June 26, 2018

SMALL WARS JOURNAL: Time for America to Leave Afghanistan.

Richard A. Carrick:

There are specific reasons why the latest U.S. strategy used to defeat Isis in Iraq/Syria is not transferable to the Afghan conflict. Three of the important strategic elements that made it work are missing in Afghanistan. In Iraq/Syria ISIS was defending a series of fixed positions located mostly in large cities and towns. These locations offered excellent targets for aerial attacks by U.S. planes, drones and missiles with maximum cost effectiveness. Heavy artillery directed by U.S. advisors was also successfully used against these fixed targets. Additionally, Russia periodically applied devastating aerial bombardment in Syria, although not always against ISIS.

In the Afghan war the U.S. military is in the reverse situation with the Afghan/ U.S. forces defending fixed positions in cities and bases. It is the Taliban that is effectively attacking these positions, frequently with suicide bombers. The new U.S. strategy of increasing the aerial bombardment of widely dispersed Taliban positions in rural locations cannot replicate the success of bombing ISIS held cities like Mosul and Raqqa. Although increased U.S. air attacks will reduce opium production, a source of funding to the Taliban, it will not be decisive because the lost revenue will be made up by their covert allies that are increasing their assistance.

The second missing factor is an effective ground force. No matter how destructive an air war, ground forces are needed to take and hold territory. In Iraq/Syria there were large numbers of trained and highly motived local ground forces. These included the Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi Shite militia and Hezbollah (with Iranian advisors) that conducted successful campaigns to recapture the cities and destroy ISIS. The presence of these forces required only limited use of U.S. troops resulting in few casualties. These local forces were motivated not by abstract Western ideas of universal values, but rather their own strong sectarian beliefs and interests.

In Afghanistan, however, after seventeen years of training and assistance by the U.S., most government troops are ineffective even when supported by U.S. advisors and air power.

You can’t get people to fight for an imaginary country. And as I’ve been writing here and elsewhere for years, Afghanistan isn’t a country — it’s a hole in the map where neighboring countries aren’t.

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