Thursday, September 22, 2005

Afghan War: Afghanistan Now

This article was written before last Sunday's parliamentary elections: Afghanistan Four Years On: An Assessment by Sean Maloney Parameters (US Army War College) Autumn 2005.  But the elections didn't change anything essenial in the situation.

Maloney opens by expressing "guarded optimism" about the situation in Afghanistan in 2005.  But based on the information he presents in the article, I would say the optimism would have to be rather heavily guarded.

This is an interesting factual observation.  Speaking of 2003, he says:

International forces in Afghanistan at that time included the 18,000 members of the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and the 4,500-strong European-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

I haven't been keeping running notes on the public statements of the number of troops.  But I am surprised to see that the number of US troops was something approaching 18,000.  Because the recent figures I've seen reported put the current number at 18,000, which was supposedly the highest number yet.  Maloney does speak there of the American-led force, not all of which would have been American.

He describes the main opposition today in clearer terms than we usually get in the mainstream media reports:

There are, essentially, three enemy forces operating against the Afghan government and its Coalition partners. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-I Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) organization, still seeking to influence the brokerage of power in Kabul, operates from areas east of the city and still mounts usually ineffective attacks on ISAF, OEF, and Afghan National Army forces in the capital. Taliban military formations have been completely reduced by OEF operating methods and appear to have shifted from guerilla warfare to pinprick terrorist attacks, usually in ethnically Pashtun areas in the southeast. Al Qaeda provides training and equipment to both HIG and the Taliban. Additionally, al Qaeda mounts its own limited raids on Coalition forces located on the border with Pakistan. These raids appear to employ the well-equipped remnants of al Qaeda’s “conventional” formations which worked with the Taliban prior to 2001. Unlike HIG and al Qaeda, the Taliban are still trying to create a parallel government to garner popular support in Pashtun areas with the aim of retaking the country.

He continues, in his guarded-optimistic mode, "At this point, the synergy of HIG, the Taliban, and al Qaeda has been unable to significantly influence the direction that the Afghan people are taking under the Karzai government."  Given the reports on the strength of the warlords everywhere outside of Kabul, this is heavily-guarded optimism indeed.

But this assessment of the 2004 presidential election in Afghanistan is essentially just propaganda:

The importance of Karzai’s election in this milieu cannot be underestimated. It is a truism that government legitimacy and the support of the population are absolutely critical in the fight against guerilla and terrorist organizations. By most indications, this has been achieved for the time being in Afghanistan. The elections were fair and carefully monitored: the voter turnout, more than 80 percent, should put the citizens of the United States and Canada to shame with regard to their respective voter turnouts during elections in 2004. Attempts by enemy forces to use terrorism to interfere with the Afghan election process were crushed before they could bear fruit, particularly in Kabul, where ISAF and OEF forces operated together with Afghan police and military forces in a coordinated fashion.

The parliamentary elections that just took place this past weekend were originally scheduled for 2004 and had to be postponed because security was so poor.  Karzai had to travel under American military protection to campaign outside of the capital.  And he didn't do very much of that.

And this has very much the sound of putting the best face on:

The main cog here was the development and expansion of the Afghan National Army (ANA), the second “moving part.” By late 2003, the ANA support process from the international community had become much more rational. ISAF (pre-2003) had dropped the ball in the training scheme and it was picked up by OEF, but the direction taken in the design of the Afghan National Army was initially haphazard and impeded by the chieftains in Kabul and their militia forces. Intime, high-quality instruction provided by American, Canadian, and British Embedded Training Teams established a significant confidence level in the fledgling Afghan Ministry of Defence and, most important, in its fighting units. The Afghan National Army expanded from three experimental “kandaks” (battalion-equivalents) toward a goal of 26. With an expanded ANA, the Afghan government has forged a power-projection tool to take advantage of the expanded Coalition presence throughout the country. ANA garrisons now exist in most urban areas. The development of the ANA, however, is still very much a work in progress. (my emphasis)

In other words, they have enough of an Afghan army on paper to have some of them tag along on "coalition", i.e., American raids and claim that they moving "toward" a goal of having a real army.

I can believe that the current NATO force in Kabul is functioning well.  But it is a sign of how fragile the situation in Afghanistan is that the Afghan government can't even depend on its own army to protect the capital city.  A real reconstruction of Afghanistan was always a long-term undertaking.  But I have to wonder at this point, what real hope does the current NATO effort have?

The weakness of Maloney's response to the news about the drug trade and the power of the warlords is pretty evident:

A simplistic analysis would have us believe that the main encumbrances to stability and peace in Afghanistan are “the drug-fueled warlords” and that there aren’t enough American troops on the ground in Afghanistan to confront them because of operations in Iraq.13 Such politically motivated critiques ignore the historical realities of Afghanistan, however, specifically that a large infusion of outside forces would place us in the same position that the Soviets found themselves in during the 1980s. They also are a slap in the face to those Afghan commanders and soldiers loyal to the Afghan government who have engaged in combat against those seeking to topple it.

It's undoubtedly true that the injection of a large number of American conventional forces would put the US in a very similar position to the Soviets in the 1980s.  But this is a tap dance.  It's "simplistic" to talk about the power of the warlords; it's rude to the Afghan officers.

When you have to base an analysis of the military situation on avoiding any description of reality that might hurt the sensitive feelings of our allied army, that's just not a good sign.

He talks about the "chess game" approach of introducing nationally-trained forces into local areas gradually.  Sounds good on paper.  But Maloney is clearly having to stretch to make it sound like it's having any success.

He does talk about the opium trade, and presumably he's not intending to present a "simplistic" analysis.  But it sure sounds like there are quite a few problems left to solve in connection with that:

This takes us to the narcotics problem. The assumption among some international entities operating in support of the Afghan government in 2004 suggests that the removal of chieftains engaged in narcotics cultivation and trafficking via the “chess game” may have two effects. It may result, in the worst case, in better networking under the guise of legitimate government activity. Second, the removal of the prominent leadership will devolve power to second-, third-, and even fourth-tier local personnel engaged in narcotics production, trafficking, and protection. By no means are all of these personnel former militia force personnel, which complicates attempts to identify and deal with them. Though this works to the advantage of the Afghan government in that the traffickers’ ability to organize a “narco-insurgency” is severely reduced, the lack of police and judicial capacity means that Kabul cannot yet target these dispersed, low-level groups. Similarly, an anti-corruption force will have to be formed to police the chieftains and others in the government to ensure that they remain uninvolved in narcotics production and distribution. In effect, Afghanistan will become like every other nation trying to take on organized crime (and not a Colombia-like narco-insurgency), but only if the right tools are forged and brought to bear.

Two other extremely important aspects of extending government influence to the provinces are sometimes overlooked in militaryassessments. These are the lack of roads and other infrastructure, coupled with the extremely high illiteracy rate. How does one provide anti-narcotics information to a nearly illiterate population? How does one deploy police and a legal system when the roads do not facilitate vehicular traffic? The deployment of PRTs, be they NATO or OEF, will assist in collecting information as much as they will assist in the local and provincial coordination effort, but how will Afghanistan “balance its books” in the reconstruction effort? And what priorities will be assigned? Politically motivated criticism in the Western media can interfere with the assessment and establishment of priorities. Demands by Western politicians and their mouthpieces for a huge and expensive counternarcotics force could divert the Afghan leadership’s attention from what they rightly view as their own established reconstruction priorities. (my emphasis)

This is pretty much saying that those dang civilians should just shut their mouths and believe the kind of hokey propaganda the Pentagon cranks out.

But what's interesting about Maloney's article is that even though he's trying to put the best face of the current situation and to discourage any criticism by mere citizens, his article still shows some of the real problems in the Afghan War.  I'll close this post with one more:

... [C]oncerns within the intelligence community of the “migration” of tactics used in Iraq to Afghanistan are very real: in May 2005, a mosque in Kandahar was attacked with a significant death toll. In July, captured Afghan police were beheaded by insurgents, while a car bomb was used against the PRT in Kandahar. This new emphasis on mass civilian targets and gruesome terrorism against police indicate that while there has been success in countering the insurgency, there are still those who seek political change through violence.

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