It has been apparent to many military analysts, including me, that for years now the Counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in the global war against radical Islam has been ill-conceived and poorly executed. This strategy has not produced victories for the United States in the Middle East and Afghanistan. In fact, this area of the world has been a giant “sponge” of our human and financial resources with billions of dollars unaccounted for and wasted to great degrees on countries that do not respect us or our way of living.
Some good has come to elements of the populations in Iraq and Afghanistan despite massive corruption and Shariah-led governments, and our troops have performed admirably. However, our nation simply does not have the human and financial resources to continue investing blood and treasure into nation-building enterprises or foreign-aid packages into the Middle East.
Obama, along with other broke, financially strapped European countries, is now committing billions of new U.S. dollars to new nation building in the Middle East. All of these Islamic countries seem to be willing to protect terrorists/jihadists, rule by Shariah law in the guise of seeking democracy and chastise America at every opportunity for their own selfish interests and the hope of keeping U.S. money flowing into their coffers. How senseless is this? Despite this, the strategy to announce a withdrawal or “drawdown” is done from a state of weakness, fecklessness and shallow thinking.
What Obama and “the gang that cannot shoot straight” should have announced was: The United States of America is changing its national strategy and now must reposition our forces globally. These forces must be positioned for future operations against global jihadists and other threat zones such as our southern border and Iran. This is the strategy that needs to be articulated – not one of withdrawal.
To date, government policy elitists in the United States have demonstrated almost complete ignorance toward revised, adaptive and forward strategic planning. While virtually every military officer and many policy “wonks” have been taught strategic planning at some level, it is obvious many have thrown most of the lessons out the window upon graduating. This is demonstrated more than ever by our senior Flag Staff, our Defense and State Departments and political appointees in our intelligence apparatus. One only needs to observe the international chessboard and the turmoil on our southern border, Afghanistan, and the extensive issues in the Middle East.
There is no reason to position our Armed Forces into the Middle East and enemy territories that require a large commitment of human and financial resources without the “endgame” for the United States spelled out. We have the ability to strike the enemy from many of our established facilities, domestic and secure overseas bases, and seaborne “lily pads” when intelligence dictates clear and present dangers to America, its people, its interests and its assets. We can strike enemy targets anywhere, anytime, by conducting Joint Strike Force Operations. Well vetted and “real” intelligence, including human intelligence, is the key to all future targeted military operations.
Since the early ’80s, the United States has been engaged in conflicts throughout the Middle East. These include the Iranian hostage situation, the Beirut bombing of our Marines in 1983, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond. We have witnessed one cultural diplomacy debacle after another with no apparent victories for the United States. Why do the United States and its military/political leaders and strategists still languish in failed strategies since the victories of World War II to the present? Before we commit our Armed Forces into any conflict, the policy must firmly answer the question: Is this enemy a threat to the United States and the American people, along with our vital national interests, not political interests? We as a sovereign nation should never obey any edicts, mandates or direction from the United Nations or other international organizations.
In less than a month’s time, USA and NATO forces will begin drawing down in Afghanistan and executing a final drawdown in Iraq. This will pave the way forward for an eventual handover of Afghan security to the Afghan National Army (ANA) by 2014. With a new articulated forward strategy, we can support forces in Iraq and Afghanistan with unconventional and conventional forces as well as employing drones, along with other targeted air and sea operations from established and secure “lily pads.”
Afghanistan is larger than Iraq, more rugged and unsuitable for a long drawn out COIN war. The Afghan Taliban, the main adversary in the conflict, had already made its position clear when it stated on many occasions that most of the Afghans wanted a total withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan before any talks could begin. However, we know that talks are ongoing already in Europe with the Taliban. Now, President Barack Obama has made his plans and strategy public, and that means a 30 percent reduction by the autumn of 2012. The Americans and their allies are hoping that they will be able to hand over the task to the fledgling ANA that is basically illiterate and corrupt. It is “hoped” (the operative word) that by 2014 the Afghan army would have sufficient boots on the ground and expertise to take over control of their territory.
The issue is not just that they will have to have sufficient numbers, however, but that they will need to be well-trained and well-equipped enough to fight the Taliban. However, the Taliban is more organized and stronger than at any time since the invasion of Afghanistan almost 10 years ago. If the past is prologue, the real test of the Afghan army will be maintaining the loyalties of its various ethnic groups, and corruption. During the civil war, after Russians forces pulled out in 1989, many soldiers deserted and switched sides. The Afghan army crumbled like a house of cards – and despite attempts to beef up loyalists like Najeebullah in Kabul, Moscow was not able to keep the army intact as a coherent fighting force.
The likelihood of such an eventuality repeating itself cannot be brushed aside. The feeling is that once the Americans tone down their presence in Afghanistan, the Afghan army may not be able to cope with the fight. All the more reason that we reposition our forces to reinforce and support the Afghans when required and attack al-Qaida and Taliban targets from the “lily pads” as good intelligence produces targets.
While it has been easy for American forces to shoot their enemies, the Afghan army may not have that luxury. They will be aware that their opposition lives within the same territory and is always within striking distance. As the fighting against the Taliban intensifies, there have already been numerous cases of desertions within their army. In the eyes of some senior analysts, the present Afghan army was cannon fodder for U.S. and NATO forces. The policy of pitting Afghans versus other Afghans was always likely to fuel the probability of a civil war, where the ultimate benefactors will likely be the Afghan Taliban. No wonder they are negotiating with the Taliban and seeking a political solution to the crisis.
The Americans may be looking at this summer as the beginning of the end, with the withdrawal of 10,000 troops, but the Afghan Taliban are just getting started with their summer offensive. The Americans figured that they had the watches, but the truth is that it was the Taliban who have always had the time. It remains unclear, therefore, whether this is the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning of a new era of chaos for the region.
Paul E. Vallely, major general, retired, U.S. Army, is chairman of Stand Up America. He has a distinguished military career of 32 years, serving in many overseas theaters including Europe and the Pacific Rim countries as well as two combat tours in Vietnam. The general has been a military analyst on television and radio for several years.