By Ikram Sehgal
Induction of 30,000 more US troops into the Afghanistan theatre in the coming weeks and months, with 5,000 more committed by NATO countries (and possibly 5,000 more to come) represents the “military surge,” first of the three initiatives outlined by US President Obama in his new Afghan strategy.
Four fundamental pillars shore up Gen Stanley McChrystal’s new Afghan thinking: (1) more effective and larger Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) with radically expanded coalition force partnering them at every echelon; (2) prioritising a responsive and accountable governance acceptable to the Afghan people, to be on par with, and integral to, the delivering of security; (3) gaining the initiative and reverse the insurgency’s momentum as the first imperative in a series of temporal stages, and; (4) prioritising available resources to those critical areas where the population is most threatened.
In the face of the “Obama Doctrine,” a few facts need elaboration: (1) the Taliban support for AlQaeda is a common cause against a common enemy: (2) from the South Waziristan Agency the Taliban are not engaged in cross-border operations into Afghanistan, Mehsud mercenaries providing a protective cordon for the AlQaeda hierarchy; (3) the Indian RAW virtually took over the mainstream Afghan intelligence agencies after 2001, instigating the so-called “Taliban” in South Waziristan to open up a western front for Pakistan, and ease the internal pressure in occupied Kashmir by actively supporting the Baloch insurgency, and the TTP in Swat. The 64,000-dollar question, given the substantial evidence about Indian machinations against Pakistan, is: why is the US silent?; and (4) Pakistan’s catch-22, Indian propaganda has managed to convert a genuine freedom struggle in occupied Kashmir into a “terrorist increment,” an enduring perception exists internationally of our intelligence agencies actively aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan, at the very least having a benign attitude towards the jihadists.
McChrystal’s reports mentions Taliban weaknesses: “(1) The activity of criminal networks creating a pool of manpower, resources, and capabilities for insurgents contributes to a pervasive sense of insecurity among the people. A number of Afghan government officials at all levels are reportedly complicit in these activities. (2) Narcotics activity funding insurgent groups must be understood within the overall context of insurgent financing, substantial income coming from foreign donors as well as from other criminal activities within Afghanistan such as smuggling and kidnapping for ransom. Some insurgent groups ‘tax’ the local population through checkpoints and protection money. (3) The insurgents are not invulnerable, they have exploitable shortcomings, their command-and-control frictions and divergent goals hamper insurgent planning and restrict coordination of operations and their excesses alienate the people. Having previously held power in Afghanistan and failed, popular enthusiasm for them appears limited as does their ability to spread viably beyond Pakhtun areas. There is an opportunity to exploit the insurgent’s inability to mobilize public support.”
The major thrust of the new US “Afghan strategy” is to build the capacity of Afghans to take responsibility for their own security. While McChrystal maintains the Afghan National Army is increasingly capable of leading or conducting independent operations, the ANA remains very much dependant on international forces, and rather unwilling to fight. Late last year a decision was taken to increase the ANA’s size from 92,000 to 134,000, the Afghan ministry of defence plans to accelerate training to enhance security in key areas, mainly in southern Afghanistan. McChrystal’s recommendations also include: (1) increasing the strength of the Afghan National Police (ANP) from 84,000 to 160,000 as soon as practicable to “thicken and harden” security in the districts, provinces, regions and accelerate plans to double the ANP size to operate effectively as a counterinsurgency force. (2) Realign and streamline the responsibilities for the ANSF and (3) develop Afghan ministerial and institutional capabilities, and resources for the forces in the field.
Reporting negligible Al-Qaeda activity in Afghanistan, McChrystal’s counterinsurgency (COIN) operations aims to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, and deny Taliban the space and opportunity for their war against US and coalition troops. “The key geographical objectives of the major insurgent groups are Kandahar City and Khost province. The (so-called) Quetta Shura Taliban has been working to control Kandahar and its approaches for several years, there are indications that their influence over the city and neighbouring districts is significant and growing. The Haqqani Network aims to eventually regain full control of its traditional base in Khost, Paktia and Paktika, while Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin maintains militant bases in Nangarhar, Nuristan and Kunar. All three insurgent groups require resources – mainly money and manpower. The Quetta Shura Taliban derive funding from the narcotics trade and external donors. The Haqqani Network draws resources principally from Pakistan and Gulf Arab networks, and from its close association with Al-Qaeda and other Pakistan-based insurgent groups. Hizb-e-Islami seeks control of mineral wealth and smuggling routes in the east.”
Choosing Anbar province is “vital ground” in Iraq. The US sent in its best troops, the US Marines. Nine thousand US Marines have been earmarked to be in harm’s way in Helmand province, till recently the prime area of operations of British troops. Talking to US Marines and US Army soldiers at Camp Lejeune, Adm Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted more casualties “before things get better.” Mainly confined in Iraq to urban areas, counter-guerrilla operations in Afghanistan envisages classic rural campaign in very tough terrain, ranging from being rugged and mountainous along the Durand Line to vast desert areas west and south-west of Kandahar.
The “military surge” must cater for Taliban fleeing across the border into Pakistan, mainly to areas where the Haqqani Network and Hizb-e-Islami are reportedly got safe havens. The Pakistan Army has made the South Waziristan Agency a “no-go” area for the Taliban. Some Mahsud tribals have sought refuge in Haqqani Network and the Hizb-e-Islami support areas. There are rumours of blunt warnings to Pakistan regarding the Haqqani and Hizb-e-Islami networks. Nobody seems to assess the resultant backlash for Pakistan. In all the wars fought by the US, one doubts that they ever had such an ally “on the cheap” as Pakistan. At $1 million per soldier per year, $30 billion additional is quite a “budget surge” to the annual cost of $70 billion already annually budgeted for maintaining the US presence in Afghanistan. In the face of the US recession, this is also quite some commitment. In contrast to the outlay for Afghanistan. Pakistan gets a pittance of $1.5 billion a year, and that also with a lot of hoopla.
The acid test will be whether the ANA has the capability of (or enthusiasm for) assuming responsibility within 18 months, 36 at the outside. During the 80’s, the ANA studiously avoided combat with the Mujahideen, letting the Soviets do all the fighting. Presently the Afghan Army is sitting on the sidelines while the US and Coalition forces face the brunt of the fighting, and the casualties. What will happen after 2012? Will the bulk of the Afghan Army “surge” to the opposition like they have done twice before?
The “military surge” may well succeed for the time being, whether the usual Afghan “reverse swing” will take place after 2012, only time will tell.