A Solution For Afghanistan

We stand at a precipice, with two roads before us in Afghanistan. We can either start down the easy road that quickly leads to the lowland swamp of a Vietnam style withdrawal amid chaos as a US backed government folds under pressure from a growing, enemy state-backed insurgency, or we can stay in the highlands and forge our way to a stable Afghanistan with little need for support from the USA and no more American deaths.

Right now, the President is voting “present” on Afghanistan, just like he did while he was a US Senator and Illinois State Senator. He is not making a decision, rejecting all of the proposed plans presented to him and claiming that because troop levels can’t even begin to increase over there until next year, that he has all the time in the World. It is obvious to anyone who has ever had to manage or govern anything that the decision will not be any easier in two weeks or another month, in fact, it will only get more difficult the longer he delays. As a NCO Squad leader in the Israeli Paratroopers, I was taught that in the midst of action, a less than perfect decision made quickly is almost always better than a perfect decision made late. While at war, decisions have to be made and momentum kept up or the initiative will go to the enemy, as it already has in this case.

We are in the midst of what looks like an unending counter insurgency operation, with uncontrollable land borders, an enemy that, as in Vietnam, crosses a border at will while our soldiers must hesitate to follow, and an impending sense of a massive loss of US prestige that can actually be dangerous, evidenced by recent statements from Putin that we “cannot prevail” in Afghanistan because the USSR could not.
More of our uniformed personnel are being killed every month, and the chaos seems to be spreading to Pakistan, a state with nuclear weapons which cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of Taliban or Al Qaida style insurgent terrorists.

There is a solution. To grasp it, we have to explode some myths. First, Afghanistan is winnable. We are not doomed to repeat the campaigns of the British of more than a century ago or the Soviets much more recently. In fact, we are a large part of the reason the Soviets lost in Afghanistan; having understood some basic lessons from our own experiences fighting proxy forces in Korea and Vietnam, we turned the tables on them by equipping Afghanis with Stinger missiles and other weapons. Secondly, we must understand that we are indeed fighting a state backed proxy force. To believe that Iran is spending millions of dollars on influence within Afghanistan without the least inclination to see the USA humiliated, while they covertly support almost every other fundamentalist Muslim group in the Middle East (a proxy war against the Saudis in Yemen, against Israel via Hizbullah and Hamas; all directly backed by Iran), is absurd. Naive “experts” claim that Iran doesn’t want he Taliban in charge of Afghanistan because they don’t want “chaos” (if the Taliban is in charge, there is no “chaos”, only a Taliban regime), and because they used to be enemies before everyone’s greatest enemy, the Great Satan, descended on the region. Of course, this is ridiculous.

There are three significant nation states that have some interest in Afghanistan besides the USA. These are Iran, which has spent many millions
buying influence in Afghanistan including spending a tremendous amount of money to back their own Iranian proxy political party in Afghani elections, and which has a history of supporting every fundamentalist insurgency in the Middle East. Second is Pakistan, which has up till now shown a severely lagging will to do anything too concrete about the fundamentalists because of the political realities of a largely fundamentalist Islamic nation. They have supported overt terrorism against India in the past, and even declared a Northern province of Pakistan “autonomous” at precisely the time when they most needed to stamp out the insurgency there. It is almost as if they want to see America fail and are willing to pay a price in a certain level of terrorist chaos to see that happen. Of course, a regime like non-democratic Pakistan would never do anything like that because they are our best ally right?

Then there is India, which, like Iran, has spent millions of dollars helping to rebuild Afghanistan, including sending in experts to help with infrastructure, elections, and other humane projects. Unlike Iran, India has spent their money not creating a local political proxy, but in trying to fight the Iranian penchant for rigging elections by ensuring that they are fair, and building democracy as only a really democratic nation knows how. India knows that there is a potential for Afghanistan to grow into a stable, modern nation-state and rightly understands that “flanking” Pakistan with a state that is friendly to India would be a strategic coup in their ongoing Cold War. India is the great, invisible gorilla in the room in all TV media discussions of Afghanistan, because despite their clearly heavy investment, they are never mentioned. It is therefore no surprise that the pundits who have claimed all along that Afghanistan is “un-winnable” and only want to be proved right never mention them, because they are the key to success.

