Friday, May 18, 2012

Center for National Policy recommends changes to NATO's Afghanistan strategy

Scott Bates and Ryan Evans from the Center for National Policy (CNP) have authored a recommendation for a change in strategy for Afghanistan that is more than worth a read. The paper's  (titled NATO Strategy in Afghanistan: A New Way Forward) main recommendations are:
  • Continue transition plans to place Afghan Government and Security Forces in the lead across the country by April 2013, but ensure that transition takes on more substance than it has so far.
  • Dissolve ISAF and place CFSOCC-A in charge of the military mission by April 2013 and reduce the force in country to approximately 30,000 troops (6-8K of which would be from partner nations).
  • Full transition of governance and development efforts in Afghanistan to the United Nations by April 2013.
  • Enduring material and political support from the United States and NATO allies to the Afghan state in order to ensure sufficient stability around Kabul, the north, and the west and prevent transnational terrorist networks from operating from Afghanistan.
The details behind the hows and whys of these recommendations are in the paper and you should read them. There are a number of things I really like about this strategy. First that it looks at Afghanistan through a strategic lens. Bates and Evans aren't bogged down in the operational arguments that are usually discussed (check out the third paragraph of page 5). They use ends-ways-means to analyze how NATO and the United States should move forward: align policy ends with strategic ends, then align ways and means. Second, I think their troop-to-task is about spot on for what we need to keep in Afghanistan in 2013. Any more would be a waste of precious U.S. assets. Any less would be a wasted mission doomed to failure. 

Please go read this paper, especially those of you who work in the defense and strategy worlds. While some may disagree with their assumptions, this is an excellent way to propose and think through strategy. Having done so initially and repeatedly throughout our mission in Afghanistan, maybe we would know what we want out of the war and how to get there. Alas. I also happen to endorse Bates' and Evans' recommendations as they are and think that this is the path to meeting our goals in Afghanistan.  


  1. I guess the question, as always, is to explain precisely what changed from 2009 to 2012 to justify a change in strategy.

    Aside from folks like O'Hanlon, pretty much everyone else now seems to agree on roughly the same set of recommendations, I think. I'm just not clear on why that is since anyone making this case in 2009 was essentially laughed out of the room and largely marginalized.

  2. For one, we were still in the post-coital glow of successful COIN in Iraq in 2009 and just couldn't wait to use it to fix Afghanistan. Reality has disillusioned the world of the universal utility of COIN, which by 2012 seems to not be working all that well. Or worth the cost for whatever gains are realized.

    I think the authors do a pretty good job laying why they think a change is needed.

  3. And I guess the answer, pretty obviously, is that two and a half years of war have happened in the interim.

    (I understand your frustration at this whole thing, because I similarly opposed escalation in 2009. But don't pretend like you don't understand what the difference is now: other things have been tried and have failed.)

  4. "Dissolve ISAF and place CFSOCC-A in charge of the military mission by April 2013 and reduce the force in country to approximately 30,000 troops (6-8K of which would be from partner nations)."

    What is he smoking? Does he think of those partner nations troops as auxiliary troops which are in de facto possession of the U.S.?

  5. You recognize that the C in CFSOCC-A is for "combined," which is the doctrinal term for multinational, right? It's not a U.S.-only HQ.