Sunday, September 27, 2009

General Stanley A. McChrystal's call for a new Afghanistan strategy

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At the behest of President Obama, an on-the-ground, top to bottom assessment of the Afghanistan war has been completed. The COMISAF Initial Assessment by the US-NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley A. McChrystal, was forwarded up the chain of command. An unclassified version of the assessment was released to the press by the Department of Defense. President Obama is in the process of studying and analyzing its recommendations. The classified version of the same document contains a request for additional resources, primarily an increase in troop commitments above the 21,000 already pledged in March.

The assessment is dire, predicting failure if the United States and its allies do not reframe strategy to meet the aspirations of the Afghan people. Redefining the fight by building improved and long-lasting relationships with the people of Afghanistan, altering military operational culture by spending, according to General McCrystal, as much time as possible with the people and as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases.

I agree with General McCrystal. If we are ever going to meet our objectives in Afghanistan: there needs to be a well-managed and coordinated unity of command between and within all of the forces -- U.S., NATO, Afghan military forces and paramilitary police; there needs to be civilian practitioners and outside experts with deep knowledge of Afghanistan to work with the Afghan population; there will need to be increases in military and civilian resources beyond what have already been committed; and we need to solve problems with corruption and contracting (read Why It's Not Working in Afghanistan).

It will be the success of this military and civilian collaboration that will be the determinant as to whether we stay, or fold our tent and withdraw.

Overall, I believe that General McCrystal’s assessment is on the money. His description is precisely the situation in Afghanistan and the outlined strategy is what needs to be pursued.

My fear is that I may have read his intentions naively and that this so-called new strategy is nothing but another remake of standard counterinsurgency strategies.

There must be a military-civilian effort if we are going to be successful -- a balanced military and civilian commitment in the beginning, and a phase-out of the military participation and phase-in of increasing civilian participation over time.

I have written in two previous posts about the strategy that should have been place right along:

A Disappointing Afghanistan Strategy

As Michael Ware of CNN said, and I wholeheartedly agree, Bombs and Bullets will not win the Afghanistan war. To win, so called, we must foster viable solutions for the Afghan people to govern their country free of corruption and war. What America is accomplishing is only more destruction and death, not just NATO and American troops, but non-combatants as well. Destroying ones country and killing its people will only cause Afghans to repel America.

It is time to stop listening entirely to the Generals. Military strategy and tactics are designed to kill, destroy, and break the organization of the enemy. In addition, its intent is to break the hearts and minds of the people, who to one extent or another support the enemy.

What we desperately need is a change of mindset from the sophomoric rally cry of winning and defeat of the enemy with military hard power to one of containment, reconciliation, winning the hearts and minds of people -- not solely their governments -- support and invest in community development and infrastructure, and developing viable economic resources. In Afghanistan, this means less concentration on central government, more emphases on soft power, helping tribal communities in education, help them to improve or develop the infrastructures of their villages, and helping them to develop an economy based on something else other than opium.

A new approach to handling conflict is badly needed, particularly now [as McCrystal said in his assessment, a Unique Moment in Time] in Afghanistan.

We must acquire knowledge through empathetic listening and communication. In doing so, the issues will coalesce into a greater understanding of the Afghan people, and they of us. This will put America in an improved position to help Afghanistan and its people by giving them hope for a brighter future, and it will marginalize Taliban and al-Queda influences. It is the only way to arrive at a peaceful solution.

New Ways of Thinking: Afghanistan

Greg Mortenson's work demonstrates his belief that the war on terrorism is one of hearts and minds, not bullets and bombs, and that it can be won by providing young people with a balanced education. Particularly girls: Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in cities. But the girls stay home, become leaders in the community and pass on what they've learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.

Greg Mortenson said of the United States Afghan policy, They’re all thinking firepower, and what we really need is brain power.” “It’s education that will determine if the next generation (in Pakistan and Afghanistan) is educated, or illiterate fighters. The stakes could not be higher.
Greg Mortenson -- who served as an Army medic from 1975 to 1977 -- was asked to share his views about Pakistan and Afghanistan with General David Petraeus, whose focus on building relationships with local communities dovetails that of the Central Asia Institute.

When Gen. Petraeus read Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson says, he sent me an e-mail with three bullet points of what he'd gleaned from the book: Build relationships, listen more, and have more humility and respect.

An important element in this discussion has not been presented with the importance it should have by the media, politicians, or others. We need to look back at the Afghanistan experience of the Soviets. Our experience there is more and more mirroring their experience, and so we are in grave danger of repeating that experience. We have been in Afghanistan for eight years. The Soviets were there eight or nine years before they withdrew. The time is now to make a decision to change from a military dominated strategy of hard power to a long-term strategy and commitment of employing soft power, or we need to withdraw. The time is now for President Obama to make that decision.