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February 04, 2010

The Afghan Credibility Gap - UPDATED
Posted by Michael Cohen

Here's what Stanley McChrystal had to say in September about the war in Afghanistan

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. 
And here's how he said this would be accomplished:
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (lSAF) requires a new strategy that is credible to, and sustainable by, the Afghans. This new strategy must also be properly resourced and executed through an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign that earns the support of the Afghan people and provides them with a secure environment. 

To execute the strategy, we must grow and improve the effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and elevate the importance of governance. We must also prioritize resources to those areas where the population is threatened, gain the initiative from the insurgency, and signal unwavering commitment to see it through to success. Finally, we must redefine the nature of the fight, clearly understand the impacts and importance of time, and change our operational culture. 
That makes things seem pretty dire; and lest we forget McChrystal was asking in the Fall for 80,000 additional troops to turn the war around. He only received 30,000 soldiers - and as near I can tell most of them have not rotated into Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, here's what McChrystal had to say Thursday about US efforts in Afghanistan: 
“I still will tell you that I believe the situation in Afghanistan is serious,” said the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. “I do not say now that I think it’s deteriorating,” he added. “And I said that last summer, and I believed that that was correct. I feel differently now. I am not prepared to say that we have turned the corner. So I’m saying that the situation is serious, but I think we have made significant progress in setting the conditions in 2009, and beginning some progress and that we’ll make real progress in 2010.” 
Forgive me for asking, but does this seem credible? How could things turn around this quickly in the two months since President Obama's West Point speech? How could things be so improved when American troop levels have yet to seriously increase, the capabilities of the ANSF has yet to seriously improve and the civilian element of a counter-insurgency campaign has yet to materialize? 

Read the entire article: even Thom Shanker has a hard time maintaining a straight face with the litany of feelgoodisms coming out of McChrystal (even though Shanker bizarrely argues that Helmand is of vital importance because of its "significant population centers.")

For example when McChrystal is queried about the decision to basically tell the Taliban we're about to attack the city of Marja he responds “If they want to fight, then obviously that will have to be an outcome. But if they don’t want to fight, that’s fine, too, if they want to integrate into the government.”

Of course, there is another possibility here, which Shanker gently points out - the Taliban can flee or even worse they can festoon the approaches to Marja with booby traps and IEDs to maim and kill US Marines.

I understand the idea that McChrystal wants to radiate optimism, but at the same time you do need to maintain some level of credibility. To argue a mere two months after a shift in policy - that was informed by your own dire predictions of defeat - that significant progress is being made . . . well that just seems very difficult to swallow. Ordinarily I would chalk this up to perhaps a general who is simply overcompensating, but then that would ignore the yawning, nearly year-long chasm between what our civilian and military officials have been saying about Afghanistan and the far more complicated reality of what appears to actually be happening there.


Steve Hynd points out a few other "gaps" as well in McChrystal's reasoning.


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I would say unless we develop a comprehensive South Asia strategy, the most we can hope for is a temporary peace in Afghanistan.What would such a strategy look like? Well, at the very least it requires some moderation of the strategic competition between India and Pakistan. Without attention to this aspect of the problem, we really are only playing around at the edges of the conflict....

With interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan in single digits, Obama will spend most of his State of the Union on the economy and health care. Though these areas are undoubtedly important, their urgency is blanketing an expanding hawkish mentality in the White House.



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