U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

Rosen_35.1_hummer The Boston Review has a New Democracy forum on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. From Nir Rosen's lead essay:

President Obama asks how our strategy in Afghanistan will serve U.S. security interests, but McChrystal’s report answered an entirely different question: how can Afghanistan control its own territory? He prescribed for the United States the impossible task of creating a new Afghanistan while engaging in counterinsurgency against the Taliban. COIN inevitably requires military action against a major segment of the Afghan population and, in doing so, undermines the project of state-building.

In Obama’s “all of the above” plan, the Americans in Afghanistan will not be engaged in counterinsurgency—or in reconstruction—at all, but in creating something out of nothing.

Helena Cobban, Syed Saleem Shahzad, J. Alexander Thier, Andrew Exum, Aziz Hakimi, and Andrew J. Bacevich respond. Syed Saleem Shahzad:

The Obama administration’s troop surge fails to address the real threat in Afghanistan: the insurgents’ efforts to develop a regional strategy in South Asia. Washington’s focus—members of al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the traditional Afghan Taliban—misses the mark. Nir Rosen does, too, when he asks whether “a few hundred angry, unsophisticated Muslim extremists really pose such grave dangers to a vigilant superpower, now alert to potential threats.”

The November 2008 Mumbai attacks and the recent FBI arrests in Chicago for conspiracy to launch attacks in New Delhi suggest that containing the threat from Afghanistan is extremely complicated, and solutions must go beyond troop surges in Afghanistan, training Afghan police and soldiers, or even political dialogue with Taliban commanders inside the country. Intelligence agencies are now realizing that both the Mumbai events and the Delhi plans—plotted directly by al Qaeda affiliated groups, which I call the Neo-Taliban—were directly linked to Afghanistan, but also incorporated wider aims. The goal was to expand the theater of war to India so that Washington would lose track of its objectives and get caught in a quagmire.

An escalation of hostilities between Pakistan and India—open war—would cut off the NATO supply route to land-locked Afghanistan through the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. NATO’s only alternate route—through Central Asian republics into northern Afghanistan—is economically unsustainable in a long war.

The chief planner of both conspiracies was Ilyas Kashmiri, a former Kashmiri separatist who survived an air strike from an unmanned CIA Predator in Pakistan’s North Waziristan in September 2009. According to U.S. intelligence, Kashmiri heads al Qaeda’s global military operation. We spoke in an exclusive interview on October 9, 2009: “Saleem!” he said,

I will draw your attention to the basics of the present war theater and use that to explain the whole strategy of the upcoming battles. Those who planned this battle actually aimed to bring the world’s biggest Satan [the United States] and its allies into this trap and swamp [Afghanistan]. Afghanistan is a unique place in the world where the hunter has all sorts of traps to choose from.

He added: “al Qaeda’s regional war strategy, in which they have hit Indian targets, is actually to chop off American strength.”