TO DEFEAT THE TALIBAN
Fight Less, Win More
The objective in fighting insurgents isn't to kill every enemy fighter -- you simply can't -- but to persuade the population to abandon the insurgents' cause. The laws of these campaigns seem topsy-turvy by conventional military standards: Money is more decisive than bullets; protecting our own forces undermines the U.S. mission; heavy firepower is counterproductive; and winning battles guarantees nothing.Every time you go after an insurgent and kill a civilian you make 5, 10, 20 or 100 new insurgents or insurgent sympathizers. It's not difficult to see why a large majority of the Afghans and Iraqis now hate the US and see the US soldiers as the enemy. So how do you win? Not with brute force.
The first tenet is that the best weapons don't shoot. Counterinsurgents must excel at finding creative, nonmilitary solutions to military problems.Of course that's not the way the immature president and the megalomaniac vice president see it. I doubt that many of the front running Democratic presidential candidates see it that way either. The denizens of the DLC are just as bad as the Republican hawks and Hillary Clinton is the queen bee if the DLC. Like Vietnam the war in Iraq and probably Afghanistan will end when the price becomes to high. Then we will have those helicopter on the roof moments some of us remember from Vietnam. In the case of Iraq we may simply run out of tin soldiers. History will show that thousands died for what was a lost cause from the very beginning because the bullies were in charge and the bullies never win.
Consider, for example, the question of roads. When U.N. teams begin building new stretches of road in volatile Afghan provinces such as Zabul and Kandahar, insurgents inevitably attack the workers. But as the projects progress and villagers begin to see the benefits of having paved access to markets and health care, the Taliban attacks become less frequent. New highways then extend the reach of the Karzai administration into previously inaccessible areas, making a continuous Afghan police presence possible and helping lower the overall level of violence -- no mean feat in a country larger and more populous than Iraq, with a shaky central government.
Said another way: Reconstruction funds can shape the battlefield as surely as bombs. But such methods are still not used widely enough in Afghanistan. After spending more than $14 billion in aid to the country since 2001, the United States' latest disbursement, of more than $10 billion, will start this month. Some 80 percent of it is earmarked for security spending, leaving only about 20 percent for reconstruction projects and initiatives to foster good governance.
The second pillar of the academy's curriculum relates to the first: The more you protect your forces, the less safe you may be. To be effective, troops, diplomats and civilian aid workers need to get out among the people. But nearly every American I saw in Kabul was hidden behind high walls or racing through the streets in armored convoys.
Afghanistan, however, isn't Iraq. Tourists travel through much of the country in relative safety, glass office towers are sprouting up in Kabul, and Coca-Cola recently opened a bottling plant. I drove through the capital in a dirty green Toyota, wearing civilian clothes and stopping to shop in bazaars, eat in restaurants and visit businesses. In two weeks, I saw more of Kabul than most military officers do in a year.
This isolation also infects our diplomatic community. After a State Department official gave a presentation at the academy, he and I climbed a nearby hill to explore the ruins of an old palace. He was only nine days from the end of his 12-month tour, and our walk was the first time he'd ever been allowed to get out and explore the city.
Of course, mingling with the population means exposing ourselves to attacks, and commanders have an obligation to safeguard their troops. But they have an even greater responsibility to accomplish their mission. When we retreat behind body armor and concrete barriers, it becomes impossible to understand the society we claim to defend. If we emphasize "force protection" above all else, we will never develop the cultural understanding, relationships and intelligence we need to win. Accepting the greater tactical risk of reaching out to Afghans reduces the strategic risk that the Taliban will return to power.
The third paradox hammered home at the academy is that the more force you use, the less effective you may be. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are notoriously difficult to tally, but 300-500 noncombatants have probably been killed already this year, mostly in U.S. and coalition air strikes. Killing civilians, even in error, is not only a serious moral transgression but also a lethal strategic misstep. Wayward U.S. strikes have seriously undermined the very legitimacy of the Karzai government and made all too many Afghans resent coalition forces. If Afghans lose patience with the coalition presence, those forces will be run out of the country, in the footsteps of the British and the Soviets before them.