The Levin "Plan"
September 14, 2009
The United States and its allies face critical challenges in Afghanistan. Most of these are self-inflicted by eight years of failing to properly resource the war. The U.S. failed to come to grips with the realities of Afghanistan and the reasons why the Taliban have re-emerged as a force that is winning a rising insurgency, and failed to make the commitment necessary to win.
The appointment of Karl Eikenberry as Ambassador, and General Stanley A. McChrystal as commander offers the US a last chance to take the initiative before the insurgency rises to levels that cannot be halted, the weakness and corruption of the Afghan government loses so much popular support that the war cannot be won, and the internal divisions and weaknesses of the NATO/ISAF and international aid effort become unfixable.
There is very little time for such action. The war is now being lost and is becoming steadily more unpopular in the US and among our allies. A failed election means that either a corrupt and incapable Karzai government must be pressured and bypassed or an inexperienced Abdullah Abdullah will somehow have to invent Afghan governance from the ground up. The national caveats and restrictions in NATO/ISAF need to be sharply reduced or NATO/ISAF cannot be effective. The civil aid effort needs to be made far more effective and less corrupt, and focused on winning the counterinsurgency rather than the illusion of longer-term development and post-conflict reconstruction in mid-war.
The odds of success are at best even, and delays in US action and the present election crisis are making them worse. The war will probably be lost over the coming year unless the US country team – Eikenberry and McChrystal – are given the authority and resources they need to decisively take the initiative.
This means implementing an integrated civil-military strategy that deals with all of the basic problems and mistakes that have empowered the Taliban, Al Qa’ida, Hekmatyar, and Haqqani over the last eight years. It also means a major and immediate increase in US civil and military spending on the war. More US troops and civilians, and a US effort that takes the lead in creating an integrated civil-military approach to the new strategy of “shape, clear, hold, and build.”
What Senator Karl Levin proposed in his speech on September 11, 2009 is a narrow approach to the war that can only lose it. It is not a strategy, but rather an effort to avoid a commitment of more US troops and resources by rushing the development of Afghan forces as a substitute than can somehow solve all of the complex problems that are making us lose the war. As such it is a recipe for defeat on three critical grounds:
- First, it focuses solely on the military dimension rather than the civil and military aspects of the war, and does not address any of the crippling problems in Afghan leadership and governance, the lack of coordination in NATO/ISAF efforts, the failures in the economic aid effort and UNAMA leadership, and the lack of an integrated civil military effort. It is a one-dimensional solution to avoid sending more troops that cannot possibly reverse the present course of the war.
- Second, it focuses on the very real need to increase Afghan security forces but it does not address any of the critical problems in doing so. It does not even mention the problems in developing the Afghan National Police; it assumes that the Army can be massively increased without regard to major increases in US and NATO/ISAF advisors, mentors, and partners – an issue it also does not address. It misstates the unpopularity of the Taliban without noting the steady alienation Afghans feel towards their government and NATO/ISAF.
- Third, it speaks for voices in the Obama Administration who see domestic politics – the challenges of domestic economic recovery and the growing unpopularity of the health care debate – as reasons why the US cannot provide major increases in troops and money at this time. Coupled to military concerns over putting more pressure on US deployments, and a State Department reluctance to come to grips with a failure to staff and fund an effective civil effort – the net result may be that neither Ambassador Eikenberry or General McChrystal are ever given a proper hearing and chance to present a strategy, plan, and request for resources that might actually win. The end result may be to waste the last real chance for victory by default. The Administration may never give Ambassador Eikenberry or General McChrystal the opportunity to frankly request what they need, as distinguished from a set of partial and compromised requests.
For the full report please go to https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/090914_Afghan.The%20Levin%20Plan.pdf