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Sunday, February 12

In Afghanistan the US must choose, but it won't

It's hardly worth it to give the Afghan War serious analysis because today the sick farce boils down to the same consideration that has always dominated the conflict: The United States can't make real inroads against Terror, Inc. in Afghanistan while remaining friends with the United Kingdom. 

That's the bottom line, which Washington keeps evading at all costs. As long as the British want the U.S. to go easy on Pakistan, there is simply no way to change the fundamental equation of the Afghan War. And the British will continue to want this because of the large Pakistani presence in the United Kingdom and because the Saudis support the Pakistan line on Afghanistan, and the Saudis and their Gulf Kingdom cohorts have enormous influence on the British government. 

That's the way the things are. But if you want to play along with the farce be prepared to endure more blasts of hot air, because now the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is asking for "a few thousand" more U.S. troops to break what he calls with a straight face a "stalemate:"  

The US military justified the loss of territory by claiming the Afghan government’s “new Sustainable Security Strategy” calls for abandoning districts that are “not important.”

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson told the Armed Services Committee he believes the U.S.-backed Afghan forces are “in a stalemate” in the 15 year-old war. He said to break that stalemate he needs “a few thousand” more soldiers to accompany the 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. [...]
February 1, Long War Journal:
The Afghan government “has lost territory to the insurgency” and “district control continues to decline,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its most recent quarterly report to United States Congress. An estimated 15 percent of Afghanistan’s districts have slipped from the government’s control over that time period.
The picture is more bleak than what the Obama administration and top military commanders have let on when looked at from a longer distance. According to SIGAR, the Afghan government controls or influences just 52 percent of the nation’s districts today compared to 72 percent in Nov. 2015.
“SIGAR’s analysis of the most recent data provided by US Forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A) suggests that the security situation in Afghanistan has not improved this quarter,” the watchdog group noted in its most recent assessment of the country. “The numbers of the Afghan security forces are decreasing, while both casualties and the number of districts under insurgent control or influence are increasing.”
“[T]he ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] has not yet been capable of securing all of Afghanistan and has lost territory to the insurgency,” since the last reporting period.
The Afghan government has lost control of more than six percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts since SIGAR issued its last report, on Oct. 30.
According to SIGAR, the insurgency, which is overwhelmingly made up of the Taliban, now controls nine districts and influences another 32, while 133 districts are “contested.”
USFOR-A defines contested districts as “having ‘negligible meaningful impact from insurgents,’ contending that neither the insurgency nor the Afghan government maintains significant control over these areas.”
[...]
The US military justified the loss of territory by claiming the Afghan government’s “new Sustainable Security Strategy” calls for abandoning districts that are “not important.”
[...]
This strategy neglects the fact that the Taliban views rural districts or those “with less strategic importance” as critical to its insurgency. The Taliban uses theses districts to raise funds, recruit and train fighters, and launch attacks on population centers.
Additionally, Taliban allies such as al Qaeda run training camps and operate bases in areas under Taliban control. This strategy was explained by Mullah Aminullah Yousuf, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Uruzgan, in April 2016.
The Taliban has utilized its control of the rural districts to directly threaten major population centers.

[...]
The VOA report gets around to mentioning some points in the SIGAR report but then veers into covering an exchange about Russia during Nicholson's testimony: 
Senator John McCain suggested that Russia is “playing a significant” role in Afghanistan and Nicholson agreed, saying that Russian meddling this year “has become more difficult.”
Nicholson said Russia has tried to publicly legitimize the Taliban by saying the extremist group is helping in the fight against IS, but he called this idea a “false narrative.”
According to Nicholson, Afghan security forces have eliminated about half of the IS group’s fighters and reduced the territory they hold by two-thirds.
Nicholson said he feared [Russia's] public support could allow Taliban power to spill out of Afghanistan and into other countries as the group continues to gain territory.
The Russians got on a Taliban kick at a time when it was a virtual certainty that Hillary Clinton would be the next U.S. President and continue President Obama's war policy in Afghanistan. This would've meant the Russian military would have to continue trying to empty the ocean with a sieve as Terror, Inc. crossed into Russia. And Islamic State was by no means the only Russian concern. From the VOA report:
Nicholson said 20 of 98 designated terrorist groups operate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, giving it the highest concentration of terror groups anywhere in the world.
That's right. 

As to the Russian argument that Islamic State is a much greater threat than the Taliban because unlike IS the Taliban don't have global ambitions -- Long War Journal has produced enough evidence to make it clear the Taliban do have global ambitions. But of course wanting and doing are not the same, and that probably would be the Russian retort. 

Yet the entire debate is red herring because the biggest global threat from terrorism isn't Islamic State or the Taliban; it's al Qaeda. Which the analysts at LWJ have been saying for years, and over those years have produced a small mountain of evidence to back up their assertion. I cannot conceive of a military counterterrorism specialist who would not now agree with them.

So. What next? The ball is in President Trump's court. But while it's ultimately useless to give advice about a farce, I think there's a cadre in the U.S. Congress that is less interested in beating the Taliban than in blocking Russian and Iranian influence in Afghanistan. Yet as with Syria, the U.S. would do well to accept help from both countries in keeping Terror, Inc. down to a duller roar in Afghanistan.

Unless the congressional cadre finds Terror, Inc. useful in harrying Russian and Iranian border patrols. If that's how they're thinking I'd ask the cadre to look at the calendar. This isn't 1980. Or 1998.

January 1998: How Jimmy Carter and I started the Mujahideen
Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
[Zbigniew] Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979.
But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?
Brzezinski: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?
Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic [integrisme], having given arms and advice to future terrorists?
Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.
Brzezinski: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? [...]
Turned out it's not really a matter of commonality, is it, Mr Brzezinski? It's a matter of "stirred-up Moslems" being able to think and act strategically.

See also US Commander in Afghanistan Urges ‘Holistic Review’ of Pakistan Policy; Reuters via VOA, February 9, 2017

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