Thursday, August 20, 2009

# Posted 6:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFGHANISTAN: THE FUNDAMENTALS OF COUNTERINSURGENCY. This is a response to Jazz's post from earlier today. Like Jazz, I am disheartened by the carnage in Afghanistan and the lack of progress we've made over the past eight years. But I think Jazz's call to end the war now is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what US and NATO troops are actually doing in Afghanistan and why. Speaking on Tuesday to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), the President explained clearly and concisely why we must defeat the Taliban:
This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.
Jazz writes,
We may not have found Osama bin Laden, (and who knows if he’s really even still alive?) but we broke the back of their organization, sending them fleeing into mountain caves and disrupting their abilities to plan and conduct terrorist activities. We’ve lost track of how many of them we’ve killed. It may be fair, at this time, to say that we’ve made our point.
But this war is not about making a point. It is not about the number of terrorists we kill. It is about the strategic objective of denying Al Qaeda a safe haven. If we retreat, Al Qaeda will return. Jazz writes,
The problem is that we were never, ever going to catch or kill all of them, and they remain able to recruit replacements all over the world. It was never the sort of battlefield where we could find an enemy army to defeat in one decisive battle. You don’t defeat an enemy in what is essentially a pre-industrial age country by sending in thousands of missiles to bomb their piles of rubble into smaller piles of rubble.
Our strategy has nothing to do with bombing piles of rubble. Nor is about seeking a decisive battle or killing every terrorist.

Our strategy is guided by the counterinsurgency manual developed by Gen. Petraeus and other top officers. The manual identifies the essential counterinsurgency mission as providing security to the population. The application of that approach helped turn around the war in Iraq. There are many differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, but the fundamental principle remains the same. You win by protecting the people (and teaching them to protect themselves), not by hunting down every last terrorist. Jazz writes,
I would still support a large surge of troops into the arena if our leaders could assure us that they had some definitive targets which could be taken out with one last, big push. But that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.
The painful lesson learned in Iraq (and a generation ago in Vietnam) is that we cannot think in terms of targets. It is about securing the population. As Jazz noted earlier in his post, "we were never, ever going to catch or kill all of them." That is precisely why we cannot think in terms of targets.

The good news is that this war is not, as Jazz fears, being driven by
the mistaken belief that we can drag Afghanistan kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
The people of Afghanistan are not expecting us to turn them into the next Silicon Valley. They want security. If we commit to staying until they can protect themselves, they will support us. They know the Taliban up close and tend to resent them deeply -- and fear them. If the people sense we are preparing to leave, they will not risk offending the Taliban by supporting us.

This war cannot be won quickly, but it can be won.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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