A new Pentagon report lays out the U.S. COIN strategy in Afghanistan:
The U.S. operational approach to the security component of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is to build Afghan security capacity while degrading the capacity of the Taliban. U.S. forces work to root out insurgents while increasing the ability of the Afghans to do so on their own. Throughout Afghanistan, this is achieved through kinetic and non-kinetic efforts to separate the enemy from the local population by partnering with the ANSF and engaging Afghan leaders. Shuras, key leader engagements, medical engagements, humanitarian aid missions, and combined presence patrols provide a venue for ANSF forces to interact with the general population and discuss needs for local improvements. These missions work to create trust between the local populace, Afghan leadership, ANSF, and ISAF forces. As trust increases, support for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, (GIRoA), the ANP, and the ANA evolves proportionately. Afghan civilians are beginning to report enemy activity including improvised explosive device (IED) emplacements, suspicious activity, and potential future attacks. In an effort to gain the support of the populace and demonstrate the superior governance capabilities of the GIRoA as opposed to the Taliban, ANSF and international forces have increased governance outreach and development activities.
A couple of things.
First, ANA isn’t IA. Iraq had an army, and not a bad one, before the American CPA disbanded it. In Afghanistan, the whole concept of ‘government security forces’ is new. For Karzai’s foreign backers, it’s not a question of “capacity building” but building an army from scratch. Bearing this in mind, the Pentagon’s glowing accounts of ANA successes seem all the more fantastic.
Second, degrading that pesky Taleban.
It’s obvious even from this upbeat report that the U.S. can’t do it alone, not with the bulk of its Army and Marines deployed in Iraq for years to come.
So the task of winning — or, in the case of Afghanistan, not losing — falls to the NATO-led, UN-sanctioned International Security Assistance Force, ISAF.
To call this 47,000-man force ragtag might sound overly hostile, as most of the troops are reasonably well equipped and decently trained. But I think politically the description is more than apt. There has never been a consensus within the coalition — either among NATO countries or those “peace-partnering” in Afghanistan — on how to accomplish the desired end state, or even what exactly that end state might be.
Command of the Afghan battlespace was delegated to NATO at a time when everyone from Washington to Brussels believed the Taleban were done for. The U.S., tied up in Iraq, was stuck with ISAF out of necessity. As the situation deteriorated, it became evident that only a fraction of ISAF was actually a fighting force, with most contributors, including major European powers like Germany and France, opting out of combat.
Take Finland, for example.
We have one of the largest reservist armies in Europe, almost half a million men and women trained to fight a war. Yet we have only 100 soldiers in Afghanistan, deployed in the quiet north, with strict caveats on where and when NATO can use them. Since 2004, Finland has partnered with Norway and Sweden in two PRTs, in Maimana and Mazar-e-Sharif. Finnish MOT teams were praised for their performance in Faryab, and the Finnish-commanded ISAF garrison successfully fought off a local mob in 2006. Yet, in 2007 Finnish troops were withdrawn from Maimana, ostensibly due to logistical problems, but in fact out of concern for the soldiers’ safety, and because of tactical disagreements with the Norwegians. The Finns redeployed to MeS, where they’re now engaged mostly in hanging out at their sauna when not driving around the countryside in search of something to throw Quick Impact money at.
Whether this running in circles has contributed anything to ISAF, or the security of Afghanistan, is open to question. Certainly the PRTs haven’t. The way I see it — and I’m not alone –, they’ve become peacekeeping fiefdoms, built and run not for the benefit of Afghanistan but to show the rest of the ISAF community that we’re indeed doing something, while convincing the public at home that our boys and girls are staying out of harm’s way. In reality, we have subverted civilian aid and undermined the local and central governments by setting up a parallel administration and funding development that clearly isn’t sustainable. Remarkably, there has been no debate in Finland on this, nor on the question whether PRTs are needed at all in the relatively peaceful north.
The Finnish military has been anxious to pitch in, and as a compromise, the government has agreed to expand the mission with a few OMLTs. There’s a catch, however: Finnish advisors can only work in divisional headquarters in the north, and cannot accompany their trainees into combat. This is hardly what ISAF had in mind when setting up the system, but it’ll satisfy the “we have to do something” crowd in Helsinki, which makes political sense but will drive the NATO planners in Kabul nuts.
Not surprisingly, no one in Finland dares to bring up the possibility of redeploying in the south, even if the consensus in the Army is that if the Estonians can do it, we can. If anything, there is talk of pulling out altogether. And because the government, secretive and arrogant as it is, has failed to convince the public of the necessity of staying, it seems most Finns would rather our lads come home.