Military & Aerospace

US Military Surge in Afghanistan
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Issue Vol 25.1 Jan-Mar2010 | Date : 13 Dec , 2010

The frequent debates, on whether to stay or pull out; reduce troops or make it only a counter-terrorist effort, more dependent on fire power than human power; does not help. Even the tribal leaders are sitting on the fence, helping both the forces. Post 2001, the Taliban regrouped and operated in small sections and platoons even as late as 2007. Concentrating on IED attacks, roadside bombs, stand off attacks on posts, the Taliban kept the ISAF troops engaged. The lurking threat of the presence of Taliban within the striking distance has been all too pervasive. For example, there are reports of US troops operating out of Vardak having been attacked 83 times in the past year. This phenomenon, though worrisome and nerve wracking, was still not potentially damaging for the ISAF.

Taliban continues to enjoy patronage from within the Pakistan Army and intelligence apparatus, as well as from wealthy patrons in the Persian Gulf states.

So long as the Taliban did not do a “Dien Bien Phieu” on them where the Viet Minh in Vietnam in 1954, massed multiple divisions and brought artillery to bear against a French military position considered impregnable, killing 2000 French soldiers, and capturing 16,000. The US can always project the situation as a victory, and exit on honorable terms. But the Taliban are increasingly coalescing into a company or even a battalion size force, when they choose to attack or overwhelm vulnerable, small, isolated posts.

The fear of such attacks by company sized forces will impact the number of posts that the ISAF can hold in the countryside, thereby loosening their control of territory. This recent phenomenon as demonstrated in Wanat and Kamdesh, has sent alarm bells ringing in the strategic circles inside USA. They are skeptical of what the US has achieved at the end of eight years, when Taliban is still capable of causing such heavy casualties to them in a single attack.

To top it all, the Taliban continues to enjoy patronage from within the Pakistan Army and intelligence apparatus, as well as from wealthy patrons in the Persian Gulf states. The Taliban is able to obtain accurate and actionable intelligence, and if it continues to keep the population on its side, it will spell disaster for the US and its allies. The US public opinion can not live with many reverses, and this is precisely what worries General Stanley Mc Chrystal, the reason why he wants to pull his troops back into “populated centres”, as larger numbers he feels can better protect themselves and the population.

Troops from the surge of 30,000 will be used to reinforce Kandahar, P2K (Paktika, Paktia and Khost), Kabul, Heart, Jalalabad and Helmand. Some troops, at least 5000 will be used as trainers. The surge has been preceded by a troop pull out from heavily infested Taliban areas. General Stanley Mc Chrystal explained the latter action by saying, “these areas were not going to be brought under Government control anytime soon.” 7000 additional Afghan troops have been deployed in Taliban resurgent northern areas of Balkh, Kunduz, Baghlan.

To many, the decades longest awaited decision has re-affirmed the status of Afghanistan as a ‘graveyard of empires’, but it is critical for the US to bust this myth, no matter what it takes and how long it takes.

Recommended Thrust

In order to succeed the ISAF must arrest the Taliban momentum in the first phase, launch search and destroy missions in the second phase — concurrent with the accretion of forces. It should simultaneously develop the capability of the Afghan National Forces and ensure Afghan government’s accountability towards its people.

The process of resurrecting and stabilizing Afghanistan will be a slow process, therefore ISAF must exercise patience. There will undoubtedly be time and cost overruns. There will be causalities. But that is the price America will have to pay if it desires to retain its superpower status.

At the end of the 80s, following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the US, basking in its victory in the long and frustrating Cold War, abandoned the Afghan theatre, without dismantling the jihadi weapon it had created. It left Afghanistan to the mercy and machinations of Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment. Result! It had to revisit the region only after a decade. This time if the US was to do the same, it may just have revisit within some months, because it would have to contend with a much more confident, vicious and globalized Taliban.

An exit-timetable in a way sows doubts in a soldiers mind regarding the very purpose and legitimacy of operations.

For an enduring solution Afghanistan has to be therefore re-engineered in every way. Jihadi terrorism cannot be rooted out without rolling back Islamic fundamentalism from its epicenter i.e. Pakistan-Afghanistan region. The task is tall, but the consequences of failure will be pernicious. After all, there is a price and limit to America’s Homeland Security. For Americans, much of the answer to their homeland security problems lies in that region.

American leadership must desist from declaring and pursuing an exit-time table as that sends counter-productive signals, not only to the people of Afghanistan but also the forces on ground. In this regard the Vietnam lesson is illustrative. Periodic statements emanating from American leadership giving deadlines for withdrawal from the Vietnam theatre made many a soldier feel that why he should be the last person to die on the Vietnamese soil. An exit-timetable in a way sows doubts in a soldier’s mind regarding the very purpose and legitimacy of operations.

Going by the impressions of some analysts who had chance to interact with Pakistani opinion-makers recently, the military-intelligence establishment is convinced that the US will abandon Afghanistan sooner than is generally believed, leaving the field open to its manipulations. The US will prove them right at its own peril.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Rohit Singh

Rohit Singh is a Research Assistant at the Center for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)

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