The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Update for Saturday, December 22, 2018

(Cross-posted at Stayin' Alive)

The sudden announcement by Individual 1 that the U.S. military will withdraw entirely from Syria, and troop strength in Afghanistan will be reduced by half, has created shock around the world. I have tried to be circumspect about my own opinions here, but I think it's clear I view the Afghanistan operation as a Sisyphean and pointless folly. I haven't referenced the U.S. presence in Syria much although it is obviously closely linked to the Iraqi operation. My general position is that the U.S. is far too  inclined to try to solve problems militarily. However, since the U.S. created the catastrophe of IS,  we did have an obligation to help solve it. Staying back and providing logistical and some air and artillery support to local troops was probably the best of bad choices.  The question of when to go, and on what terms, is still critical. Here is Adam Silverman on Syria.

So what, exactly, are we actually doing in Syria? What is it that will stop as a result of this withdrawal order? We are basically doing two things in Syria. The first is a train, advise, and assist mission with our local Syrian partners who are predominantly Kurdish, but some are Arabs, who are fighting ISIS. This is a Special Forces mission supported by a some Marine Corps artillery. The second thing we’re doing is, as an extension of the train, advise, and assist mission, conducting stability operations among the Syrian population where we are partnered with and training our local Syrian partners. This is being done within a “by, with, and through” strategy of partnering with vetted local groups. If we pull out there will be four immediate effects.
 So, this is not a combat operation. There have been at least a few commando operations in Syria that we know about, to apprehend specific individuals and gather intelligence, but none have been publicly known for quite a while. The immediate effects Silverman goes on to enumerate are:

  • Increased instability and population displacement
  • A worsened humanitarian crisis
  • Abandonment of the Syrian Kurds, with concomitant damage to the nation's reputation
  • Resurgence of IS and movement of the Syrian army into the northeast
Extraction of the U.S. forces without producing catastrophe would require, at a minimum, guarantees from Turkey to  refrain from attacking the Kurds while working toward a rapprochement such as they have with Iraqi Kurdistan. That would require the Syrian Kurds to repudiate the PKK. I don't know if they would do that but it's their only long-term hope, in my view. The Kurds would also have to be left with the means to defend themselves, and they would also have to negotiate federal status with Damascus, again analogous to Iraqi Kurdistan. Such arrangements would take time to negotiate, might be impossible, but certainly cannot happen without U.S. involvement.

As for Afghanistan, obviously the Kabul government is slowly but inexorably losing, even with the 14,000 U.S. troops who are there currently. I can't say what difference removing 7,000 will make, but this was done abruptly, without consultation with the Afghan government or NATO allies.

The Taliban, not suprisingly, have welcomed the announcement because they have made withdrawal of foreign troops a precondition for peace. However, of course, this actually complicates prospects for peace because they can wait until all the U.S. forces are gone and then largely dictate terms to the Kabul government, a view shared by many Afghans. Nevertheless NATO remains committed to Afghanistan so perhaps this will make little difference. In any case it was done impulsively and without proper planning and coordination.

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Tom Williams said...
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