By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey has virtually sucked the oxygen out of Washington. The story has dominated the headlines, while the press has barely mentioned the Pentagon’s proposal to send more troops to Afghanistan.
On May 11, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart issued a sobering assessment. He said the U.S. must “do something very different” in Afghanistan, such as putting U.S. military advisors closer to the fighting. Failure to do so will risk squandering all the investment of troops and funding over the years.
The Pentagon Wants More Combat Troops in Afghanistan
This upheaval over Comey’s dismissal comes at a critical time. The Trump administration will have to consider adding more U.S. and NATO combat troops and further deepening its support for Afghan forces fighting the Taliban.
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Stewart said he visited Afghanistan to gain a better assessment of the situation. Some people have labeled the conflict with the Taliban a stalemate because the U.S. ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001. Now, there’s been a resurgence of the terrorist organization.
“Left unchecked, that stalemate will deteriorate in the favor of the belligerents,” Stewart said, referring to the Taliban. “So we have to do something very different than what we have been doing in the past.”
Stewart mentioned increasing the number of U.S. and NATO advisers and possibly allowing them to advise the Afghan forces, who are directly involved in the fighting. Currently, the advisers work with upper-echelon Afghan units far removed from the front lines.
Foreign Policy Failures of Former Presidents
As the Pentagon makes recommendations to the Trump administration, the U.S. needs to be mindful of the failures of former presidents Bush and Obama. Both presidents failed to adequately structure and provide resources to U.S. combat power in conjunction with support forces. These resources included military and civil support of the strategic mission in Afghanistan.
The other deficiency in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan was that both the Bush and Obama administrations failed to properly prepare Afghan military forces for the inevitable withdrawal of most foreign forces in 2011. This strategic failure not only involves the Afghan forces, it centers on a dysfunctional and ill-prepared Afghan civil government unable to take the lead once foreign forces left the country.
No strategy can succeed without U.S.-led efforts, which are tied to limiting the widespread corruption throughout Afghan civil society. Any recommendations by the Pentagon must factor in this problem and take a more holistic approach for any hope of success.
Afghanistan’s Multiple Terrorist Threats Need to Be Addressed By US
When the Pentagon makes its recommendations to the president, defeating the Taliban and enabling Afghan forces to take the lead in combat is just one aspect. Currently, Afghanistan faces myriad threats that need to be addressed if victory is to be achieved.
Ever since U.S. involvement in the conflict began in Afghanistan in 2001, Washington has never had a coherent strategy for dealing with Pakistan. The Taliban is one problem, but the U.S. has to deal with the complex assortment of other terrorist organizations such as the Haqqani network and ISIS. These organizations are linked with Pakistan and have established substantial sanctuaries inside that country.
The US Needs a Realistic Strategy in Afghanistan
If additional military forces are sent to Afghanistan, the U.S. will need a realistic approach that provides proper resources for the development of Afghan forces and without an arbitrary withdrawal date. The new strategy needs to focus and properly size its security and civil aid to actual developments on the ground.
In the past, the United States has focused on the tactical aspect in defeating the Taliban and the other terrorist organizations. However, U.S. leaders never factored in other elements beyond the military component.
Military analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Afghan forces need much stronger U.S. and allied combat support and a stronger train-and-assist mission. Any chance of winning a decisive victory by 2020 requires a new U.S. approach to both military and civil aid.
The U.S. can succeed only if it shifts from a deadline- and withdrawal-oriented strategy to one based on providing enough aid to achieve decisive results. The new strategy must have sufficient levels of force and money, reflect the military and civil realities on the ground, and acknowledge the real-world conditions of the Afghan forces and governance.
A single-minded military approach cannot be the only way forward in Afghanistan. The U.S. needs a complex multi-dimensional strategy that combines tactical, operational and strategic elements and focuses on all aspects of Afghan society.