Best Defense

The Gourley challenge: We used the wrong tools for the Afghan problem

Our military has so far failed to achieve success in Afghanistan because the U.S. sent an army, which is a tool of diplomacy, to solve a non-diplomatic problem.

afghanus

By Maj. Gen. Mike Symanski, USAR (Ret.)
Best Defense Gourley challenger

Our military has so far failed to achieve success in Afghanistan because the U.S. sent an army, which is a tool of diplomacy, to solve a non-diplomatic problem.

A national army (aside from conducting a coup d’etat) can change a foreign regime, or influence an established government’s behavior, or repel an invasion from within a political boundary. When applied against a stateless foe, however, an army just causes destruction and chaos from which it hopes something good emerges. When the enemy is not a state, a judicial system enforced by a police force establishes order within a political boundary while the local political institutions continue to function. Note that order within American cities is kept by our police forces, and not by our military forces, except for small areas in extremis and only very briefly. Afghanistan, though, has had no effective central government or nationwide political institutions — particularly a credible and functioning judicial system — since before the United States arrived.

The U.S. military is a very foreign force operating within the Afghan borders against Afghans with the intent of imposing our own concept of government institutions, and it has become the de facto foreign invader against which all Afghans could unite. We define the core conflict in Afghanistan as an insurgency, but Afghan government officials see it as an invasion by Pakistan conducted through Taliban surrogates. No matter which assessment is correct, we sent an army which had no diplomatic objective, and which did not operate in the strategic key terrain outside Afghan borders.

So we sent the wrong tools under the wrong leadership (i.e., our effort has not been led by policemen) for the job. Failure followed.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Symanski served on the U.S. Army Staff (G-3/5/7) as the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Mobilization and Reserve Affairs, 2005-2007. In 2010 he was the civilian Senior Mentor to the Afghan Ministry of Defense for Strategy and Policy and Military Logistics.

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola