Is it a war we can win?
When United States forces and its allies first entered Afghanistan, their objective was to remove the Taliban government and to defeat al Qaeda. However, after years with no end of the war in sight, a new strategy has been adopted. The strategy adopted is called the “clear, hold, build” strategy which U.S. forces also used, successfully, in Iraq. Nonetheless, the situation in Afghanistan is very different from that in Iraq and success seems unlikely.
The main objective in Afghanistan is to prevent the Taliban from re-gaining control in the country, and to keep pressure against al Qaeda. In 2010, the strategy mentioned above was adopted in order to meet these objectives. The “clear, hold, build” strategy consists of taking over key population centers, then holding them in order to prevent insurgents from retaking them. The next step is to maintain order in the area to allow Afghans to build and live normal lives (Lubold). The desired end state is to create enough of these “safe” centers that the Afghan population will start to visualize a country where they are safe of the Taliban.
The main assumption of the surge was that since this worked in Iraq, it should also work in Afghanistan. However, the situation in Iraq was very different from that found in Afghanistan. The main difference is that in Iraq people were already used to a centralized government and the U.S. simply had to rebuild the government. This is not the case in Afghanistan where there is no effective central government beyond Kabul. Another difference is that the population in Afghanistan is much less educated than the population in Iraq, and much more dispersed around the country. This only makes it more difficult for the United States since it must create a centralized government from scratch. Another aspect to consider is that claiming that the surge worked in Iraq is wrong because the end results are yet to be seen.
The United States realizes that the only way for the surge to succeed in Afghanistan is if it is able to “build a rudimentary state, even a flawed one, that is able to provide a medium of security, and governance to its people”(Nagl, page 35). This will require a local government that is willing and able to fight the insurgency and an Afghan National Army/police force strong enough to defend the 30 million Afghans from the Taliban. David Galula, a counterinsurgency warfare theorist, states that the population must have a sense of security so that it may cooperate without fear of the opposite party. This is because in the end it will be the population that will reject the Taliban and stop further recruitment. Currently the U.S. and NATO forces from the surge are providing this security, however in the long run this responsibility must be given to the Afghans.
While the surge is necessary in Afghanistan, it could also backfire if not done properly. In the previous years of the war, U.S. operations have alienated the Afghan population because of the high civilian causality rate and by scaring the women and children. A troop increase could increase these problems and further alienate the population. Therefore, the best way to increase military presence in Afghanistan is by training Afghan men to take care of their people.
Currently the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are 134,000 and 82,000 strong respectively (Nagl, page 36). These numbers are not enough to defend a population of 30 million. The Afghan people realize this, and until the government in Kabul has a force strong enough to engage the Taliban, the Afghan people will not defy Taliban. A strong Afghan Force that can provide the Afghan people security and order will give them a real alternative to Taliban order. This will increase the legitimacy of the government in Kabul. Another benefit of a strong Afghan Force is that it will provide an exit strategy for the American forces without having to lose all the