The Afghan Strategy Review That Wasn't
Posted by Michael Cohen
So I just got done reading the White House's Afghan Strategy Review and it is as depressing as it is unserious. In general, this is a report intended more for public consumption than a serious reading of the situation in Afghanistan; and frankly its goal is more to deceive the public than to level with it. (Considering that now 60 percent of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting it's not difficult understand the White House's motivation).
Reading this review one would not know that Afghan governance remains a serious obstacle to this US strategy, relations with the Karzai government are badly frayed, training of the ANSF and Police is showing, at best, halting progress, the Taliban have made significant inroads into Northern Afghanistan, in effect nationalizing the insurgency and as Rajiv pointed out the other day, the tactical gains that the US has made are a result of overwhelming US military power that is likely not sustainable or able to be replicated across the country.
These are all serious impediments to the achievement of US goals in Afghanistan and they go unmentioned in the review. Consider this paragraph:
While the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, these gains remain fragile and reversible. Consolidating those gains will require that we make more progress with Pakistan to eliminate sanctuaries for violent extremist networks.
Unmentioned here is that in Northern Afghanistan and elsewhere the security situation has significantly worsened or even that in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan while security in places where US troops are located has gotten better, overall civilian casualties and American military deaths have jumped significantly.
On the subject of Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan yes more progress needs to be made in dealing with them, but unmentioned in the report is any sense of how that might happen. I see no reason to believe that Pakistan is on the verge of dealing with this problem and if the White House does, it's not saying.
Now I obviously get the fact that the White House wants to put a positive spin on things, but this report presents the American people with a completely one-sided - military-centric - view of the situation in Afghanistan that highlights the halting tactical successes and largely ignored the strategic roadblocks that are undermining US policy objectives. This, to put it bluntly, is not change I can believe in.
Moreover, the report's focus on Pakistan is telling - the report is certainly correct in suggesting that additional pressure is being put on al Qaeda in Pakistan, but what any of this has to do with the war in Afghanistan is not clear. None of the gains made in Pakistan have much of anything to do with the war in Afghanistan - and they could just as easily be accomplished with a smaller military footprint on par to what Vice President Biden was suggesting last year. If anything, the large US troop presence is probably roiling US-Pakistan relations as much as it is helping them.
Nowhere in the report is a larger explanation for how the giant US presence in Afghanistan is furthering US national security or frankly is necessary to uphold these interests.
When I read this report I see an Administration searching fitfully for a way to argue progress is being made in Afghanistan and justify a continued US presence and the President's decision to escalate the war- against a lot of evidence to the contrary.
In other words what I see here to coin a phrase from the 2008 campaign is, more of the same.