The Afghan war

Spearhead Analysis – 22.05.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

As the US enters a new phase of the Afghan war under the Trump administration, the most common stance presented by several influential voices seems to be that something needs to change. Pinpointing that ‘something’ in the murky Afghan dynamics is often driven by subjective views, this unfortunately caters  to a lack of wholesome resolves.

A recent working draft by Anthony Cordesman termed “The Afghan war: creating an Afghan capability to win”, aspires to objectively map out the possible various reasons which have catered to the longevity of the Afghan war along with some recommendations.

The depth of his analysis could be broadly summarized under three key categories

  1. Internal Afghan issues
  2. Glitches in US strategies
  3. Role of regional players

The internal Afghan issues certainly takes the limelight in the report– terming the host government as ‘almost as much of a challenge as the threat’ .

The author discusses internal security threats stemming from:  lack of readiness of the various Afghan security divisions , lack of meritocracy in military recruitments, politicization of security forces,  lack of competent leadership in Afghan MoD and MoI, inadequate security resulting from ghost soldiers and slow progress of Afghan air force. Some possible  measures to mend these issues  included: providing Afghan forces with stronger combat support, enhancing the scope of train and assist mission, increased US air combat power along with enhanced US support in order to evolve AAF to provide sufficient air support needed by Afghan forces on ground and offering conditional military aid that could be linked to visible reform efforts.

One key factor attributed to stalemated political progress and  lack of coherency between civil military structures was the NUG agreement which according to the author- has essentially placed ‘neither’ in position of power, corruption and divisions plaguing the vast lengths of civil structure were also discussed in relation to lack of strong, effective leadership. Recommendations to mend issues in the civil administration ranged from : providing conditional aid evaluated on visible genuine reforms, holding a loya jirga , holding new elections , to exposing corrupt officials.

While discussing the flaws in US strategies, a past error of premature withdrawal without adequately preparing Afghan forces was noted, in this context advice to objectively formulate future US military efforts based on ground realities as opposed to spinning realities for political discourse was offered.However , closely entangled to building upon tactical victories is the need for effective efforts to resolve the political reasons behind the insurgencies– this cautious suggestion was also discussed.

Under the role of regional players — Pakistan was also one of the few discussed as – playing less than a positive role- terming the Pak-US ties as transactional -’ based on pay , pressure or threaten tactics’. The author discussed the scope of various measures to enhance pressure.

Owing to the mixture of various issues, the author seems to paint a less than optimistic picture for US successes in Afghanistan , at best he seems to foresee continuing attrition and perhaps at worst– what he calls — the  beginning of major defeats for the US in Afghanistan.

Currently, the US seems committed to enhancing certain military efforts in Afghanistan, induction of US equipment into Afghan forces as suggested by Nicholson seems to be in the works, the recent addition of  Blackhawks  would also likely cater to enhanced air combat capacity.

However, The successes and challenges to the developing US military strategies for Afghanistan are yet to be seen. Likewise, the success of simultaneously pushing for stern civil reforms are also to be seen.

Ultimately the US successes in Afghanistan would be largely measured by  how effectively it can stabilize various internal crises, devise largely agreed upon political solutions and devise strategies for genuine economic growth, while ensuring its core interests are retained–  but, this area of Afghan rehabilitation process would also require immense patience , and application of careful analysed strategies based on local social realities–by the US.

As for dealing with the ‘transactional ally’– the US and Pakistan should work  towards creating enduring and mutually beneficial ties. Pakistan understands  the interlinked regional stability, thus the positive role it could play in improving Afghan socio-economic conditions needs to be realized and encouraged by the US.

Furthermore , the scope of positive opportunities stemming from regional changes linked to Pakistan should be carefully examined in order to forge long term strategic partnership between US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.