Monday, July 26, 2010

What Time is it in Kandahar?: 1st in an occasional series

What is the state of operations in Kandahar Afghanistan? I do not mean the specific operational details, but we should be able to get a sense of the general flow of events. Although their has been mounting U.S. and enemy casualties in and around Kandahar news reports indicate the operation to secure the city and surrounding provincial has not officially begun yet. This after the Pentagon has been putting out statements in the media for months about the impending fight.

The problem is that a decision was made at a high level (circa 2006?) that the War on Terror has to be waged with a minimum of fighting as codified in the new COIN manual.  It has been whole-heartedly embraced by the Obama administration. We don't yet know what effect this decision to downplay combat in a war will ultimately have on the military and the public, but the effect on the enemy is that they can believe the U.S. is not willing get into the mud and slug it out. In fact they have a date to look forward to as President Obama has repeatedly assured the left wing of his base that U.S. troops will be begin to withdraw from Afghanistan next summer.

President Obama's public lack of a long term commitment to win has encouraged the enemy's often repeated line: "You have the watches, but we have the time." There is not doubt Afghanistan is a messy, unforgiving place, but there is a tendency in our age to over complicate things, to dress up difficult problems with phony intellectualism and pretend nuance is a virtue in war.  The simple truth is that Afghanistan is a backward, tribal society with deep ethnic divisions that will resist all efforts of "government in a box" whether originating from Kabul or Washington. However, like in Vietnam, some tribes will decide it is in their interest to fight with us against a vicious enemy. This is the coalition of the willing we need in Afghanistan.

Most importantly however, U.S. leaders need to remind themselves that the bottom line of any war, COIN or otherwise, is the enemy must be defeated on the battlefield before a lasting political settlement can be achieved. Instead of rehashing Mao's various stratagems, our leaders would be better served carefully studying Sri Lanka's recent ferocious and successful COIN campaign against the Tamil Tigers. Nuance and social theories were conspicuously absent, but there was a fair amount of actually fighting and killing the enemy.

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