The Afghan War at End 2009: A Crisis and New Realism

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Anthony H. Cordesman

Far too many of the debates over President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan have been conceptual, and have failed to focus on practical plans, schedules for action, needs for resources, and metrics for success. These problems have been further complicated by the fact the debate over the new strategy took place at a time when NATO/ISAF and the US virtually ceased to provide any meaningful metrics on the course of the war.

NATO/ISAF and the US were still reporting something approaching "success" in the reports they issued in May 2009, and were still focusing on tactical clashes at a time when UN and ICOS reporting showed that the Afghan government and NATO/ISAF had lost control of 30-80% of the country. This reporting was fundamentally misleading, and made it difficult for many to understand why General McChrystal talked about the war in terms of a crisis, and stressed the need for major increases in troops and resources.

This report focuses only on the fighting, and not on the full range of issues that must be addressed to win the war. It is essential to win meaningful victories at the tactical level, but there are six additional -- and equally critical -- elements of a successful campaign that still need to be addressed in a meaningful enough public form to provide any confidence that the President's strategy is being effectively implemented:

- How to restructure and strengthen the national military and PRT elements of ISAF to produce far better unity of effort in a population-oriented campaign. This is only a matter of force and resource levels to a limited degree. It is fart more a question of how to deal with short tours and constant rotations, differing national policies and patterns of action, differing national caveats and priorities, and a lack of allied civil-military coordination at the national level in many allied zones of responsibility.

- How to restructure the UN, national, and NGO aid effort to shape a meaningful mix of "hold, build, and transfer" efforts that can win the war coupled to realistic and achievable efforts at mid and long-term development - a effort with goals and objectives Afghans actually want rather than meet donor goals, that is reasonably well coordinated, that is transparent and resists corruption, and that has meaningful measures of effectiveness.

- How to create truly effective, integrated civil-military efforts - at least within the US country effort, and hopefully with key allies as well.

- How to build Afghan civil capacity to govern, provide prompt justice and an effective rule of law, and provide essential government services at every level with acceptable levels of waste and corruption as seen by the Afghan population.

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