stable state of pakistan.
    Fabuis Maximus replies: Can you cite any actual expert in the area who shares your fears? The six links I provided cite quite a few of the many experts who believe the odds of the Tailiban getting Pakistan’s nukes are microscopic. Hence the analogy to the bomber and missle gaps, which were used to arouse American’s fears in a similar manner.

  2. FM: “…We had the capability to do so before 9-11, and have a greater capability to do so today.

    …Yet, 9/11 did happen and we can endlessly argue how well (and ineffective) cruise missiles are an extension of a previous administration’s act of foreign policy in the area. What then is your solution of effectively pulling out of Central Asia without further destabilizing the region? Tell me how you want it to end.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The missing element in your analysis is that since 9-11 did occur, no US administration is likely to allow al Qaeda camps to re-open in Afghanistan. Also, since the camps had little or nothing to do with 9-11, I do not see your point.

    “Tell me how you want it to end.”

    I want it to end so that I have a pony (see this). But what we wish to happen is not the relevant question. Since we have few vital interests in Central Asia, spending vast sums of money and blood to influence the outcome makes no sense. There are issues both domestic and international that will have far greater impact on American; these requirie our attention and resources.

  3. Nicholas Weaver

    I’m sure EVERY expert would share the fear that “IF Pakistan was destabilized, the nuclear weapons would be a substantial problem.”

    Its the observation, however, of which we are in vocal agreement, that there is scant evidence if any that active US intervention actually acts to further our interests.

  4. Question 1, should be focused to ask: What is the world’s long term strategic interest(s) in the region?

    Good short term tactical observations do not provide a strategic solution. Its not sufficient to have tactically valid observes like: the “safe haven” elimination objective is absurd, since this world-order insurgency does not need safe havens to be operational – current not quite safe facilities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Indonesia, Lebanon, etc. are more than adequate to continue the insurgency indefinitely.

    The world’s strategic interests, which includes Russia, China, Europe and the Middle East is the reduction of the insurgency threat each year in the world to their country. The threat formula is roughly: Threat = (Number of folks motivated to harm you) x (Resources they have to produce that harm).

    The world’s tactical response to the threat has been to bomb them back into the stone-age, since the tribes were already there, bouncing the stones did not work well for Russia with over 300,000 troops or the current effort with over 30,000 soldiers.

    The bombed areas of the region now have many more folks motivated to harm us. The resources to produce harm are growing with more oil money, which drips down into the gutters of discontent feeding the insurrection.

    Tactically only our first Afghanistan activity reduced the threat. About 200 of our ground forces communicating with opposing tribes and our air support gained ground control over the insurrection forces in a few weeks. We learned nothing – doing less can be best.

  5. FM-

    You asked for an area expert (not a general geopolitics or military affairs guru) who supports the notion that terrorist groups have a high chance of obtaining Pakistani nukes. Quite accidentally,I came across work by such a person today.

    First, the concluding statement of an essay he wrote for USMA’s CTC Sentinel:

    “The Terrorist Threat to Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons.”
    July 2009. Shaun Gregory. CTC Sentinel.

    The risk of the transfer of nuclear weapons, weapons components or nuclear expertise to terrorists in Pakistan is genuine. Moreover, knowledge that such a transfer has occurred may not become evident until the aftermath of a nuclear 9/11 in Pakistan or elsewhere in the world. It remains imperative that Pakistan is pressured and supported, above all by the United States, to continue to improve the safety and security of its nuclear weapons and to ensure the fidelity of those civilian and military personnel with access to, or knowledge of, nuclear weapons. The challenge to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from Pakistani Taliban groups and from al-Qa`ida constitutes a real and present danger

    Here are a few excerpts from Professor Gregory’s biography, provided by the <a href="http://www.brad.ac.uk/acad/peace/staff/academic/gregory_s/"Staff Profile page of Bradford University:

    Professor Shaun Gregory is Director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit [PSRU] which was established in the Department of Peace Studies in March 2007. He was formerly the Head of the Department of Peace Studies from 2002-2007 and in 2006 he was Visiting Professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques at Sciences-Po in Paris. Shaun has also held Visiting Fellowships at the Australian National University [1991], at the Institut de Relations International et Strategiques in Paris [1997], at the International Strategic Studies Institute in Islamabad [2000] and at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi [2001]. He was also Visiting Associate at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales in Paris [1998].

    Shaun’s research has focussed on South Asia since 1999 with a particular emphasis first on nuclear issues and later on international terrorism, internal security, and defence issues. In the last few years Shaun has centred his research on Pakistan and he set up the PSRU in March 2007 to focus specifically on the nexus between nuclear weapons, extremism and terrorism, and the stability and cohesion of the state in Pakistan.

    Professor Gregory has published numerous reports on security issues of South Asia since 2005. The full list of such can be seen on the previously mentioned staff profile.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That certainly qualifies. Thank you for posting this, which I will read with interest!

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