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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

America’s Future in Afghanistan

by MOAA has presented the positions of two experts expressing what they think the role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan should be post-2014. Dr. M. Chris Mason, former Navy officer gives his opinion on why the U.S. military should leave, and Gen. John R. Allen, USMC-Ret, addresses why the U.S. should maintain a presence in Afghanistan.

What do you think -- Should the U.S. military remain in Afghanistan post-2014? Leave a comment!

Leave: Afghanistan Is A Failed State - by Dr. M. Chris Mason: It doesn’t matter how long we remain in Afghanistan, how many more American lives we sacrifice, or how many more hundreds of billions of dollars we add to the national debt. It will not change the outcome — not because we ever lost an engagement on the battlefield but rather because we tried again to create a nation where one does not exist and imposed upon it an alien political system the people who live there are not willing to fight and die for.

If you ask Americans to define themselves, almost all of them will say first, “I’m an American.” But except for a tiny handful of educated urban elites — the only Afghans our senior leaders ever talk to — virtually no Afghans would say, “I’m an Afghan.” The largest circle of identity and loyalty of the vast majority of Afghans is their clan or extended family. Afghanistan remains a medieval hodge-podge of more than a dozen languages and more than 10,000 independent clans and village republics. Afghans’ notion of the rule of law is still literally throwing rocks at each other; in December 2013, the Afghan government planned to reinstitute stoning as the death penalty for those suspected of adultery.

We should have learned from Vietnam that installing a corrupt and unpopular national government in a primitive country, holding a few rigged elections, and endlessly repeating talking points about democracy do not create a nation. In Saigon, the U.S.-imposed regime had almost no popular support, was comprised largely of opium warlords, and was completely corrupt and incompetent. That is also an excellent description of the government in Kabul today, and outside the capital it is equally irrelevant.

The war in Vietnam was not lost because Congress defunded the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) after the U.S. withdrew. That is a myth. The ARVN had ample funds, and the invading North Vietnamese army overran depots with enough ammunition and supplies to fight for years. George Washington’s men at Valley Forge didn’t have warehouses full of supplies or money from Congress; they had something they knew was worth fighting for. The ARVN did not, and it collapsed in six weeks.

The same thing is true of Afghanistan today. Twelve years of self-delusion and admiring the emperor’s new clothes have not changed the reality. Seventy-five percent of the delegates to the Afghan Emergency Loya Jirga in 2002 signed a petition to make their beloved King Zahir Shah the interim head of state, but the CIA used briefcases stuffed with cash and backroom shenanigans to install its puppet Hamid Karzai instead. Window dressing aside, the truth is the U.S. dictated a system of government the Afghans are centuries from being able to make work and then foisted an unstable, third-rate political nonentity off on them to lead it. Today, Karzai refuses to sign a basing agreement and now is publishing deliberately falsified anti-U.S. Taliban propaganda.

Holding an election or two doesn’t make a democracy. Democracy is not a coat of paint, and wishful thinking and messaging are not a substitute for literacy and centuries of social development. Over 90 percent of Afghans cannot read a ballot. The last “election” was a major embarrassment of massive vote fraud. Fewer than one eligible voter in five voted. Democracy in Afghanistan is a fantasy.

Magical thinking aside, the military reality is even worse. Afghanistan is four times larger than South Vietnam. The Taliban is still a de facto expeditionary division of the Pakistani army. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is an eighth the size of the South Vietnamese military and has a twentieth the capability. South Vietnam had 1,050,000 soldiers counting regional and popular forces and not counting police; the truth is the ANA today has perhaps 120,000 men actually present for duty. The rest are “ghost soldiers” counted by their Afghan officers in order to collect and sell their rations. (We don’t know the actual number because U.S. personnel don’t count them.) The ARVN had a large modern air force and a working logistics system; the ANA has none. After 12 years, not one single infantry battalion is able to operate without U.S. support.

Our advisors say three-quarters of the men are on drugs, and nearly half the army (42 percent) evaporates every 12 months from desertions and non-reenlistments. The entire annual Afghan defense budget does not cover one month of ANA expenditures. For every two square miles of South Vietnam, the ARVN had 18 soldiers. For every two square miles of Afghanistan, the ANA has one. Its units already are cutting deals with the Taliban. There is nothing in Kabul most of those soldiers will stand and fight for, so like the ARVN, it will collapse.

No nation, no matter how powerful, can change the culture of another. After our strategic political failure in 2001 and 2002 and without a Pashtun king to offset the religious authority of the Taliban, there was never any possibility of creating a stable state in Afghanistan. The war is now America’s longest Chris Mason imageand most unpopular, and we have lost it. All intelligence reports, including the latest National Intelligence Estimate, say the situation on the ground is dismal and getting worse. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Doing the same thingover and over with a tenth the level of effort and expecting a different result is the definition of national strategic failure.
Dr. M. Chris Mason was a Navy officer from 1981-86 and is a retired State Department diplomat. He holds a master’s degree in military studies from Marine Corps University, Quantico, Va., and a doctorate in military history from George Washington University, Washington, D.C. He wrote the Marine Corps guide on Afghan culture and served in Afghanistan in 2005.
Stay in Afghanistan: Sustaining Our Accomplishments - by Gen. John R. Allen, USMC (Ret): Not long ago, the Taliban suggested President Hamid Karzai might want to select a light pole in the circle near the palace in Kabul. The implication was clear: The Taliban intend to hang Karzai from this fixture just as they did President Mohammad Najibullah in 1996. While an unlikely scenario as long as the West remains in Afghanistan, it could be a possible future should we not sustain our presence or depart entirely.

