Afghanistan Strategy Not Working – Counter Insurgency Effort Too Vast, Under Resourced – Refocus On Counter Terror, Reduce US Forces

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By Paolo von Schirach

January 22, 2012

WASHINGTON – What Imran Khan, former cricket star and now Pakistani would-be national politician and Jon Huntsman have in common is that they have not done well in their respective quests for political influence. Khan founded a new Pakistani party with no followers, Huntsman could not get any attention in the Republican primaries.

Fight against Islamic insurgents not working

That said, both men have made sensible points about the never ending struggle against militants, (some of them Islamic, others with different shades of motivations), be it the Taliban in Afghanistan or other radicals in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. Simply put, the current strategy based on counter force: i.e. trying to kill all of them, is not working. The militants/radicals cannot be subdued with a policy relying primarily on military power. Whatever the tactical successes, including the massive use of unmanned US drone attacks, the ranks of the insurgents are easily replenished, and there is no end in sight to this conflict.

Military means do not produce the victory we want

While intelligence analysts may have a much more comprehensive and nuanced picture, the reality that anyone can grasp is that, 10 years plus after the invasion, Afghanistan is still a mess, while Pakistan’s tribal areas are in perennial turmoil. As Khan put it in a January 22 interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, you go and kill militants. In the process you kill some innocent bystanders. This sparks more resentment which results in more people joining the militants’ ranks, in a never ending spiral.

In Afghanistan mission creep, without a rationale

Regarding Afghanistan, as Huntsman noted while he was still trying to persuade US voters, in 2001 the US started with a limited counter terror goal: go after al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters. But this quickly morphed into a nation building effort aimed at modernizing Afghanistan, (new constitution, new government, massive amounts of foreign aid, technical assistance), while fighting a reborn general insurgency with very tenuous connections with al Qaeda. So, now we are fighting insurgents, many of them in truth motivated by the fact that we are there, while the US strategic goal should be to disrupt and degrade terror networks.

Extending the mission has been both costly and useless, because Afghanistan is a true bottomless pit that will absorb huge resources without tangible results.

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