We went all-in for Pakistan, and have been systematically forced to drag them along pretending that they are a willing partner, all for the politically correct notion that we take no side in the India-Pakistan rivalry. Of course America has no opinion on the merits of a non-democratic, corrupt, fundamentalist Muslim nation using terror as a tactic against a free, democratic state. Why would we have any opinion on something like that? In the process, we have overlooked the reality that we need allies in the region who actually care enough about the region to provide long-term stability after our own troops must leave. We do not have the capacity, psychologically if nothing else, to stay in Afghanistan forever. We rely on increasingly shaky allies like Germany, France, and the UK who force us to inexorably take up more and more of the slack as we did for France at the beginning of the Vietnam conflict. We wonder why allies who were stalwart when facing an enemy that had nuclear weapons stationed in Eastern Europe and was poised to invade their home cities is not so stalwart when facing an enemy thousands of miles away with no conceivable chance of doing anything more to them than is already occurring thanks to their domestic terror networks.

We need a local power with a large, disciplined military force, the stomach for peacekeeping and nation building, and a long-term strategic interest in a stable outcome for Afghanistan. Oh if only there were a democratic state with, say, the largest volunteer military in history, a long resume of peacekeeping operations under the UN banner, knowledge of democracy thanks to actually being a democracy, and a strategic interest in Afghanistan becoming a modern, democratic state. In India, there actually is such a nation, and they actually have already worked to help rebuild Afghanistan.

There are geo-strategic challenges, namely, India being forced to rely on some measure of goodwill from their other strategic competitor, China, to freely get to Afghanistan, however, these challenges have been successfully navigated by India and they have even tacked slightly into a “detat” mode with China in recent years, possibly in order to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Afghanistan.

We need to clarify what we want in Afghanistan, then work out how to go about it. First, we want to get to a stage where Afghanistan does not require the continual presence of US troops all over the country in order to have basic law and order. If we free up our troops (by, for example, bringing in several thousand Indian soldiers to do what they have done in dozens of failing states across the Globe for the UN over the decades), we can focus our own efforts on destroying the ability of the Taliban, backed by Iran or not, to function.

This goal is achievable. I say this as someone who personally participated in a three-year campaign to grind down Hamas and Tanzim terror organizations in the West Bank that was very successful. Ariel Sharon turned the traditional strategy of guerrilla war on its head. Usually, a guerrilla force is trying to wear down a conventional military by attacking them constantly like mosquitoes, slowly gaining the faith of the local inhabitants by one success after another. Sharon set out to grind down the insurgents, by going after them constantly, attacking at night while they were not prepared, moving unexpectedly, capturing or killing the leaders and those with valuable knowledge who could put together terror operations, and simply wearing them down. It worked. Hamas in the West Bank was destroyed as a force between 2001 and 2003. They never recovered, and when they fought a bloody little campaign with Fatah for control of the Palestinians, they knew the West Bank was lost to them from the outset.

We should discuss out needs in Afghanistan with India and cut a deal. They provide stabilizing troops. They provide a “surge”, and work on rebuilding and developing the nation’s infrastructure. In return for a long-term commitment, we provide larger scale security by actively pursuing the Taliban where they live and train. We present Pakistan with a simple choice; go after the insurgents in your territory or we will do it for you. Prove that you are on our side against the insurgents or we will actively and formally side with India, which is something you absolutely do not want. Pakistan will come around.

This set up would give us tremendous freedom to act as we see fit, and eventually pull out of Afghanistan without leaving total chaos in our wake. India wants a stable Afghanistan that they can use as an ally more than we do. In simple terms, we are facing a proxy war against Iran; the best way to deal with that is to bring in local allies of our own. After almost a decade of active military involvement, while strategically sitting on the fence, it is time for us to actually pick some sides in Central Asia.

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~ by Jubal Biggs on November 12, 2009.

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