Afghanistan: A Failed Strategy On All Fronts

This piece from Time criticizes the overall strategy in Afghanistan as misplaced and unworkable, and lays some blame on U.S. sloppiness in delegating civilian authority on the ground (aka, general incompetence). It talks about former U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s departure from his post in response to leaked cables in which he was exposed as saying “President [Hamid] Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner,” and added that he “continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development.” Incidentally, Eikenberry himself was guilty of precisely the same kinds of things, as the piece explains. But some suggest it wasn’t the man, but the system that was incompetent:

Other observers contend Eikenberry did the best he could given the “mixed signals from D.C.” and “the fact that U.S. strategy in Afghanistan seems to be nothing more than a basket full of tactics and misguided public interventions of guys like [Vice President Joe] Biden,” says Mike Capstick, a retired colonel in the Canadian army and an analyst with experience in Afghanistan.

The repeated censures aside, an even larger problem is a structural one within the U.S. civilian agencies and between them and the U.S. military — a situation where it remains unclear who is officially in charge of the U.S. presence here. Though the relationship has been dominated by the military, there are no clear guidelines. The embassy’s position has been further weakened by turf battles within the Kabul embassy over which agency controls what. “The entire civilian side of the international effort remains incoherent and uncoordinated” …says Capstick.

More importantly though, the underlying strategy was way off, says the Time piece.

Overshadowed and overpowered by the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, hobbled by a reduced ability to influence Karzai and a divided embassy, lacking a coherent policy on a number of issues and the civilian surge, and receiving mixed signals from the White House, Eikenberry’s difficult time as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan is unlikely to be viewed as a success. Now, Ambassador Crocker is in a race against the clock to repair the damage both inside his embassy and with the U.S. military, and with the Karzai government ahead of the scheduled 2014 withdrawal.

Couple all of this with the fact that, as Paul Pillar just wrote, “coalition military operations [serve] as a stimulant to Taliban recruitment.” And as McClatchy recently reported, strategic choices like night raids – which have increased “to an average of 340 per month” and which regularly kill civilians – have “fueled popular support for the Taliban.” “The Americans are committing barbaric acts in the area,” a local Afghan doctor reportedly said, “and this is the reason that the Taliban have influence.”

What do you get when you mix expansionist imperial foreign policy, utterly incompetent civilian authorities, a horrendous, failed military strategy, and an America that is insulated from all of it?

One thought on “Afghanistan: A Failed Strategy On All Fronts”

  1. Last year the top Australian ground commander in Afghanistan said that foreign forces have been "overwhelmed" by the Taliban. And the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily.

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