“We are now losing in Afghanistan. It is not a slow win. It is not a stalemate,” proclaimed Frederick Kagan at the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) November 4th lecture on the “Afghanistan Strategy: The Way Forward.”
Top Commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, requested in an August 31st report to President Barack Obama that 40,000 additional troops be sent to Afghanistan. A September 21st Washington Post article quotes Gen. McChrystal saying that “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months)-while Afghan security capacity matures-risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”
AEI panelist Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations came out “strongly in favor” of Gen. McChrystal’s August 31st suggestion that military objectives and strategies need to be reviewed.
There are only two sets of interest that warrant this war, Biddle argued. First, he argued that it is vital that Afghanistan not become a haven for al Qaeda. Yet, he warned that a multitude of places could quite easily be a haven for al-Qaeda Somali, Djibouti, Yemen-but certainly the U.S. cannot send sufficient brigades everywhere. Thus, while this is an important objective, it alone does not justify the war in Afghanistan.
The second interest that warrants war is far more important, he argued: Afghanistan must not be a base for destabilizing neighbors, especially Pakistan. Pakistan is already an “unstable, ill-governed, divided country,” he said, adding that it is already a nuclear weapon state. Thus, the stability of Pakistan is a “vital, national security issue of the United States.”
Consequently, Biddle suggested that the military forces in Afghanistan “invoke the Hippocratic oath” to at least do no harm. Their goal, he said, should be mainly to ensure that Afghanistan does not become “a source and a haven for instability on the other side of the Duran line.”
While Biddle called McChrystal’s proposal “extremely expensive [and] highly demanding,” he himself admitted that he does not know of a less expensive plan that would produce the same results. “This is a probabilistic undertaking all around,” he said, and General McChrystal has the highest probability of success.
Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at AEI, also supported Gen. McChrystal’s proposal as the best option out there. Previous commanders did not serve the U.S. well, he said, when they hung a “happy face over things that were actually real problems.” The “cost is likely to be acceptable” though “heavy and painful,” argued Kagan.
The Taliban, the enemy, is setting the groundwork to re-establish itself as the legitimate government, Kagan warned. The U.S. is losing control of the Kandahar province among many others. With the Taliban gaining controls, if the U.S. military keeps its forces levels constant, Kagan argued, control of Afghanistan will become more firmly entrenched in the Taliban’s hands; the growth of indigenous security forces will lag behind insurgency forces.
It is still unclear whether President Barack Obama will embrace Gen. McChrystal’s suggestions, but a November 12th Examiner article suggests this is unlikely: President Obama “has reportedly decided to reject current options presented by advisers during war strategy discussions according to White House sources.”