Winning in Afghanistan: Summary Remarks
July 29, 2009
I would like to stress that I am presenting my views, not those of the other members of the Strategic Assessment Group, and definitely not those of Ambassador Eikenberry, General McChrystal, or any other US, NATO/ISAF, or other official or officer.
I was only one of a team of advisors – who were only a part of an effort involving a wide range of separate military staff planning efforts -- to work that still continues. These are efforts where Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal will present their own views when they are ready, and where the Secretary General of NATO and each ISAF country will make their own contributions and judgments.
My comments also address a far wider range of issues than military strategy. They deal with a broad range of civil as well as military issues, and address the legacy of years of underresourcing, political correctness, dysfunctional behavior, and neglect.
NATO/ISAF and the US face challenges in Afghanistan that go far beyond the normal limits of counterinsurgency and military strategy. They are the equivalent of armed nation building at a time when Afghanistan must both meet major challenges from its own insurgents and international movements like Al Qa’ida, and restructure its government and economy after 30 years of nearly continuous conflict.
It is also a war that must be won after years in which member countries, particularly the Untied States, failed to react to the seriousness of the emerging insurgency. They failed to provide the proper level of resources and coordination, placed serious national caveats and limits on the use of their forces and resources, and let the enemy take the initiative for more than half a decade.
Seven years into the war, one of the most common impressions in Afghanistan is that the conflict is still being treated as if it was the first year of the war. There are far too many concepts and far too few resourced, coherent operations. Moreover, these problems are far worse and far more critical at the civil levels of the US, UNAMA, and Coalition – and within the Afghan government – than within the military.
There are outstanding people in every civil organization and military component. Many take serious risks in the field. However, the practical reality is a disorganized mess. The impact of years of inadequate resources, stovepipes rather than unity of effort, a lack of realistic goals and measures of effectiveness, a focus on post conflict reconstruction in mid-war, and a failure to come to grips with the limits and corruption of the Afghan government have taken their toll.
What should be an integrated civil-military effort focused on winning the war in the field is instead a dysfunctional, wasteful mess focused in Kabul and crippled by bureaucratic divisions, Afghan power brokering, national caveats and tensions, and a critical lack of resources at every level.