By Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio
The long-awaited new US strategy for Afghanistan was released this morning. In a press conference, President Barack Obama outlined the US goals in the region and the plan to stabilize Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
The goal, Obama said, is “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”
To achieve this goal, Obama laid out seven major points: tackling the Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan while promoting governance and democracy; a surge in military and civilian forces in Afghanistan; bolstering the Afghan security forces; reconciliation; Afghan governance; and international support.
These seven major points are outlined below, along with a brief analysis of the prescriptions and any associated problems.
1. Pakistan: Resolving the deteriorating security situation inside Pakistan was the first item mentioned by President Obama. The US will seek to bolster aid and support to Pakistan to improve Pakistan’s capabilities in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda as well as promoting good governance and strengthening democratic institutions.
The military support took precedence. “[W]e must focus our military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs to root out the terrorists,” Obama said, while noting that these efforts have largely failed over the past eight years. “And after years of mixed results, we will not, and cannot, provide a blank check.”
Obama intimated that the US Predator campaign would continue. “Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders,” Obama said. “And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”
Obama also advocated a major boost in aid to Pakistan. He called for Congress to pass the Kerry-Lugar bill “that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years — resources that will build schools and roads and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan’s democracy.” He also called for Congress to pass a bill that establishes “opportunity zones in the border regions to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued with violence.”
Analysis: The United States has attempted to provide financial and military inducements to the Pakistani government to battle the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal areas and Baluchistan province for more than seven years. Since 2001, the US has provided over $10 billion in aid to Pakistan. Billions of dollars of this aid is unaccounted for. The US has conducted more than 50 airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as well as several ground raids in an effort to dismantle al Qaeda and Taliban leadership and training nodes. These actions, which have a destabilizing effect on the Pakistani government, have failed to push the Pakistani military to take action on its own.
During this time, the Taliban have taken over most of the Northwest Frontier Province, often via negotiations with the government. Quetta remains the location of the Taliban’s executive leadership council, while the greater Baluchistan province hosts scores of training camps and recruitment centers, and large swaths are under Taliban control. Elements within Pakistan’s intelligence service and the military continue to actively support the Taliban and other terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
It is difficult to see how a boost in military and economic support will push Pakistan into taking on Islamist extremists head on. Here, the devil is in the details, and few details are forthcoming at this time.
2. A military surge: The planned increased US troop deployments in Afghanistan have been public knowledge for some months. The US recently sent a brigade of more than 3,000 soldiers into the troubled central provinces of Logar and Wardak to tamp down the Taliban resurgence there. An additional 17,000 soldiers and Marines will deploy to southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the insurgency is the strongest. Also, an additional brigade of about 4,000 soldiers will be assigned to partner with the Afghan security forces as trainers.
Analysis: Afghanistan certainly needs additional forces, and it can be argued that the 24,000 additional troops is too little to achieve positive results quickly. But the troop surge will have a positive impact. The US military plans to push the troops into the hot spots, mainly Kandahar and Helmand, the two most violent provinces in Afghanistan, as well as the provinces of Kunar, Paktia, Paktika, Khost, and Ghazni in the east, where the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-e-Islam Gulbuddin are strong. The plan is to take the fight into areas that have become enemy sanctuaries.
The US command in Afghanistan has long sought the commitment of a brigade to focus on training the Afghan security forces. The training partnership model has worked well where it can be implemented, and the additional trainers should serve as force multipliers in allowing the Afghan security forces to shoulder a greater responsibility for security.
3. Increase the size of the Afghan Army and police forces: The plan is to accelerate the expansion of the Afghan National Army from an estimated 80,000 troops to 134,000 and the police force to 82,000 policemen by 2011. “[A]nd increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward,” Obama said.
Not mentioned by Obama is the creation of the Afghan Public Protection Force, the local security force designed to provide security for villages, roads, and installations. A pilot program of an estimated 4,000 members is currently underway in Wardak province, and if successful, may expand elsewhere.
Analysis: The increase in the size of the Afghan Army and police will likely still be insufficient to secure Afghanistan, but the increase in Afghan forces is needed. Nearly doubling the size of the Army in just two years will be a difficult task, and the new Afghan troops will not be ready to immediately take on security duties. As we learned in Iraq, pushing troops and police out into the field before they are ready can have a disastrous effect on security as well as on the units themselves. The Army and police will need to be even larger than the 2011 goal; some estimates indicate there needs to be more than 400,000 members in the Afghan security forces for them to ultimately secure the country and fight the insurgency.
