With official announcements about a new strategy
for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan expected in the coming weeks, details of
the plan are starting to emerge in press accounts which describe a renewed focus
on the war-torn Central Asian country and its volatile neighbor, Pakistan.
According to a series of interviews with administration officials, the New
York Times has said that the plan to mollify the growing Taliban-led
insurgency will be to peel away elements from its hard-line ideological leadership.
U.S. President Barack Obamas review has, according to those officials,
concluded that at least 70 percent of the fighters the "foot soldiers",
as the Times called them are not committed to the extremist goals
of the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership operating in the region.
The broad strategic review of conflict in the region is based on individual
assessments from three military leaders Joint Chiefs head Adm. Mike Mullen,
Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. troops in the region; and Lt. Gen. Douglas
Lute and the "Af-Pak" (as the regional situation is called)
diplomatic special envoy, Balkan Dayton accords architect Richard Holbrooke.
Former CIA analyst and administration review chairman Bruce Riedel will compile
The now commonplace notion that the Afghanistan war can be lost across its
border with Pakistan will drive the new administration strategy to significantly
beef up aid to Pakistan focused on both general development and quelling its
own Taliban-led insurgency, as opposed to preparations for potential war with
its traditional adversary, India.
The sentiments of the administration review largely echo many of the points
in a new International Crisis Group (ICG) report released Friday, "Afghanistan:
New U.S. Administration, New Directions," though the ICG represents
a strategy more cautious about bringing in insurgents and more ambitious about
goals for the Afghan government.
Speaking at a NATO meeting in Brussels this week, Vice President Joe Biden
broke down the Afghan insurgency into three groups: 5 percent irreconcilable
ideologues, 25 percent whose loyalties were questionable, and 70 percent who
are interested only in "getting paid."
The ethnic-Pashtun Taliban group operates on both sides of the Af-Pak border
in what is sometimes called Pashtunistan, but it is not a monolith and depends
on a wide variety of alliances with smaller groups that dont necessarily
share in the fundamentalist zeal of the Taliban leadership.
The division bolsters the notion that by offering incentives particularly,
in this case, cash the insurgents can be convinced to drop their violent
opposition to the Afghan central government.
A similar strategy worked in Iraq, where Sunni fighters were "peeled away"
the terminology for chipping away at the rebellions manpower
from the insurgency with the offer of 300 dollars per man to join U.S.-backed
militias, known as Sahwa or Awakening councils.
But the ICG report is hesitant about applying the strategy in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is awash with weapons and armed groups," said the report.
"Creating unaccountable local militias based on a false analogy
with Iraq will only worsen ethnic tensions and violence."
The report says that rather than focusing on building "parallel structures,"
efforts must be centered on building Afghan national institutions, strengthening
the rule of law and tackling rampant corruption and creating "more
democracy, not less."
In a list of recommendations of "What Should Not Be Done," ICG places
"negotiations with jihadi groups, especially from a position of weakness"
first. While not completely discounting the notion of peeling away
those "groups prepared to abandon their jihadi ambitions," ICG pointed
to deals in both Afghanistan and Pakistan that have failed both by not bringing
long-term peace and by "enhanc[ing] the power and activities of violent
insurgents while doing nothing to build sustainable institutions."
Former CIA officer Milton Bearden, who led clandestine efforts to back militias
against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, made similar comments
speaking this week at the Nixon Center.
"If we do militias, then they cant be our militias,"
said Bearden. He recounted the dual allegiance of militias in the past, noting
that, though he gave 250,000 dollars to Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah
Massoud, he "was as loyal to me as he was to his [Soviet intelligence]
In another example, Bearden said that militias would profit from Soviet assistance
"The Russians gave militias tons of equipment and arms, and we would buy
them and save on shipping costs," said Bearden.
In terms of security, ICG offers up the idea of expanding the increasingly
successful Afghan National Policy (ANP) and focusing more on protecting civilian
centers rather than conducting temporarily disruptive sweeps into territory
controlled by insurgents.
But indications from the administration are that, as the focus shifts more
toward Pakistan, expectations for Afghanistan are being lowered, including building
up institutions aimed at long-term prosperity. Instead the war effort will emphasize
preventing the Af-Pak region from becoming a launching ground for jihadi attacks
against the West.
The Times quoted a senior European official stating that goal quite
bluntly, while pointing to more gentle statements by realist U.S. Secretary
of Defense Bob Gates.
This strategy of lowered expectations includes bolstering aid to Pakistan to
pacify the Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in the Northwest border regions
especially aid not slated to strengthen the civilian central government
and the apparent readiness to continue a CIA strategy of targeting insurgent
leadership in Pakistan with missiles launched from unmanned drones.
The Times article indicated that there was still debate as to just how
much aid should be delivered to Pakistan, especially with regards to non-military
aid. Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar are expected to introduce a bill soon
that closely resembles a bill calling for tripled non-military aid introduced
by Obama and Biden when they were both still in the Senate last year.
In contrast to the apparent indecision within the administration, the ICG report
makes clear that focusing more on broader goals in Pakistan is needed. The top
two goals for the country are to "strengthen civilian rule" and "support
political reform in FATA," the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistans
northwest that have become strongholds of the Taliban-led insurgency and al
Qaeda as they fled Afghanistan.
The recommendations call for increased economic, reconstruction, and humanitarian
aid in order to help win hearts and minds and deprive the jihadis of a
potential pool of recruits."
As for Afghanistan itself, ICG tacitly endorsed putting more U.S. troops on
the ground, albeit in a more restrained capacity of protecting civilian centers
Obama recently ordered 17,000 more troops into Afghanistan, with perhaps 13,000
more to come if commanders on the ground have their requests met.
Bearden, for one, doesnt consider this much of an escalation, saying
that the troops were only topping up to fill vacancies left by departing NATO
"I dont say this is his Vietnam," he said. "17,000 troops
is not a surge; its kind of old business."
However, Bearden warned against a full-scale escalation: "If you send
in more gunfighters, youll get into more gunfights."
(Inter Press Service)