Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Prospect of Afghanistan by General Petraeus

President Barack Obama announced that the United States would concentrate counterterrorism struggle on Afghanistan when he declared the end of combat missions in Iraq. Therefore, I would like to review commentaries by General David Petraeus and some articles to understand the Afghan War and explore the strategy.

First, let me present an overview of this war. As in Iraq, the Obama administration explores to transfer responsibility to local security forces and withdraw earlier. However, former commander General David McKiernan and current commander General David Petraeus opposed early transition to Afghan units, because the progress of training them is slower than expected. In order to improve the capability of Afghan forces more quickly, the coalition sent additional troops in December 2009. Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell of NATO Training Mission for Afghanistan said, "Our mission is about teaming with Afghans to build a bright, dynamic future for this sovereign nation."

Currently, Afghan Security Forces consist of the Army, the Air Force, and the National Police. Among them, the army is regarded as the most capable unit. Although the size of the Afghan Army expanded from 83,000 in March 2009 to 113,000, that is short of the requirement by Senator Joseph Lieberman to double the manpower. Also, it is slow to provide sufficient equipments to fight independently against terrorists for the Afghan army. One Afghan general said "I was much [better] equipped when we were fighting the Soviets." The Air Force remains infant level, but the Pentagon plans to make this force capable of providing air support from helicopters to the troops on the ground. As to the National Police, lack of professionalism is a critical problem. The Afghan Police misuse power over the public, abuse drug, and shoot their colleagues.

Currently, as in Iraq, General Petraeus endorses close partnership between the coalition forces and the Afghan troops. US and NATO teams expand their training programs through the Afghan Defense University. Governmental bureaucracy needs to be reformed as well. Judicial systems are still inept to enforce the rule of law, and the Ministry of Defense is split with ethnic friction and political fractionalis (“Backgrounder: Afghanistan's National Security Forces”; Council on Foreign Relations; August 19, 2010).

In view of the above mentioned overview, some experts point out fundamental differences between Afghanistan and Iraq when discussing the surge. While Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was resolute to defeat insurgents, Afghan President Hamid Karzai explores some compromises with Taliban. Also, Iraqi forces were permitted to more freedom than Afghan forces, which is necessary to take decisive actions to defeat enemies in case of emergency. It is troublesome that Afghan people are “not necessarily fond of the Taliban actions, do not seem to see huge differences between Taliban and government control” (“Realities, rules, relationships won't help surge succeed”; Iraq the Model; August 1, 2010).

However, Joshua Gross, ex-Media Relations Director of the Afghan Embassy in Washington, insists on the case for the surge and Western involvement in nation building. He points out that liberals have been ardent proponent for the Afghan War since 9-11, while they talk of early withdrawal today. Gross urges war opponents such as the Members of Progressive Caucus to remember vital values of this war, and points out that President Obama endorses the mission in Afghanistan. He argues against progressive claim that the war is an unwinnable quagmire, and the land is ungovernable. Afghanistan fell into turmoil since the United States withdrew support for the mujahedeen when their resistance against the Soviet Red Army ended.

However, Gross points out that Afghanistan was relatively peaceful from late 19th century to early 1970s. And Afghan security is improving and its economic reconstruction is making progress little by little. Therefore, he insists that Afghanistan is governable. More importantly, Gross argues that America must not discourage reform minded Afghans through premature withdrawal (”Liberals stand with Afghanistan”; Politico; August 17, 2010).

As shown in the video below, General Petraeus argues against skepticism to the Afghan mission, and told that NATO forces overturned momentums for Taliban in key areas such as central Helmand province. Also he stressed that this was a necessary war to defend free citizens around the world from transnational extremists’ attack. In addition, General says that this is a war to save Afghan people from mediaeval oppression by Taliban (NATO Channel; August 31, 2010).

Although President Obama asserts his commitment to the Afghan War, his deadline of July 2011 raises concerns among policymakers and military strategists. Senator John McCain said "You cannot tell the enemy you're going to leave and expect to succeed" (FOX News Sunday; September 5, 2010). Marine Corps Commander General James Conway warned that the withdrawal deadline suggested by President Obama would boost Taliban’s morale, and he expected the Marine Corps to stay to complete the mission (“Obama's Afghanistan deadline gives Taliban sustenance, US general warns”; Guardian; 25 August 2010). To placate such worries, General Petraeus said that the White House understands unpredictable nature of the war, in an interview with David Gregory (“Meet the Press”; NBC News; August 13, 2010).

For successful mission in Afghanistan, the coalition forces revised both military and non-military approaches. General Petraeus intensified counterinsurgent attacks by special operation forces, and 235 enemy leaders were killed or captured. In parallel, the general said that the special operation forces have made contributions to community building, such as key leader engagements and medical exercises. Socio-economic improvements will discourage terrorists to claim the area as their safe haven or sanctuary (“Petraeus Explains Afghanistan Strategy”; Small Wars Journal; September 3, 2010). Understanding local community is critically important. However, General Petraeus points out that the United States did not know about Afghan tribes and tribal leaders to well enough to deepen cooperation in community building, unlike Iraq (“Petraeus: U.S. Lacks Afghan Tribal Knowledge”; Wall Street Journal; September 2, 2010). External threats are also important. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta insist that the United States focus more on remote control to Afghan terrorists from Pakistan. Petraeus say their concerns are legitimate (“Petraeus: Karzai concerns about Pakistan 'legitimate'”; Hill; August 31, 2010).

In an interview with John Noonan, Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations said that cross-organizational coordination, not only between US military and the Embassy, but also between foreign contributors, the UN, and NGOs, is a key to success(”FPI Policy Advisor John Noonan interviews CFR Senior Fellow Max Boot”; Foreign Policy Initiative; September 8, 2010).

The Afghan War is winnable and the land is governable. Prior to NATO Summit in Lisbon on November 19 to 20 this year to discuss transition of responsibilities in Afghanistan, General Petraeus requested 2,000 additional troops to train Afghan security forces (“Gen Petraeus requests 2,000 more troops for Afghanistan”; daily Telegraph; 6 September 2010). The victory in the Afghan War requires consummate skill to coordinate American and international agencies, local authorities and tribes and so forth. General Petraeus has shown competence in managing delicate political interactions in Iraq. The most important point is President Barack Obama’s leadership. As shown in his speeches in Prague, Cairo, and Singapore, the President is too shy of endorsing American preeminence. This may be one of the reasons why he hints early pull out and focusing on the economy. That is a dangerous temptation.