4. Reconciliation: The US will seek to divide the reconcilable elements of the insurgency from the irreconcilables, and then defeat the hard core elements of the insurgency. Obama described this process as follows:
There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who’ve taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. And that’s why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province.
Analysis: A reconciliation program has been open and underway in Afghanistan for years. The program has pulled thousands of low-level Taliban fighters and leaders away from the insurgency.
This continued effort may peel away additional low-level Taliban members. But the US and Coalition leaders should avoid looking for easy solutions to ending the insurgency such as looking for high-level insurgent leaders or large groups of fighters to pry away. Recently, Vice President Joe Biden claimed that five percent of the insurgency are hard core extremists (irreconcilables), another 25 percent can be induced to stop fighting, and the remaining 70 percent were fighting for local grievances or pay. There is no evidence of this, however.
There have been many reports of high level negotiations with senior Taliban leaders and the Afghan government, but the so-called Taliban leaders have been members who have been ejected from the movement. The Taliban’s leadership and their primary sponsor, the Pakistani ISI, have systematically weeded out many Taliban members who are not ideologically committed. The US and the Coalition must take care not to waste political capital and limited resources, and avoid getting bogged down in these phantom negotiations. The senior level, as well as most of the mid-level Taliban, Haqqani, and HIG leaders are not going to reconcile. And reports of divisions between Mullah Omar and the Taliban are false. In fact, these groups have become more interdependent since the US invasion in 2001.
Furthermore, Mullah Omar recently rallied much of the Taliban’s existing leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight their primary enemy: American forces in Afghanistan.
5. A civilian “surge”: The US will surge the so-called “soft power” elements in addition to the military troop surge. It has been reported that more than 400 civilians from State, Commerce, Agriculture, Justice, and other government agencies will be sent to Afghanistan to improve governance, the economy, and agriculture.
Analysis: Like the number of troops being surged, the number of civilians being sent may be too low, but will be welcomed if they are used properly. In Iraq, the expansion of the provincial reconstruction teams combined with a military surge in forces yielded positive results.
Much of the reconstruction and governance efforts in Afghanistan have focused on the national and provincial level. To achieve real success, the reconstruction teams will need to push into the districts to effect real change.
6. Afghan governance reforms: The US and Coalition will attempt to hold the Afghan government accountable for its actions and promote reforms and good governance. The US will “seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, and sets clear benchmarks, clear metrics for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people,” Obama said.
Analysis: This is far easier said than done. Afghanistan has been at war for more than 30 years, and the middle class has long since fled. Corruption is rampant in Afghanistan and few, if any, officials have a clean record. The US must ensure it does not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. The goal is to provide enough governance and security to tamp down the insurgency and deny al Qaeda its sanctuary. Some level of corruption by officials should be expected given Afghanistan’s history; US officials must take care to only crack down on the offenses that jeopardize security and governance.
7. International/Regional cooperation: The US will seek to resolve problems in Afghanistan by working together with Afghanistan’s neighbors and the major players in the region. President Obama believes these countries share a common goal: the security of Afghanistan.
“[T]ogether with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region — our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China,” Obama said. “None of these nations benefit from a base for al Qaeda terrorists, and a region that descends into chaos. All have a stake in the promise of lasting peace and security and development.”
Analysis: This same recommendation was made by the Iraq Study Group with respect to security in Iraq. No working group was formed, and Syria and Iran, the two nations most responsible for aiding al Qaeda and the Sunni and Shia terror groups, were not consulted on the Iraq security plan. Iraq has achieved a large measure of success despite the lockout of Syria and Iran.
Not all nations share the same goals in Afghanistan. India and Pakistan are long-time rivals, with radically different visions for Afghanistan, as well as for the rest of South and Central Asia.
Iran does not wish for the Taliban to regain power, but supports the group to bleed US and NATO forces and keep Afghanistan destabilized. Iran has no interest in having a secure, pro-US/NATO Afghan government on its eastern border. US military officials have repeatedly accused the Iranians of supplying arms to Taliban forces. Moreover, Iran currently hosts a substantial al Qaeda network on its soil. This has been confirmed by the US Treasury Department, the Saudis, and various other pieces of evidence. Iran has repeatedly obfuscated international efforts to secure the transfer of senior al Qaeda operatives living within its borders, including one of al Qaeda’s chief military leaders, Saif al Adel.