Most of us who have served in Afghanistan learned three key lessons from the post-Soviet era. First, the post-Soviet Afghan army gave good account of itself after the Soviets departed until the Soviet Union began to crumble. When the Soviet advisors left, the Afghans held on, still sufficiently resourced. Second, it was when the Soviet money dried up the Afghan security forces began to come apart. If we learned anything from watching this experience, it was that in the post-conflict phase, advisors and funding were essential for long-term operational capacity and for sustaining the force. The third vital lesson we learned was our Western presence was a stabilizing force for the region. When the U.S. precipitously pulled out in the early 1990s, the result was a catastrophe for Afghanistan and Pakistan and set in motion a sequence of events that played out Sept. 11, 2001. And though diminished by 13 years of war, threats still remain.

The post-2014 U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) strategy I and others have suggested is not a military strategy reliant on continued combat operations, large formations, or extensive funding. To remain true to the strategy we’ve pursued in Afghanistan since 2009, we need to remain engaged with this young army and police force beyond 2014. Why? First, a post-2014 strategy for years has been part of the overall NATO and Western approach to sustaining the real gains made by the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) over the long term. That strategy remains on track as the ANSF acquitted itself credibly in 2013, its first fighting season in the lead. Nothing has occurred in the operational environment that requires us to abandon or under-resource it.

The conversation about the strategy has grown complex and often obfuscated over whether to announce post-2014 numbers, the vitriol over the bilateral security agreement, and Karzai’s provocations. All of that has confused the message, and an increasingly skeptical public, about our commitment. Seeing through the smoke and ignoring the noise, the strategy, which envisaged a post-2014 force, remains sound and locks in the hard-won security gains that have provided so many societal advances in Afghanistan, from increased life expectancy to vastly improved access to education.

Second, this phase is not about combat. For sure the troops will be protecting themselves, but the NATO and U.S. effort will be focused on training, advising, and assisting the ANSF to continue its upward spiral of capability, professionalism, and institutional cohesion. To that end, in January 2013, I recommended 13,600 U.S. troops, with the hope of another 5,000 to 6,000 coming from NATO and partners, remain in Afghanistan. Figures less than that will require a curtailing of some of our envisioned activities, but still much can be done. Much below 10,000 and the force will be under-resourced and consumed in force protection. Then there’s the so-called “zero option,” which is not a credible option at all but rather an exit strategy. It sets the entire outcome of the campaign at risk and potentially leaves for naught all for which we have paid so heavily and all we and the Afghans have accomplished. Persistent debate over whether or not the follow-on force should only be a counterterrorism force misses the larger issue of why we’ve been at war for 13 years. Third, at less than 10 percent of the troops and dollar investment at the height of the campaign, this resource investment after 2014 is extraordinarily modest. Finally, this is simply more than about Afghan security and stability. A well-advised and resourced ANSF can provide the platform for the emergence of credible, post-Karzai government for which the Afghans yearn. It also will provide the security for the Afghan economy to move toward normalcy and equilibrium.

All this is clearly to the good of Afghanistan, but a continued U.S. and Western advisory presence plays well regionally. While I once thought the road to peace in Afghanistan ran through Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan, I now believe a stable post-2014 Afghanistan will play significantly in Pakistan’s own stability. Other neighbors also will benefit directly from a stable Afghanistan, and that stability and regional prosperity can only be assured through the security provided by a competent and professional ANSF. And, of course, NATO’s reputation is squarely on the line with the outcome after 2014.

The bottom line is this: With security, all things are possible; without it, almost nothing we’ve done can long endure. Enduring security will rely, in large measure, on the enduring Western presence after 2014. The future of Afghanistan does not lie in the hands of the Taliban, nor will it be fashioned in Islamabad or Gen Allen imageTehran. The future of Afghanistan actually will be decided in Washington, D.C., and Brussels, hopefully informed from the lessons of the post-Soviet era and the devastating result of our departure in the early 1990s. It is within our reach to prevent the outcome for which the Taliban thirst. Preventing another Najibullah is more our decision than it will ever be the Taliban’s.
— Gen. John R. Allen, USMC (Ret), is a distinguished fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution. His final tours on active duty were as deputy commander, Multinational Force – West, Al Anbar province, Iraq; deputy commander, U.S Central Command; and commander, International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

Tags: MOAA, discussion, America's future in Afghanistan, Afghanistan, leave, Dr. M. Chris Mason, stay, Gen John Allen To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. and "Like" Facebook Page - Thanks!
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