“Balochistan is a strategic center of gravity in South Asia”
By: Lawrence Sellin, Phd.
November 19, 2017
It seems like all the players in the South Asian power game think Balochistan, Pakistan’s southwest province on the Arabian Sea, is important – except the United States.
For the sake of argument, imagine that Balochistan reverts to its previous condition as an independent and secular state before it was forcibly incorporated into Pakistan or, more simply, is a blank space on the map.
Here are a few things that would change.
– The single most important Taliban safe haven, training and support infrastructure would be eliminated, isolating the Taliban’s Peshawar Shura and the Haqqani Network to be dismantled piecemeal.
– Afghanistan would have a reliable route to the sea and no longer be subjected to Pakistan’s economic stranglehold.
– An embryonic transnational terrorist epicenter containing the Islamic State (ISIS) and other extremist Wahhabi groups would be prevented.
– The flow of opium and heroin originating in Afghanistan, which fuels the Taliban, other insurgent elements and the world’s illicit drug market, would be disrupted.
– Chinese regional hegemony as represented by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the related construction of Chinese military bases on the Arabian Sea would be thwarted.
– Iranian infiltration and military action in Balochistan to counter groups supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabian would be halted and reduce the likelihood of another Syria-like crisis.
– An independent and secular Balochistan would drive a stake into the heart of Pakistan’s Islamization policy and its reliance on Islamic terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy.
Two questions arise from those speculations.
Why is the U.S. still fighting a war in Afghanistan under rules of engagement determined by Pakistan?
Why is the U.S. not exploiting opportunities to influence the strategic conditions in South Asia that might favorable affect the outcome in Afghanistan and future American influence in the region?
The ugly truth is that, lacking any new ideas or alternative approaches, the counterinsurgency and nation-building program in Afghanistan remains on automatic pilot, where everyone is being reassured that everything is going according to plan and that “progress is being made.”
Within the military bureaucracy, the tendency to give and accept happy talk is pervasive. Negative views can only be expressed as whispers in private conversations. Public criticism is suicide and, contrary to popular belief, changing the system from within is at best serendipity or at worst urban myth. In a system highly resistant to change, innovative thinking can be a risky proposition.
Military careerism fosters the development of political correctness, a finely-tuned sense of risk aversion, and a laissez-faire attitude toward demonstrable progress, where the appearance, rather than the substance of success, is a satisfactory outcome. The longer you are in such an environment, the more the bureaucracy can shape your thinking and behavior. You become a stakeholder in maintaining the status quo.
Current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is not designed to win, but not to lose, until a graceful exit can be achieved. Even if a long-term presence could be sustained, it is not a viable strategy when Pakistan determines what is sustainable.
The time is long overdue to take a serious, comprehensive look at the manner in which the war in Afghanistan is being conducted, whether the continued and exclusive pursuit of a yet unsuccessful 16-year-old strategy is, in actuality, suppressing our options and setting us up for future failure.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Full transcript of White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly’s statement concerning President Donald Trump’s call to the widow of a U.S. Army soldier recently killed during a counter terror operation in Niger:
JOHN F. KELLY, White House chief of staff: Well, thanks a lot. And it is a more serious note, so I just wanted to perhaps make more of a statement than an — give more of an explanation in what amounts to be a traditional press interaction.
Most Americans don’t know what happens when we lose one of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, our Coast Guardsmen in combat. So let me tell you what happens:
Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud, puts them on a helicopter as a routine, and sends them home. Their first stop along the way is when they’re packed in ice, typically at the airhead. And then they’re flown to, usually, Europe where they’re then packed in ice again and flown to Dover Air Force Base, where Dover takes care of the remains, embalms them, meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the medals that they’ve earned, the emblems of their service, and then puts them on another airplane linked up with a casualty officer escort that takes them home.
A very, very good movie to watch, if you haven’t ever seen it, is “Taking Chance,” where this is done in a movie — HBO setting. Chance Phelps was killed under my command right next to me, and it’s worth seeing that if you’ve never seen it.
So that’s the process. While that’s happening, a casualty officer typically goes to the home very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on. And then he knocks on the door; typically a mom and dad will answer, a wife. And if there is a wife, this is happening in two different places; if the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until — well, for a long, long time, even after the internment. So that’s what happens.
