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.
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:
- Is the war in Afghanistan in the interests of the United States and its allies?
- If so, at what point do the resources we are expending become too high a cost to bear?
- What are the strategic limitations of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and operations?
- 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:
- “Counterterrorism and Military Occupation“, Dr. Bernard I. Finel, Small Wars Journal, 20 April 2009
- (update) “To be or not to be? On expeditionary campaign in Afghanistan that is“, David Betz, Kings of War, 10 August 2009.
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:
- “Pakistan and the U.S. Still at Odds over Taliban Threat“, TIME, 4 May 2009
- “Frontier wisdom“, Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, 24 April 2009 — An interview with Owais Ahmad Ghani, Governor of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.
- “Pakistan Crisis and Social Statistics“, Juan Cole, at Informed Comment, 26 April 2009
- “Pakistan’s Army and National Stability“, Brian Cloughley, Pakistan Security Research Unit of the University of Bradford, 22 April 2009 — Cloughley is the author of War, Coups and Terror (2009), about Pakistan’s Army.
- “Let Us Have Some Perspective, Please“, Joshua Foust, Registan, 23 April 2009 — A brief history of insurgencies in Pakistan.
- “Obama’s Policies Making Situation Worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan“, Graham E. Fuller, Huffington Post, 11 May 2009 — Fuller is the former CIA station chief in Kabul and author of The Future of Political Islam.
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:
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
- Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
- The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
- “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
- “Strategic Calculus and the Afghan War” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 17 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
- We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009