Does Afghanistan Offer Lessons?

Author, Wirth Chair professor at the University of Colorado

We do not have to wait for the final resolution
of the American military presence in Afghanistan
to begin to see what, if anything,
we have learned from our checkered experience there.

Very soon President Obama will
announce a new strategy.  Very likely it will include
the following features: a troop increase
of some 15-20,000; troop presence
focused on population centers; an increased
training mission for new Afghan military
and police forces; and intensified cooperation
with Pakistan to root out radical Taliban
and al Qaeda elements on that frontier.

This will represent an altered, but not
a fundamentally changed, mission. 
Presumably we will still have as our
ultimate goal a stable, democratic,
and increasingly Westernized Afghanistan. 
If so, unless we strike some grand bargain
with less radical Taliban elements (as we did with
some Sunnis in Iraq) this is still
the work of decades, not to say
also tens of billions of dollars.

However this turns out, there are lessons
to be learned in the meantime
for future Afghanistans. 
The first is: Do not interrupt a surgical
counter-terrorism operation
until it is completed. 

With the possible exception
of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney,
virtually everyone agrees that
the 2002 pull-out of Tora Bora, where
bin Laden & Co. had their backs
to the wall, was a mistake
of epic proportions. 

Don't suspend a fixed military objective midway.

The second lesson is: Know the history
of the country you are invading. 
As we did not study the French
experience in Vietnam, we did not study
the British or Russian experiences
in Afghanistan. 

It is one thing to invade a country
to find and exterminate a villain. 
It is quite another to launch
a long-term occupation. 
Almost nine years later we are still trying
to figure out who our friends
and enemies are there. 
And the Afghans, given our
flighty on-again, off-again
operations there, are justly skeptical
about our long-term reliability.

The third lesson is: Do not expect to defeat
an enemy militarily which has the advantage
of cross-border sanctuary. 

This lesson is as old as Sun Tzu. 
Anyone who can hide across
a nearby border cannot be defeated
in any literal sense of the word. 

Drones are no substitute for combat forces. 
Pakistan is a sovereign nation that
will not forever tolerate
the death of its citizens at our hands.

The fourth lesson is: Do not try to occupy
or pacify a nation whose men are not ready
and willing to fight and die
to protect their wives and families. 

Too many Afghan men are willing to let
U.S. troops try to provide their security and,
if we don't achieve it quickly and permanently,
strike their bargains with Taliban thugs. 
To create the Afghan army and police force
of 400-425,000 that experts believe necessary
to achieve internal security is the work
of another decade or two and, even then,
not financially sustainable by the Afghan government.

There are many other lessons as well. 
Nation building in an economy dependent
on narcotics is virtually impossible. 
Democratization of a corrupt political culture
is almost equally impossible. 
And so forth and so on.

President Obama is going to deliver a policy
for his administration's near term. 
Whether it will have time limits
remains to be seen.  Still, years from now,
however this adventure turns out,
the question will be: What did we learn. 
Because history does repeat itself.

Posted from Senator Hart's new blog
at Matters of Principle

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Link here

Sent from Kigali, Rwanda

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