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Afghanistan: Fighting is Not Most Important

Last week Kyle wrote in War for Dummies: Step 1, Fighting Is Necessary about Secretary Gates' frustration with some European allies, who are not committing combat troops to southern Afghanistan.

I understand and respect the criticism, but fighting is really just step 1 in Afghanistan. Some US commanders in Afghanistan have moved on to step 2 in the handbook, which says that fighting is a distraction.

Economist describes how the "mistakes of the past six years of fighting in Afghanistan" have changed the "mindset of American military commanders:"

They now regard kinetic actions (ie, fighting) as a distraction, a preliminary shaping operation at best. The decisive operation is non-kinetic, says Colonel Martin Schweitzer, commander of Task Force Fury, responsible for six south-eastern provinces. His focus is training Afghan forces, building roads, schools and clinics and, above all, getting the government to start addressing the needs of the people.

He has schooled himself in the ways of Pushtunwali, the Pushtun tribal code of honour, and has its main tenets on his wall. Next door to his office, a group of anthropologists and sociologists known as the human-terrain team provides him with valuable intelligence, not on the enemy but on the society in which they mingle. Colonel Schweitzer says what he needs is not more troops but more non-uniformed instruments of power: diplomatic, information and economic, especially agronomists and water engineers.

The Economist article is pretty good and notes US successes in Afghanistan, incl. reconstruction and reconciliation. The Atlantic Review already wrote about Colonel Schweitzer's collaboration with anthropologists in The Pentagon's Embedded Scholars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Related posts: Germans to the Front! and A Shared Mission in Afghanistan?

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quo vadis on :

The thing that continues to amaze me is how much of the political, social and economic work involved in operations like those is Iraq and Afghanistan are left to military commanders trained in the art of war. One would think that these functions would be conducted by persons with specific expertise in these areas but it seems that no such support organizations exist in the US approach to nation building. Perhaps that is why we have been doing it so badly. The upside is that the next generation of US military leadership will have a lot of unique experience to bring to future conflicts and will likely influence how future commanders are trained.

pen Name on :

The state structure in Iraq and Afghanistan are destroyed. The institutions of government built over the last 60 years are gone. It will take decades to restore them and you (US & EU) will not be able to do it militarily. Nor can you do it with your civilians since you do not comprehend the culture of Islam and those places called Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kyle - Atlantic Review on :

@ pen Name: While the US/EU may not be able to rebuild countries without local support, they can provide a level of stability so that the indigenous population can rebuild itself without being paralyzingly intimidated by a small population of extremists or repressive groups like the Taliban. Would you say that the Taliban (who I would assume understands the "culture of Islam" better than the US or EU) is more able to rebuild "institutions of government built over the last 60 years"? Do you think the institutions the Taliban and Saddam Hussein built over the past 60 years are really institutions that are worth restoring?

pen Name on :

Neither in Afghanistan nor in Iraq you have been able to provide that stability. My point was however that the rebuilding effort is monumental, specially in Afghanistan since almost 80-years of the growth of government structure is utterly destroyed. I should think that it will take at least 40 years before Afghanistan government can stand on its own feet. In regards to Iraq, the task of rebuilding of the state will take less - perhaps 25 years or so. But even there the situation can only improve when US leaves - which she does not seem to want to leave. Taliban were fools - no doubt about it. The best government for Afghanistan would have been the Communist Government of Dr. Najib but at the time no one wanted his government to survive - no China, not Iran, not US, not Pakistan, not EU. The people of Afghanistan were sacrificed on the altar of political expdiency. As for Iraq, US destroyed the Iraqi state over a 12-year period through embargo and later the invasion. And so far, US has not been able to put that state back together. You & your military can destroy but you either do not have the power or the willingness to spend the resources to rebuild the state structure in these 2 countries.

John in Michigan, USA on :

@pen Name (if that is your [i]real[/i] name): "As for Iraq, US destroyed the Iraqi state over a 12-year period through embargo and later the invasion" Saddam is primarily responsible for the destruction during that period. Pretending otherwise is perverse.

pen Name on :

You are entitled to your opinion.