And while China and Russia do not wish for Islamist extremists, which threaten their own security, to regain power in Afghanistan, it is likely in their interests to have the US expend military and political capital in a protracted fight. For example, Russia has opposed the US’s basing interests in Central Asia, while there are reports that Chinese arms have been supplied (via Iran) to the Taliban.
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Excellent analysis, Bill. I hope to discuss and link to your analysis over the weekend.
Like all post on theis net, most outstanding.
I believe that point six is the key. Internal Afghan support, (greater than words), is where the true foundation of any plan. We learned this with Iraq’s wishy-washy government. As a veteran of two tours in Iraq, I am sure to see an Afghan deployment also, I would much rather go in support of host country with absolute commitment to rid themselves of extremist than one that provides lip-service to gain US dollars and international aid that will be poorly distributed. Worse yet, given straight to the Taliban and al-Quaida forces.
I also think that a program like the Sons of Iraq, (better called the”we’ll pay you not to blow us up”), would be appropriate there. I works for the border-line anti-coalition forces and others…believe me. Seems to be that something like that may be in place already. With oppertunity to transfer to the Afghan police or military. Provided the participants meet certain previously thought and layed out criteria.
Unfortunately the “wishy-washy”
I don’t see any unpleasant surprises in today’s strategic outline. For now the Obama administration seems to be playing pretty close to Gates original plans for this year. If there is any intention of cutting and running, I certainly don’t see it this policy review. Whatever the pundits may say, the military is definitely getting the benefit of the doubt and will largely get to set it’s priorities for the next year. This administration would clearly rather avoid any abrupt change in policy direction, despite campaign rhetoric otherwise. They simply have their plate full with other obvious national problems to attend to.
Three things need to happen; 1. A successful national election in Iraq without major disturbance, so the next major phase of the US draw-down can begin next spring; 2. The small surge in Afghanistan needs to at least stalemate the Taliban this year, thus frustrating their ambitions; 3. Pakistan must somehow hold itself together, without capitulating to the Taliban’s demands. The first two are very doable the third very problematic. For now we can only play a peripheral roll in Pakistan.
Bill said, “But the troop surge will have a positive impact. The US military plans to push the troops into the hot spots, mainly Kandahar and Helmand, the two most violent provinces in Afghanistan”.
From this article it seems the British will be very happy to see the Americans arrive in Helmand.
Obama said, “The US will seek to bolster aid and support to Pakistan to improve that Pakistan’s capabilities in fighting the Taliban”.
In addition to the suicide task on the Jamrud area mosque, the Taliban certainly didn’t waste any time responding to Obama’s address.
Press TV:Pak militants destroy key NATO supply bridge
ARY TV: Militants destroy 12 NATO trucks in Peshawar
Bill said, “To achieve real success, the reconstruction teams will need to push into the districts to effect real change”.
It appears that the U.S. forces and provincial reconstruction teams are in some cases already being active in this arena. Hopefully, the civilian reconstruction teams can build on this progress already underway.
Stars & Stripes: Marines face big challenges in Afghanistan
A remarkable post about an important announcement by a new president. Remarkable because you alternate the straight reporting with your clearly labeled analysis – which is actually restrained analysis not spin or partisan punditry. I have been reading this blog since I found it provided strategic understanding of the confusing military actions in Anbar Province unavailable elsewhere. Just excellent work. Thank you again.
“I have been reading this blog since I found it provided strategic understanding of the confusing military actions in Anbar Province unavailable elsewhere. Just excellent work. Thank you again.”
Touche’. So i have been one of the many who came upon LWJ under similar circumstances 🙂
Excellent analysis. Very level headed and matter of fact. The Administration’s intent and motivations seem to be on the right side of things but it remains to be seen how far it will succeed.
Unfortunately as always, the enemy has a vote. When the US Joint Chief of Staff openly and publicly says that the ISI is still supporting Taliban/Al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan, one wonders how the level of co-operation between the two sides can continue along the same lines as before.
The key is that Pakistan wants Afghanistan to be its near abroad – that is how it was pre 9/11. and they are trying to get back to that status quo desperately.
Whether you like them or not ( i cannot stand them), one has to agree that the Pakistani military jihadi complex has been running circles around the US.
They openly resort to nuclear blackmail and have the geography on their side ( Karachi being the nearest sea port, supply lines, knowledge of terrain), and are using it to the hilt.
The way the US govt deals with Pakistan reminds me in many ways of the financial companies in the US Govt bailout that have been deemed “too big to fail”.
“I have been reading this blog since I found it provided strategic understanding of the confusing military actions in Anbar Province unavailable elsewhere. Just excellent work. Thank you again.”
I think we are talking about the old “Fourth Rail”
This war on terror is not a conventional war. It is a guerrilla war. How far a troops surge will be effective? When a country is attacking another it do not bother about civilian casualities. To conquer is the only aim. Here it is to be done with minimum civilian loss of life.
Another crucial thing is dealing with Pakstan. There are two Pakistans. One is the country with most of its people sufferring because of the wars going on for many years’ from the time of influx of Afghan refugees onwards. The other is the Army. How to make it do what US wants. (It is more or less the other way. It black mails US to do what it wants by political blackmail by threatening to withdraw its forces from the western borders to the eastern one citing the percieved terror from India.). Can it be made to sever its connection to its old ally the Taliban and see that none of them operate from the no-mans land of the tribal belt. It is next to impossible.
Trying to win over the moderate Taliban is also a wishful thinking. You can win over the mercineries. Then they are not Taliban. the real Taliban is a idealogically motivated band and you cannot win over. It is only the bandits who roam over as Taliban and the mercineries can be won over. And it is not much use of having them. In all probability they will be a burden as they are sure to harass the common man for money and other things.
History has shown that the mountainous terrain is out bound for every outsider. US is trying to rewrite that history. There seems to be no chance of it. It will be the land of warlords and tribal chiefs and all. You may have a Kabul or Kandahar where the modern civilisation exists but not in the wilderness.
And the hunt for AlQuaida also may not bear fruits. If US is worried of terrorist attack better improve the security system to its heart content instead of this hunt for the modern willo-the -wisp.
It ain’t going to happen I know but at what point would the Pakistani Govt be better off completely disbanding the ISI and starting again? It must be approaching that. They would lose most if not all their intelligence capability for awhile and no doubt create some well trained, well connected malcontents but is that any worse than what they face now?
I have been around here since Bill was the //www.roggioreport.com. His inciteful analysis has long been a source of clear-headed refreshingly clear information.
I appreciate his unbiased approach to analysis. While I don’t participate much on discussion of topics, I do ALSO appreciate the participants here adding their specific knowledgeable perspectives.
Just a great site for all things geopolitical.
I love it.
Great analysis. One question I’ve been wondering is the effectiveness of the strikes in Pakistan or even the targeting of high level operatives in Afghanistan. Does this have any considerable effect on the effectiveness of the rest of the organization/organizations?
Interesting analysis. Using Iraq as a model of the process with Bush announcing the surge, Petraeus appointed the Commander and Odierno developing the campaign plan, where are we in AF. Who is the AF Odierno? As Keane said “hope is not a plan”. Would you say the strategic plan is the “go long” version in play in Iraq? Logistics seems the military critical link and the enemy knows this.
The resemblance to the situation in Iraq is somewhat superficial. The element that is the same is the US needs to step up efforts to secure populated areas in Afghanistan and increase pressure on insurgents while over the longer term developing the Afghan government and military. On the larger scale this is a military/political stalemate between three dominant players in the conflict, the United States, Pakistan, and the Taliban.
In the short term the United States along with the Afghan government need to solidify their control over population centers in Southern Afghanistan and of course retain supply routes to the outside world. It’s goal at this point needs to be to absorb and dissipate any momentum the Taliban has gained on the Afghan side of the boarder and hope the situation on the Pakistani side does’t become irretreavably lost. Eventually creating some leverage on the Pakistani side will also be needed if Pakistanis cannot find any leverage themselves.
For the Taliban and Al Qaeda winning is about sustaining momentum. They have been hugely successful in creating a Pashtoon revolt on the Pakistani side of the boarder which they continue to solidify. They have also had a great deal of success in exploiting and undercutting a fractured Pakistani government and military. At the same time they have made inroads into weakly contested areas over much of Southern Afghanistan.
For Pakistani’s this is a much more complicated problem. This plays into the long political struggle over Pakistan’s national identity and direction. This is no longer a debate over religious conservatism vs. secularism in the Pakistani state. This is now about whether Pakistan will embrace the extremist agenda of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I doubt whether even a conservative faction within the Pakistani government could harness and control the Taliban as the ISI once did. Any accommodation is more likely to end up as an intermediate step toward gaining full control over the Pakistani government.
Neo, thank you for your thoughtful response. Points well made. Who is responsible for developing the unified campaign plan for AF? Is that part of the problem, a split command? It is interesting that as we discuss the issue the tactical fight seems to be in AF while the strategic fight seems to be in Pak. A country that we must not forget has operating and tested nuclear weapons.
Cajun you have pointed out one fundamental problem in AF. And that problem is NATO. While I was deployed to Iraq, my wife, a Civil Affairs officer was deployed to AF. A year after redeployment, my brigade went to AF as part of TF Phoenix, with responsibility for training the ANA and police. I did not deploy with the brigade, but several close friends of mine, senior NCO’s and officers did. Let me tell you, none of these people have anything good to say about NATO. The general consesus is that outside of the Brits, the rest of them are pretty useless since they won’t leave the wire. This is not to disparage the soldiers. This is strictly due to the differing national command authorities who have put these strictures on their soldiers. There will have to be a unified command, with a clear, thoughtful and aggressive plan to secure the population of AF before we can achieve our goals. Mr. Roggio, this is an outstanding site and virtually the only one I bother looking at anymore. Cheers,
afghanistans neighbouring states do not wish USA to succeed in Afghanistan , just like USA conspired from Pakistan against USSR .Obamas strategy will not make much of a difference unless Russia,India and Iran are incorporated.
US presence in Afghanistan is percieved as Phase One of a US Plan Barbarossa in the region with Phase Two,Three and Four extending to Russia,Pakistan,Singkiang,Iran
SCENARIO: The Pakistan ISI aligns itself with the Taliban and pressures the military to takeover, on the pretext of saving the nukes. They declare an Islamic revolution.
Could this happen despite the presence of US forces in and around Pakistan?
As a genuine “arm-chair critic” my only contribution comes from history of the region, written by authors with hands-on experience there.
Sen. McCain said recently that Afghans have a history of being great fighters, as opposed to the Iraqi Army. His point being, (I think), that we might be better to leave training of the new Afghan recruits to the Afghan Army itself, rather than a US led effort to train. Evidence from history supports the Afghan’s military expertise: Russia was defeated in Afghanistan and completely withdrew, tail between its legs, within recent memory. Before that, the British Empire in its heyday, experienced a similar fate. It looks like McCain’s point may be well-taken.
According to a recent poll (reported at this site, I believe), N. Afghan citizens were mostly in favor of NATO’s military assistance; however, in the South, where the Pashtun (Pashtoon above) tribe has close ties with the Taliban, as Pashtuns also have in Pakistan–Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border feel more kinship with the Taliban and less likely to support our ‘foreign’ intervention. However, the report indicated that Pashtuns, on the Afghan side of the border, at least, did welcome civilian help and aid.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistini reporter who spend several decades in Afghanistan, wrote in his book, Taliban, that Pakistan’s ISI had a hand in strengthening the emergence of the Taliban; and that for decades the Pakistani elected or dictator governments have left the war lords in the mountainous western border regions to themselves, without interference from the central government.
If we don’t face the facts realistically, our attempts to stabilize the region will be met with nasty surprises, of course, as many of the comments have expressed. One interesting comment in the article, to me, was acknowledgement that our drone attacks in Pakistan have destabilized the central government there. With nothing to replace the strategy, it is easy to see why our govt. and military have not yielded to Pakistani demands for the drone flights to stop. But, in view of recent progress of Taliban in taking new territory, within striking distance of Islamabad, almost, we may wish we had tried harder to find a substitute for the drone flights. Continuing the flights may spell the “death knell” for the elected Pakistani government, seeing that it cannot protect its civilians from these bombs.
President Obama’s Af-Pak policy, followed by a by and large condition-free aid to Pakistan, is a signal that the US & NATO Allies are powerless in controlling things in Pakistan beyond extending monetary aids!
What is more apathetic, is the attitude of the Pakistan Govt, and its very own security establishment – the Pak Army-ISI Complex. First, the Pak Army-ISI Complex deliberately remained inactive & unresponsive to the global concerns of ‘Galloping Talibanisation’. And just when the top US leadership expressed their deep concerns, did they move some of their forces to show that they are still in command! We have already witnessed such pretensions in the past as well! Hence, Gen David Petraeus rightly said, “We have heard all those things for years! Its time now, that the Pakistan Army do it for real!”
True! Pakistan is left with a few months & not years!
Otherwise, the state is headed for an imminent disaster!