Gen. Stanley McChrystal needs to acknowledge that the battle for Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans.
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.
Author, The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan
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.
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |