That said, with the official end of the surge in Afghanistan last week, a few interesting pieces about that war were published in the past week that you should be aware of. I'll add some commentary at the end of this post, but these three are interesting in that they all address significant flaws with our strategy in Afghanistan from different perspectives.
Frances Brown: The U.S. Surge and Afghan Local Governance
This USIP report (linked to by Josh Foust) is an excellent and erudite review of our local governance efforts in Afghanistan since 2009. Importantly, this review is analyzed through the context of the strategy put forth by the Obama administration in late 2009 which elucidated as its goal "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future." Brown, who has extensive experience in-country, goes on to quote the "Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Support to Afghanistan" which states that to "promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government" is essential to the strategy of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda. More on that later, but even if were to assume that this is the case we screwed up implementation of the governance plan.
I've written before about the importance of assumptions during planning. Brown lays out three assumptions that were, in her words, unrealistic with regard to local governance:
- Governance and development timelines would mirror security progress;
- Bottom-up progress would be reinforced by top-down progress; and
- "Lack of government" as the problem to be addressed.
- Exert leverage to impact select systemic, rather than tactical-level, problems.
- In a resource-constrained era, prioritize assistance to a few key efforts.
- All the usual Afghanistan governance recommendations still apply.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta claimed the latest attacks were merely the "last gasp" of a weakend Taliban. If the aforementioned actions are the hallmark of a dying insurgency, I'd hate to think what actions characterize on on the ascendency.
Today in Afghanistan the effect of the American military's embrace of and belief in the efficacy of armed nation building, with its never ending stream of statements of progress, has obscured the vast amount of blood and treasure invested in a military methodology that has not produced results. Yet still we hear the calls to try harder, stay a bit longer, and keep the faith that it will all turn out right, because in war there is, as they say, no substitute for victory.