Kyle - Atlantic Review on :

@ pen name: "My point was however that the rebuilding effort is monumental, specially in Afghanistan since almost 80-years of the growth of government structure is utterly destroyed." I am still not sure what government structure you are talking about that the US and NATO allies destroyed? Report after report makes it clear that the Afghanistan the US invaded was already destroyed beyond belief. Take for example a recent report put out by the New York Times that emphasized the absolutely heinous state of children's medical care in Afghanistan prior to the US invasion: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/12/world/asia/12afghan.html?_r=1&oref=slogin "I should think that it will take at least 40 years before Afghanistan government can stand on its own feet." I agree with you that rebuilding Afghanistan to the point that it will be self-sustaining will take a very long time. The Balkans is a case of this: Bosnia was secure enough before the 1990s wars to have hosted the Winter Olympics... now almost a decade after the wars in the Balkans, there is still concerns about violent outbreak. The fact is, building stable governments takes a lot of time. Several countries in Africa have been trying to do it for a half-century now, to little avail. However, this does not mean it was a bad thing for the US to initially invade Afghanistan, and it also does not mean it is wrong for NATO to stay now to provide at least some level of stability so that rebuilding the country and building an infrastructure can be done more quickly. "Quick" does not mean immediate though.

John in Michigan, USA on :

The reason the military has to get so involved in this stuff is, our State Department is completely disfunctional. Another problem is, anthropologists and such who work with the military are practically committing academic suicide. For some reason they are considered "contaminated" by their peers. Can you imagine if a doctor who saved lives in the military (both soldiers and prisoners), or a psychologist who treated PTSD, was ostracized by the rest of his or her profession? Yet this is the absurd case with many of the social sciences, and also most of the academics in the Middle Eastern Studies area. Do European militaries have a better relationship with the diplomatic services, or with social science academics?

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"The reason the military has to get so involved in this stuff is, our State Department is completely disfunctional." In which sense is it disfunctional? I read [url=http://atlanticreview.org/archives/933-US-Foreign-Policy-Its-All-Power,-No-Influence.html#comments]your previous comment[/url] on this matter, but would be interested in an elaboration. "anthropologists and such who work with the military are practically committing academic suicide." Yeah, it's crazy. "Do European militaries have a better relationship with the diplomatic services, or with social science academics?" I don't know. I hear some positive and some negative anecdotes. Of course, the German and other European militaris are not trying to achieve as much as the Pentagon is attempting to do. If the European militaries had to do as much as the US military does, then screw-ups would be more visible. As most Germans, I am very reluctant in sending our military abroad. One of the reasons is that I don't consider our military capable of bringing stability and democracy and reconciliation and schools to far away countries, because of imperfect cooperation with social science academics and the diplomats and a dozen other reasons. Working hard and trying one's best is not enough, but these excuses are often used to explain failures of the US military. Sorry, but that does not work for me. I am not blaming any soldier, but the civilian leaders who... you know the rest.

John in Michigan, USA on :

State Dept disfunction: Google articles on the immense embassy in Baghdad that is late, over budget, and which seems designed to create resentment. You can find people on the left and on the right who agree: What on earth are they thinking over at State? Author Joel Mowbray has good information. Some of his most devastating criticisms of the State Department are based on poor performance, instead of on policy or ideology. Here is his coverage of the "Express Visa" scandal which was revealed in 2004. Eventually they changed the program, but now they're giving the officials responsible a promotion. [url=http://www.townhall.com/columnists/JoelMowbray/2004/08/17/red_carpet_remains_for_saudi_visa_applicants]Red Carpet Remains for Saudi Visa Applicants[/url] [url=http://www.townhall.com/columnists/JoelMowbray/2004/08/27/loophole_exploited_by_the_911_hijackers_remains_open]Loophole exploited by the 9/11 hijackers remains open[/url] [url=http://www.townhall.com/columnists/JoelMowbray/2007/06/28/passport_outrage_official_who_caused_the_crisis_set_to_be_promoted]Passport outrage: Official who caused the crisis set to be promoted[/url] There are many other examples. Of course, there are plenty of good people at State. One of their proudest moments, in my opinion, was the disaster relief effort they put together during the Indian Ocean earthquake on December 26, 2004 (the anniversary of which is coming soon).

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