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City of Brass

City of Brass

the Afghanistan strategy – not enough civilians?

The 34-page McChrystal report detailing the Afghanistan strategy has been released to the public and can be viewed online. The broad, specific goals for the Afghanistan campaign are listed as:

The U.S. broad strategic goal in Afghanistan is to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat Al-Qaeda (AQ), its allies and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.

In order to make progress against this goal in the next three years, the USG will:

1. Promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.

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2. Develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.

3. Involve the international community more actively to forge an international consensus to stabilize Afghanistan.

The document notes that there is a “critical window” of about 12-18 months to demonstrate “measurable progress” to both the American and Afghani people, before the political capital for continuing the war collapses. This is a surprisingly welcome political admission in a military document. The President is under intense political pressure to justify the war, not just from the liberal political establishment but also from the foreign policy community – Andrew Bacevich for example has called Afghanistan “the War We Can’t Win“.

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Later in the document, the strategy is described as focused on “transformative effects” that will be executed with Afghanistan partners at three levels – community, provincial, and national:

At the COMMUNITY level the USG will work to protect and empower affected communities to reject the insurgency and participate with a voice in government in prioritized areas. Efforts must address the heart of what matters to the local population: protection and security; service delivery, agriculture and employment; legitimate authority, access to justice, strengthened community fabric, and land allocation; and ultimately the ability to counter predatory and abusive use of power by government and other local power players.

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At the PROVINCIAL level (to include municipalities) the USG will work to connect government to the people to build capacity and confidence and shift incentives in favor of support to GIRoA. Efforts must counter official abuse of power, build government presence and capacity, increase accountability of services and job creation and mentor and partner with the ANSF.

At the NATIONAL level the USG will assist Afghan leadership to build the necessary responsive institutions of a government committed to its people and achieve broader unity of effort for stability with, by and through the Afghan government. This includes a compelling narrative of change. Efforts must grow and reform the ANSF, counter high-level abuse of power, and continue national capacity-building efforts, in partnership with key ministries, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) and the Civil Service Commission. We will also focus on developing services based on accountable funding and resources. Diplomatic efforts will continue to strive for an Afghan-led political solution to the insurgency and policy and programs for amnesty and reintegration.

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One of the biggest obstacles, however, is not the issue of military troops, but the civilian personnel needed to achieve these goals. The report itself labels the Afghanistan campaign the “Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan” (or Civ-Mil campaign for short), suggesting just how important the non-military aspect of the strategy is. However, Laura Rozen at the Politico quotes a former official on Afghanistan policy as being quite pessimistic on whether the US can attract enough civilians to the Afghanistan campaign:

“The plan is admirable in intent,” the former senior official, who asked to speak anonymously, says, “but it makes heroic assumptions about the U.S. Government’s ability and willingness to provide the requisite civilian staff.”

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“The Civ-Mil Campaign plans articulates elegantly what we would do with a qualified civilian team on the ground in Afghanistan, but it does not explain how we will acquire and deploy this team,'” he concludes.

The next year is clearly going to be critical. we can expect that President Obama is not going to draw down troops before that timeframe, to gove the Civ-Mil strategy a chance to work. But the 12-18 month window is concurrent with the 2010 midterm election season, which are guaranteed to be a referendum of sorts on the Afghan war. Obama’s challenge is to make the case to the public that we need more time to evaluate the strategy – and avoid any assessment of success or failure until after the elections next November. However, depending on how things unfold in Afghanistan between now and then, the public may not be inclined to wait.

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Ironically, President Obama’s main base of political support for the Afghanistan is the Republican Party – the RNC is issuing press releases urging Obama to stand strong. That’s akin to ferrying the scorpion across the river on yor back, however – it’s virtually certain that as the midterms roll near, Obama will come under critique from the right for not doing enough, even as the left attacks him for not doing less. Either way, it is going to be a rough election for the Democrats, who will bear the brunt of voter ire and exhaustion with the Afghan campaign by proxy. I think that Afghanistan, not health care reform, is the issue upon which the 2010 elections will turn.

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