Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not So Fast, Tex

Ok, Petraeus is not a Texan (and for that, we have much to thank).  But I would suggest that General Petraeus be cautious about overestimating how many chips can be moved around the table when transitions occur in Afghanistan.

That is, I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw this:
The guidelines envision that while some troops would leave the country when their current areas were secured, others could be reassigned new missions within Afghanistan, giving General Petraeus flexibility in troop deployments as he confronts pressure from some allies and some Democrats in Washington to begin winding down the war next year. 
Oh, they must be talking about Americans, because few other countries are going to be willing to reassign their troops to a new region.  Well, they might let their troops move to the north and west, where things are less violent, but those are precisely the areas that will be transitioning to Afghan leads first.  NATO troops will not be moving South and East.  Caveats restrict the Germans, the third largest force, from moving to a hot zone.  Even the Danes and the Brits, who have fought very hard in the most dangerous areas of Helmand, are reluctant to move to Kandahar or Uruzgan, as they have local knowledge and, if things go well, a place where they can take credit. 

I feel sorry for Petraeus as he is compelled to come up with a quick plan to move things into Afghan hands, but it is hard to see that that much progress has been made on the military training, which is years ahead of the police reform (reform is such a weak word, given the quality of cops until now).  But patience is running out. 

My greatest frustration is that we have only been doing "this"--counter-insurgency of any kind since 2006 and really "this"--counter-insurgency that is relatively well coordinated and according to the playbook for about a year or two, and "this" doing COIN with enough troops for a few months.  But the publics see the war as being nearly ten years old now.  So much wasted time, money, and, most importantly, lives, because Rummy and the gang had no interest in making Afghanistan a stable place, and crushed early efforts by American generals to do any kind of COIN since it smacked of nation-building.
The administration’s strategy in the coming months will aim to explain to the population in NATO countries that, while the war in Afghanistan has been going on for nearly nine years, the current counterinsurgency strategy began only in the first year of the Obama administration — and that a full complement of forces has only arrived late this summer. 
Good luck with that.  So, now, we must rush through training of soldiers and cops.  The military folks might say:
“It has everything to do with getting the principles and concepts for transition right,” said a senior NATO military officer in Kabul. “The transition pace will, after all, be conditions-based, and this reflects that.”
Um, no.  We are moving towards milestones and not benchmarks, to borrow a fun turn of phrases from my year in the Pentagon.  It is now ALL about the clock and not about the situation on the ground.  Obama is going to start reducing, perhaps slowly in 2011.  The Dutch left Uruzgan this month, and the Canadians will be gone by the end of 2011. The Brits have said 2014/15, which, as I found out last week in Copenhagen, created a ticking clock for the Danes as well.  Sure, there may be troops as trainers after 2014 or so, but we are now seeing the train starting to leave the station, whether or not Afghanistan is ready for running the show.

Petraeus can try to resist this, but domestic politics trumps everything else.  And not just for politicians in Ottawa, DC, London, etc.  The domestic politics in Afghanistan are also starting to dictate this pace, as Karzai's fixation of holding his office uses tactics that tend to burn down his government.  Patience is ebbing in part because of Karzai's own shenanigans.  So, I expect to see a transition that is much more about the pace than the quality.

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