Optimism in Context: Tough Questions for General Allen on Afghanistan
Mar 28, 2012Posted by Ryan Evans
Yesterday, I saw General Allen close out his week-long Washington, DC tour at the Brookings Institution. On C-SPAN, I watched him testify before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees with Acting Undersecretary of Defense James Miller. You can access Gen. Allen's written testimony here and you can watch the hearings here:
I am going try to accomplish two things in this post: (1) Address the risks inherent in generals becoming spokesmen and (2) Ask some tough questions that were not asked by our elected representatives.
General Allen is a man worthy of our admiration. He has taken on the most visible and arguably most important command position in the US military. He is responsible for a massive 100,000+ coalition plus thousands of civilians and an unknown number of contractors from over 42 different countries. He is also responsible for supporting and growing an Afghan force of nearly 300,000 people. Whether or not our political leaders accept it, our campaign is nothing less than an effort to build a state where one has never existed and General Allen has been given that task…
…Which is why it becomes a problem when he also takes on the role of being the spokesman and public relations man for that mission. That is not to say he is not good at it. Anyone who watches his testimony will understand that General Allen is an effective public speaker (if a little stiff) and has impressive political acumen.
Military culture produces excellent leaders; leaders who are mission-oriented, analytical, and optimistic. These are great qualities when leading men and women in war and peace. In the military (and elsewhere) it is important to inspire the people beneath you, give them a sense of purpose, and make them believe that the purpose is achievable through loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. In the military, the costs of failing to create this sort of command environment are fatal.
But an accurate assessment of a military campaign is not always well-served by the "can do" positive mental attitude of the military officer ethos. I want a general who believes he can accomplish the mission, but I also want our legislators and citizenry to understand when that belief clashes with the facts.
Anyone that becomes a General Officer must also be a capable politician. But I do not want my generals giving rosy assessments and undeliverable promises in the same manner as our politicians.
So onto some tough questions:
1) The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are essentially our exit strategy. They are what will allow us to draw-down our forces and meaningfully transition responsibility for Afghanistan to Afghanistan. In the years after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, President Najibullah's Afghan security forces fragmented along factional lines (ethnic, tribal, etc). This precipitated and, indeed, led to a civil war that did not end until the Taliban took most of the country in 1994-96. Given that the ANSF remain divided along many of the same lines and more (ethnic, tribal, mujahideen, former communists, etc), what planning is being done to ensure the organizational coherence and durability of the ANSF post-2014?
2) Pakistan's motivation to support the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin is easy to explain. Pakistan has three immutable interests in Afghanistan: (1) Avoiding strategic encirclement by India, (2) Maintaining strategic depth against India, and (3) blunting Pashtun nationalism. Pakistan's support for Afghan insurgents helps them accomplish all three. No matter how many billions we funnel into the Pakistani military, Pakistani civil society, and Pakistan's civilian government, we cannot change how Pakistan views the world (short of a miraculous sea-change in Pakistani-Indian relations). Pakistan is pursuing its interests in Afghanistan and will continue to do so. Can we facilitate a new framework by which Pakistan can do this without having to support armed non-state groups?
3) Why should we expect the Taliban and other insurgent groups to negotiate in good faith towards a power-sharing agreement if we are leaving and they know it?
4) General Allen said the following at Brookings: "And in terms of the unfolding of the fighting season, we had some pretty good success last year in the south, in particular in Kandahar and in the Central Helmand River Valley, and we’ll be seeking to leverage that success this year by consolidating our hold in the south, while we’ll continue to employ our combat power in the east in a counterinsurgent mode…"
How will ISAF consolidate its hold in the south when troop numbers in Helmand are dropping from about 30,000 to about 15,000 this year? Approximately 15,000 US Marines are leaving Helmand this year. Our very real operational gains in Central Helmand, where I worked with British and Danish forces, were enabled in no small part by the efforts of US Marines fighting hard in the rest of the province. This gave the British-led Task Force Helmand the space and time to consolidate a real hold on the center, most-populous part of the province, including Nad-e-Ali district, Lashkar Gah municipality, and – to a lesser extent – Nahr-e-Saraj district. When most of those Marines leave, the pressure on those districts will increase and the hold will be challenged. It is already happening.
Read more from Ryan at Foreign Policy’s AFPAK ChannelThe views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
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