Permissible Arms

Nation building at the barrel of an M-16.

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 16 September 2009

Some Afghanistan errata.

Oliver North’s file from Monday, In the Afghan Battle Space:

Until 2nd LAR arrived here, this part of Afghanistan had been without any government or coalition presence since 2002. On July 4, with Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, present, Afghanistan’s national flag was unfurled, and Masood Ahmad Rasooli, a university-trained pharmacist in his late 20s, was installed as district governor. When I asked him this week if he has been threatened, he shrugged and told me through a Marine interpreter, “Of course. That comes with the job.” [Washington Times]

David Wood, over at Politics Daily, offers probably the best real-world understanding of McChrystal’s COIN strategy from last month:

In a related program, soldiers are teaching village women to make high-protein baby formula from locally available produce. That’s a project of the civil affairs teams led by Special Forces Maj. James N. Schafer. “I wish I had more teams,” he told me. “We are doing better; things are better than a year ago. But we need more civilians – we don’t need more guys carrying guns.”

These aren’t simply feel-good projects; they are ruthlessly assessed as part of the U.S. counterinsurgency war-fighting plan. Rather than simply asking local Afghans if they’d like a new school or a baby nutrition program, soldiers ask detailed questions to understand local origins of instability: What causes the conflicts that the Taliban can exploit? It may be a lack of jobs, or corrupt officials, or high child malnutrition. Action is taken to meet those needs. Then the results are carefully measured – did the project really provide jobs? Was the corrupt official removed? If necessary, new actions are planned. Results must deliver more security, more jobs or better government.

“[W]e don’t need more guys carrying guns.” The things about nation-building, on a practical level, is that military forces may be necessary to assure security, but artillery won’t replace homes, jobs, and lives lost in war. I think we need more trained personnel who can implement the real challenges of rebuilding a nation. But I accept that the only way to achieve that is to insure the security of that personnel through additional troops. That doesn’t seem to be the option, though–the option, as it is becoming clear to me, is that NATO forces are responsible for the double duty of security/enemy engagement and that nation building. And I am not convinced that it can reasonably be successful.

Paul Pillar has an op-ed in the WP questioning the relationship of location to terrorism:

How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? More to the point: How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland? The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism.

Granted, it is worth noting that the 9/11 attacks were planned initially within Afghanistan before being exported to other bases in Europe; but I think his point still stands. If terrorism is what we went into Afghanistan to combat, then perhaps we have effectively done that. (Note Gen. McChrystal saying there is little evidence for major al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan at this time.) Of course, I think the long war against terrorism fits cleanly into Pillar’s conception here; but I also think that Afghanistan, as it currently stands, is not a relationship we (US/NATO/ISAF troops) can abandon–and not merely for the somewhat hyperbolic claim that the terrorists would return immediately. I believe that we are ethically obligated to remain, because that nation is in such a state of disrepair that to withdraw would be morally abhorrent. It is our mess to clean up.

It’s interesting to me that the biases I’d expected to see in the WP–hawkish determination to remain in Afghanistan–aren’t being picked up. Instead there seems to be a general bent towards withdrawing from Afghanistan, and letting it stand as a failure.

Foreign Policy breaks down the metrics that will/are be used to evaluate progress in Afghanistan-Pakistan. I’d really like to sit down and analyze this, but I don’t have time and other people did it better. Maybe tomorrow. Either way, it’s really interesting to see a method of evaluation laid out, and Objective 3b is relevant in light of this post.

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5 Responses

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  1. jamblichus said, on 16 September 2009 at 19:23

    Interesting. I remember clearly hearing Rumsfeld’s “we don’t do nation building” remark in 2003 and thinking, you have no idea what you’re getting into, do you?
    I’ve also just covered certain aspects of this (albeit from a somewhat less intellectual angle) in a series of vignettes comparing Detroit (and it’s decay) and Kabul. You may be interested, drop by!

    • karakapend said, on 16 September 2009 at 22:36

      I’ll check it out! Sounds interesting.

      you have no idea what you’re getting into, do you?

      To say the least of it, seriously. But when you look at what the logic was at the time–quick penetration, quick accomplishment, quick withdrawal–you can both see what they were saying, and marvel at the arrogance of it.

  2. jamblichus said, on 16 September 2009 at 23:35

    Yeah, the arrogance was nutty but in a way not unreasonable, because within the parameters of what they were thinking, at first glance everything went peachy, quick military accomplishment etc. It’s the sheer, bloodyminded short-sightedness that amazes me. Did they think they could fill the power vacuum left by the Taliban that easily with some lame proxy and his medley of mercenary bodyguards? Madness.

    • karakapend said, on 17 September 2009 at 15:08

      I suspect they didn’t think at all, frankly.

  3. […] by karakapend on September 17, 2009 Steve Coll over at Think Tank picks up Objective 3b where I dropped it yesterday. Here, however, is objective 3b: “Promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government […]


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