The Right War

The Right War

Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly explains how the special operations force in Afghanistan was conducting a “successful counterterrorism operation” to “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze” the enemy (“Becoming the Enemy,” March/April 2011). But it’s instructive that he never mentioned any role for Afghan forces.

It’s with good reason that the general’s stated objective was simply to defeat terrorists, not win the hearts and minds of the Pashtun population, as so many of America’s political leaders attest. That counterinsurgency doctrine has failed, and McChrystal is honest in ignoring it. Although the tasks of population protection and economic handouts still make up 80 percent of the U.S. effort, they cannot succeed. The Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan are concerned not with the U.S. presence in their country, but with trying to figure out whether the Afghan forces or the Taliban will emerge victorious in the conflict. The Pashtuns are the prize, not the means of winning the war.

Americans cannot persuade Pashtuns to fight against the Taliban. They cannot alter the character of Afghan tribal and political elites. It’s time to change and cut back on the mission: Let’s focus, as McChrystal emphasized, on destroying the Taliban networks. The special operations force approach should be shared with U.S. conventional forces. The United States should adjust its force level to, say, 40,000 or fewer troops and stop giving billions in aid that has created a culture of entitlement in Afghanistan.

America cannot sustain the political base at home to continue doing the fighting for the Afghans. But its firepower, aerial capabilities, and ground-based networks can prevent the Taliban from massing the forces needed to seize Kabul. The United States can succeed in its goal of preventing transnational terrorists from using Afghanistan as a sanctuary, even while Afghans fight a low-level civil war in the Pashtun territories and along the Pakistan border for the next decade or more.

Bing West
Author, The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan
Newport, R.I.

From ForeignPolicy.com:

CRAWLER.0310: I had the honor of working next to the general. This man’s single goal in life was to make what we were doing better. What mattered to him was that our performance was top-notch at all times. He, more than anyone, understood the network we were after, and his team understood it as well. Their goal was to win: win legally, win violently, but win.

JDM307: Networks that rely on huge unsustainable budgets and do not include in a real way local and regional partners might not achieve the desired effect. I would argue for the formation of another type of network that would complement the general’s; it would be composed of long-term regional experts who would over time develop lasting relationships with local populations and organizations of regional influence.