Wringing of Hands

Attention armchair strategists! Jot down you plan for Afghanistan. Multiple courses of action encouraged. At some point you could be solicited for input, though those Bad Boys of Battle finally might be listening to recommendations from top commanders, like, oh, the commandant of the Marine Corps. 

It has been reported that the Pentagon is considering a shift that would give U.S. forces greater control in southern Afghanistan. (Let’s ignore that the U.S. had control, but it was relinquished when the region was passed to NATO.) Looking at the numbers and direction of operations (ignoring the political posturing) NATO’s commitment to the region has been limited and lukewarm at best. Solution? The Marines are pushing into southern Afghanistan. 

Following the invasion of Afghanistan and the Taliban “overthrow” from 2001-02, the U.S. has worked to increase the NATO (allied?) presence. Security and stabilization efforts gradually have been handed over to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). But key elements like “NATO,” “Security,” and “Assistance” have been weak. Even top commanders like U.S. Army Gen. Bantz J. (John) Craddock, supreme allied commander, have been challenged to mask frustration with NATO over its benign Afghanistan commitment. Combat missions are becoming more common. Though figures vary, more than half the allied forces on the ground are U.S. personnel, and the rest are much smaller contingents from nearly 40 nations. It seems a new coalition commander (from the nation du jour) takes over ISAF every nine months, which reportedly (and not surprisingly) brings upheaval that the Taliban is said to exploit. 

One former commander (FC) in a remote southern province says the Taliban was gaining strength back in 2004, and its recently reported gains are not news. He says policies have fallen short, because forces (including U.S.) have been too “soft-handed” with tribal and Taliban leaders. Cultural sensitivities, though important, have been a hindrance. “We know where the bad guys are. We don’t go after them because of tribal politics. Some are too close to top leaders in [this] country.” He backs the plan put forth some time ago by commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway, which would concentrate Marine Corps operations in Afghanistan and not Iraq. FC also favors a course of action that would place the Brits in the lead, but that’s just not going to happen, he notes, though Brits have been involved in the latest Marine offensive in the south. FC opines that the State Department has “yet to really get on board with the mission,” something that has long been a major concern. 

“We know it’s a political mission on the ground with both the Afghans and the coalition. But do we risk losing the country to save the coalition?” challenges FC. 

Good question and one that leaders continually confront.

Recent Posts