Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The answers for Afghanistan are pretty damn simple — and here they are, guys

By Capt. Paul Lushekno, U.S. Army Best Defense guest columnist It is quite obvious what we need to do in order to stabilize Afghanistan: provide security first and foremost. While the regional intransigence of Iran and Pakistan does present a challenge, the goal should be ANSF (ANA + ANP) with whatever other novel approaches we ...

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By Capt. Paul Lushekno, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist

It is quite obvious what we need to do in order to stabilize Afghanistan: provide security first and foremost. While the regional intransigence of Iran and Pakistan does present a challenge, the goal should be ANSF (ANA + ANP) with whatever other novel approaches we can feasibly pursue -- i.e., local defense forces replicating the Sunni Awakening, branding Haqqani a terrorist group, "engagement brigades" as LTC Shannon Beebe and the political scientist Mary Kaldor have argued for in their new book -- The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon.

Look, I understand the harsh realities of terrain, tribalism, and regional meddling. But none of those disqualify the COIN approach. It protects the population through focus on the insurgents and vulnerabilities (crime, drug trafficking, illegal timber smuggling). This builds trust and co-opts some moderating strains of the Taliban and other insurgents. Although we will provide the tools to facilitate a stable state, the Afghans will ultimately decide the composition of their government. And rightly so, this is an internal discussion that transcends states -- just look at Iraq. By providing security we not only provide Afghans space but stem vulnerabilities that could spill over Afghanistan's borders to affect global security, our security. The AQ thing, at least in Afghanistan and the FATA, is really under control. What we should be doing now is searching for the next place AQ could set up shop.

By Capt. Paul Lushekno, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist

It is quite obvious what we need to do in order to stabilize Afghanistan: provide security first and foremost. While the regional intransigence of Iran and Pakistan does present a challenge, the goal should be ANSF (ANA + ANP) with whatever other novel approaches we can feasibly pursue — i.e., local defense forces replicating the Sunni Awakening, branding Haqqani a terrorist group, "engagement brigades" as LTC Shannon Beebe and the political scientist Mary Kaldor have argued for in their new book — The Ultimate Weapon is No Weapon.

Look, I understand the harsh realities of terrain, tribalism, and regional meddling. But none of those disqualify the COIN approach. It protects the population through focus on the insurgents and vulnerabilities (crime, drug trafficking, illegal timber smuggling). This builds trust and co-opts some moderating strains of the Taliban and other insurgents. Although we will provide the tools to facilitate a stable state, the Afghans will ultimately decide the composition of their government. And rightly so, this is an internal discussion that transcends states — just look at Iraq. By providing security we not only provide Afghans space but stem vulnerabilities that could spill over Afghanistan’s borders to affect global security, our security. The AQ thing, at least in Afghanistan and the FATA, is really under control. What we should be doing now is searching for the next place AQ could set up shop.

I wrote a piece for the Small Wars Journal titled "Partnership ‘Till it Hurts: The use of Fusion Cells to Establish Unity of Force Between SOF (Yin) and Conventional Forces (Yang)." Based on the success of fusion cells in Iraq, our military cross-pollinated the idea in Afghanistan. In fact, I deployed with a JSOTF on the cusp of this decision and was excited to help the transition. Fusion cells can greatly aid our COIN in Afghanistan; however, in my opinion, they are not currently utilized to their full potential — I just redeployed from Afghanistan and witnessed this again. Case in point, BDE commanders don’t focus on fusion cells and invest the appropriate resources and personnel. While a learning curve exists, no doubt, my fear is that this will promote further dithering.

While fusion cells were ostensibly developed to better coordinate SOF and conventional forces as the "wall of secrecy" faded, they need to do much more. As MG Flynn wrote, they need to not only orchestrate SOF and conventional operations to reduce collateral damage but incorporate foreign service officers (i.e., the State Department), involve humanitarian organizations (including USAID, AUSAID, etc), and embed Afghan intelligence services. They need to be an ad hoc framework for what Beebe and Kaldor call "engagement brigades" that "contain a mix of capabilities ranging from the use of force, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, support for reconciliation in violent situations through response to natural and manmade disasters including terrorist attacks or the capacity to deal with breakdowns in law and order and to stop looting, rioting or criminal gang warfare."

Army Capt. Paul Lushenko is a 2005 graduate of West Point. He served as an intelligence officer with a Joint Special Operations Task Force from 2007-2010 and deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently is studying at the Australian National University, pursuing a dual master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy. The views expressed in these comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, Terry Francona or Theo Epstein.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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