- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A friend writes from Kabul:
This weekend I was beside myself after we had two field grade officers shot in the back of the head in the Ministry of the Interior. We unassed ourselves from Afghan government buildings and we still seem to continue down a path that could be fraught with disaster. The risk is so high that we may discover it through hard lessons — a.k.a. lives of senior officers and NCOs who would run the Army if they are not killed by the people they are advising.
In Iraq, al Qaeda actually brought the Iraqis (Sunnis and Shii’a) together (among other factors) for the common settlement towards peace and removal of U.S. forces. Sunni tribal leaders were tired of the violence in their lands by no Iraqis, and the political settlement was worth the Shii’a and Al Sadr to calm their attacks. It was this violence that led us to this point and withdrawal in Iraq. Now, whether that fragility holds together is a separate argument. In Afghanistan, neither al Qaeda nor Taliban will bring the Afghans together. What happens in a valley in Konar, on the border in Paktika, in the fields of Kandahar, or in Konduz is of complete irrelevance to each other. Afghanistan is so disparate by valley and region that one area does not affect another. Nothing will pull them together nationally.
When the report on what Afghans think of us and what we think of them came out recently, people should take a close look at what a young Private or Sergeant or Lieutenant say about this. This is the strategic corporal and is the real indicator.
No one wants to talk about the big elephant in the room: How many infiltrators or complicit Taliban really are in the ANSF? Is it really worth the risk to put leaders our there like this?
As the administration shifts strategy in Afghanistan through budget cutbacks and downsizing forces both U.S. and NATO, the only logical target to rid Afghanistan of U.S. presence is the adviser. We publicly announce our plan and put time-frames on it, so if we assume that the ANSF will survive and fight on its own in the name of Kabul, we are taking a big risk. Why? Because the Taliban would have to accept advisers in the Govt. of Afghan and its military and police force structure. To the Taliban, that is unacceptable. The Soviets did this and those advisers did not last after the Soviet war machine left in 1989. Why would it work now?