Who are these young men and women? They are the best 1 percent this country produces. Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any one of them. But they are the very best this country produces, and they volunteer to protect our country when there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required. But that’s all right.
Who writes letters to the families? Typically, the company commander — in my case, as a Marine — the company commander, battalion commander, regimental commander, division commander, Secretary of Defense, typically the service chief, commandant of the Marine Corps, and the President typically writes a letter.
Typically, the only phone calls a family receives are the most important phone calls they could imagine, and that is from their buddies. In my case, hours after my son was killed, his friends were calling us from Afghanistan, telling us what a great guy he was. Those are the only phone calls that really mattered.
And yeah, the letters count, to a degree, but there’s not much that really can take the edge off what a family member is going through.
So some Presidents have elected to call. All Presidents, I believe, have elected to send letters. If you elect to call a family like this, it is about the most difficult thing you could imagine. There’s no perfect way to make that phone call.
When I took this job and talked to President Trump about how to do it, my first recommendation was he not do it because it’s not the phone call that parents, family members are looking forward to. It’s nice to do, in my opinion, in any event.
He asked me about previous Presidents, and I said, I can tell you that President Obama, who was my Commander-in-Chief when I was on active duty, did not call my family. That was not a criticism. That was just to simply say, I don’t believe President Obama called. That’s not a negative thing. I don’t believe President Bush called in all cases. I don’t believe any President, particularly when the casualty rates are very, very high — that Presidents call. But I believe they all write.
So when I gave that explanation to our President three days ago, he elected to make phone calls in the cases of four young men who we lost in Niger at the earlier part of this month. But then he said, how do you make these calls? If you’re not in the family, if you’ve never worn the uniform, if you’ve never been in combat, you can’t even imagine how to make that call. I think he very bravely does make those calls.
The call in question that he made yesterday — or day before yesterday now — were to four family members, the four fallen. And remember, there’s a next-of-kin designated by the individual. If he’s married, that’s typically the spouse. If he’s not married, that’s typically the parents unless the parents are divorced, and then he selects one of them. If he didn’t get along with his parents, he’ll select a sibling. But the point is, the phone call is made to the next-of-kin only if the next-of-kin agrees to take the phone call. Sometimes they don’t.
So a pre-call is made: The President of the United States or the commandant of the Marine Corps, or someone would like to call, will you accept the call? And typically, they all accept the call.
So he called four people the other day and expressed his condolences in the best way that he could. And he said to me, what do I say? I said to him, sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.
Well, let me tell you what I told him. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me — because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died, in the four cases we’re talking about, Niger, and my son’s case in Afghanistan — when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.
That’s what the President tried to say to four families the other day. I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion — that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There’s no reason to enlist; he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken.
That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted.
It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.
Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.
And when I listened to this woman and what she was saying, and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this Earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery. I went over there for an hour-and-a-half, walked among the stones, some of whom I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.
I’ll end with this: In October — April, rather, of 2015, I was still on active duty, and I went to the dedication of the new FBI field office in Miami. And it was dedicated to two men who were killed in a firefight in Miami against drug traffickers in 1986 — a guy by the name of Grogan and Duke. Grogan almost retired, 53 years old; Duke, I think less than a year on the job. (Editor’s note: The F.B.I. agent for which the building is named was named Jerry L. Dove, not Duke.)
Anyways, they got in a gunfight and they were killed. Three other FBI agents were there, were wounded, and now retired. So we go down — Jim Comey gave an absolutely brilliant memorial speech to those fallen men and to all of the men and women of the FBI who serve our country so well, and law enforcement so well.
There were family members there. Some of the children that were there were three or four years old when their dads were killed on that street in Miami-Dade. Three of the men that survived the fight were there, and gave a rendition of how brave those men were and how they gave their lives.
And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money — the $20 million — to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.
But, you know, none of us went to the press and criticized. None of us stood up and were appalled. We just said, O.K., fine.
So I still hope, as you write your stories, and I appeal to America, that let’s not let this maybe last thing that’s held sacred in our society — a young man, young woman going out and giving his or her life for our country — let’s try to somehow keep that sacred. But it eroded a great deal yesterday by the selfish behavior of a member of Congress.
So I’m willing to take a question or two on this topic. Let me ask you this: Is anyone here a Gold Star parent or sibling? Does anyone here know a Gold Star parent or sibling?
O.K., you get the question.
Q Well, thank you, General Kelly. First of all, we have a great deal of respect — Semper Fi — for everything that you’ve ever done. But if we could take this a bit further. Why were they in Niger? We were told they weren’t in armored vehicles and there was no air cover. So what are the specifics about this particular incident? And why were we there? And why are we there?
GENERAL KELLY: Well, I would start by saying there is an investigation. Let me back up and say, the fact of the matter is, young men and women that wear our uniform are deployed around the world and there are tens of thousands, near the DMZ in North Korea [sic], in Okinawa, waiting to go — in South Korea — in Okinawa, ready to go. All over the United States, training, ready to go. They’re all over Latin America. Down there, they do mostly drug and addiction, working with our partners — our great partners — the Colombians, the Central Americans, the Mexicans.
You know, there’s thousands. My own son, right now, back in the fight for his fifth tour against ISIS. There’s thousands of them in Europe acting as a deterrent. And they’re throughout Africa. And they’re doing the nation’s work there, and not making a lot of money, by the way, doing it. They love what they do.
So why were they there? They’re there working with partners, local — all across Africa — in this case, Niger — working with partners, teaching them how to be better soldiers; teaching them how to respect human rights; teaching them how to fight ISIS so that we don’t have to send our soldiers and Marines there in their thousands. That’s what they were doing there.
Now, there is an investigation. There’s always an — unless it’s a very, very conventional death in a conventional war, there’s always an investigation. Of course, that operation is conducted by AFRICOM that, of course, works directly for the Secretary of Defense.
There is a — and I talked to Jim Mattis this morning. I think he made statements this afternoon. There’s an investigation ongoing. An investigation doesn’t mean anything was wrong. An investigation doesn’t mean people’s heads are going to roll. The fact is they need to find out what happened and why it happened.
But at the end of the day, ladies and gentlemen, you have to understand that these young people — sometimes old guys — put on the uniform, go to where we send them to protect our country. Sometimes they go in large numbers to invade Iraq and invade Afghanistan. Sometimes they’re working in small units, working with our partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America, helping them be better.
But at the end of the day, they’re helping those partners be better at fighting ISIS in North Africa to protect our country so that we don’t have to send large numbers of troops.
Any other — someone who knows a Gold Star fallen person.
Q General, thank you for being here today and thank you for your service and for your family’s sacrifice. There has been some talk about the timetable of the release of the statement about the — I think at that point it was three soldiers who were killed in Niger. Can you walk us through the timetable of the release of that information? And what part did the fact that a beacon was pinging during that time have to do with the release of the statement? And were you concerned that divulging information early might jeopardize the soldiers’ attempt to be (inaudible)?
GENERAL KELLY: First of all, that’s a — you know, we are at the highest level of the U.S. government. The people that will answer those questions will be the people at the other end of the military pyramid.
I’m sure the Special Forces group is conducting it. I know they’re conducting an investigation. That investigation, of course, under the auspices of AFRICOM, ultimately will go to the Pentagon. I’ve read the same stories you have. I actually know a lot more than I’m letting on, but I’m not going to tell you.
There is an investigation being done. But as I say, the men and women of our country that are serving all around the world — I mean, what the hell is my son doing back in the fight? He’s back in the fight because — working with Iraqi soldiers who are infinitely better than they were a few years ago to take ISIS on directly so that we don’t have to do it. Small numbers of Marines where he is working alongside those guys. That’s why they’re out there, whether it’s Niger, Iraq, or whatever. We don’t want to send tens of thousands of American soldiers and Marines, in particular, to go fight.
I’ll take one more, but it’s got to be from someone who knows — all right.
Q General, when you talk about Niger, sir, what does your intelligence tell you about the Russian connection with them? And the stories that are coming out now, they’re —
GENERAL KELLY: I have no knowledge of any Russian connection, but I was not, in my position, to know that. That’s a question for NORTHCOM or for — not NORTHCOM — for AFRICOM or DOD.
Thanks very much, everybody.
As I walk off the stage, understand there’s tens of thousands of American kids, mostly, doing their nation’s bidding all around the world. They don’t have to be in uniform. You know, when I was a kid, every man in my life was a veteran — World War II, Korea, and there was the draft. These young people today, they don’t do it for any other reason than their selfless — sense of selfless devotion to this great nation.
We don’t look down upon those of you who that haven’t served. In fact, in a way we’re a little bit sorry because you’ll have never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our service men and women do — not for any other reason than they love this country. So just think of that.
Looks like General Caslen and others are missing the 5 9’s reliability.
A letter to:
Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, Jr.
U.S. Military Academy, West Point
Dear General Caslen,
I have just read your long letter prompted by the Rapone affair. I have
also a lot to write about the situation.
First, I am not pleased with LTC Heffington’s story in his affidavit. In my
day no officer would have deigned to argue with a cadet, even a First
Classman. He would have simply told the cadet to return to his room. If
the cadet disobeyed he would have called the Officer of the Day to have the
cadet physically moved to his room. And he would have written up the cadet
for disobeying the direct order of a superior officer, plus disrespect to an
officer and being out of uniform. LTC Heffington may well lament the rot in
the administration and training of cadets, but he obviously was a part of
Second, why was no investigation begun in November 2015 based upon LTC
Heffington’s affidavit? Regardless of what the investigation would have
concluded, the fact that none was initiated is another example of the rot
that is permeating the USMA. Somebody simply decided to pass the problem
along to the Army. In addition, why was he allowed to graduate? As a
professed Communist he could not truthfully have sworn allegiance to the
Constitution of the United States. Yet he apparently lied and did. His
views were known and yet he was permitted to commit perjury.
Third, you write “While we do not compromise standards, we are a
developmental institution.” When did West Point become a “developmental
institution? What does that even mean? West Point was created in order to
furnish standard-setting, career officers for the United States Army. And
it did that job well until the latter half of the twentieth century. And it
accomplished its mission on an “attritional” and a “zero tolerance” basis.
What does “developmental” mean? Maybe it means that a cadet can be caught
lying twice, but if he is caught lying a third time, i.e., he has not
“developed”, he will be sent before the Honor Board, that may even decide
the cadet needs a little more “development” and gives him three more
chances. I remember that when I was a plebe, and maybe even my first day, I
was made to understand that lying or quibbling was not allowed and would
mean rapid dismissal. Maybe “development” means being able to discuss an
order given by a superior officer. Rot! Maybe “developmental” means that
an upper classman inspecting a plebe in ranks (if such a thing is still
tolerated) says “Mister, your shoeshine looks better today than yesterday,
but it still needs some work. So, try to do better tomorrow.” Rot!
Fourth, you write, “These changes have increased the realism, toughness, and
challenge of our developmental programs, resulting in the most capable and
confident young leaders of character that we have ever produced”. This is
gratuitously denigrating all previous graduates. Do I need to remind you
that previous classes produced leaders that saved this country more than
once. Your statement is pure PR. How can you possibly know that the
present generation of cadets are “the most capable and confident”? Have you
conducted any objective survey? Furthermore, the mission of West Point is
not to produce capable and confident second lieutenants. Its mission is to
produce the men and women who will lead the Army in the future. They should
be trained not to be second lieutenants, but future colonels and general
officers. At the 70th Reunion of my class last May you addressed all the
reunion classes. I took the opportunity to ask you what was the average
recent percentage of graduates who remain in the Army beyond their 5 year
commitment. You evaded replying to my question by stating that it was as
high as that of ROTC graduates. You seemed to be satisfied with that level.
It is not good enough. Graduates of the USMA are meant to set the standards
for the discipline and conduct of the personnel in the United States Army.
But if a graduate serves only his/her five years, his/her impact on the
standards of the Army is minimal to nil.
Fifth, you make a big deal of the ratings various publications give West
Point as a university. West Point is not a university. It is a school to
train standard-setting, career U.S. Army officers. Incidentally, cadets
receive a university-level education. You should care more about how many
of the graduates remain for a career in the Army than that such-and such a
publication ranks the USMA #? as a liberal arts/engineering/whatever
university. The same goes for athletics. Can you tell me that the
standards for admission are not today warped/waived in order to bring in a
star athlete? Can you tell me that special academic assistance is not given
to members of Corps Squads, particularly football. Can you tell me that
every prospective cadet must take a written exam and, good athlete or not,
must pass it in order to be allowed to enter?
Sixth, you make a big deal of having intercollegiate athletic teams with an
overall record of .590. So what! West Point was never supposed to be an
athletic powerhouse. I don’t believe the MacArthur quote that used to be
engraved over the entrance to the gym meant intercollegiate athletics, in
which only a small minority of the cadets participate. I believe it
referred to intramural athletics. I am all for intramural athletics. I
firmly believe that there is too much emphasis placed today on
intercollegiate athletics at West Point.
Seventh, you make a big deal about decorations recent graduates have
received. What about second lieutenants out of OCS or ROTC? Didn’t they
get any? Did they get less ? Maybe, because they weren’t “developed”.
Maybe, because they performed less well. Heroism is not a virtue exclusive
to West Point. What was once upon a time exclusive was the commitment to
graduate standard-setting career officers. This OCS and ROTC do not and
cannot do. OCS and ROTC base their standards, or at least they used to, on
those of graduates of West Point.
Eighth, you make a big deal that some recent graduates have been assigned to
divisions overseas. Where have you been? What’s so uplifting about that?
Every member of my class after finishing his branch Officers Basic Course
was assigned overseas-everyone. No big deal.
Ninth, I graduated under the previous so-called “attritional” and “zero
tolerance” system (as did all classes up to at least 1966. See Rick
Atkinson’s “The Long Gray Line”, the story of the Class of 1966). I
“developed” from a boy to a man on my own. Nobody gave a damn whether I
“developed”. I was expected from the first day to live up to the standards
of the Military Academy. It was up to me in meeting them to “develop”
myself. I seriously doubt that any of your “best and brightest” could even
have lasted through my plebe year.
Lastly, this letter started because of Second Lieutenant Rapone. Obviously
he didn’t “develop” as well as he should have.. How many more cadets are
being graduated under the “developmental” system who do not come up to what
have been the traditional standards of West Point: Duty, Honor, Country?
How many cadets are being graduated who have no intention, and never had any
intention, of being career Army officers / I doubt seriously that the
American taxpayer would be overjoyed to realize that he/she is paying,
what?, a half million dollars to give somebody a university education so
that he/she can leave the Army as quickly as possible and go into a
money-making civilian career. Although if there are a number of Rapones
whom you allow to graduate, it’s in the Army’s interest that they get out
Benjamin L. Landis
“Benjamin L. Landis retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel after a 27-year career that included service with the Military Assistance Advisory Group at the U.S. embassy in Paris and as Senior U.S. Liaison Officer with the French Forces in Germany. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the French Army Ecole d’ Etat-Major, and has an MSA from The George Washington University. After retirement, he was Director of Administration and Finance for several major law firms in Washington. He is the author of Searching For Stability: The World in the Twenty-First Century.”
“How are people graduating from West Point so radicalized? Users on /pol/ think they may have found the answer: Professor Rasheed Hosein,” they tweeted.
There is nothing strategic about Trump’s Afghanistan policy
by Lawrence Sellin, PHD. September 18, 2017
While accepting billions of American dollars in military and economic aid, Pakistan has been slowly bleeding the U.S. to death in Afghanistan through its support of the Taliban, Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups.
It is Pakistan’s role to force the U.S. and NATO out of Afghanistan to pave the way for regional dominance of its closest ally, China.
China is, quite literally, colonizing Pakistan.
Through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China aims to connect Asia, the Middle East and Africa through land-based and maritime economic zones as part of China’s global ambition to overtake the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower.
One element of that effort is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an infrastructure and development project, the backbone of which is a transportation network connecting China to the Pakistani seaports of Gwadar and Karachi located on the Arabian Sea.
“After the Free Trade Agreement was signed, Pakistan’s trade deficit with China widened further as exports to China fell to $1.62 billion in 2016-17 from $2.69bn in 2013-14 and imports from China, in contrast showed an alarming increase of 123 per cent, growing from $4.73bn in 2012-13 to $10.53bn in 2016-17.”
Some Pakistani politicians have described CPEC as the Chinese version of the British East India company, which, at its height, had private army of about 260,000 and even the father of capitalism, Adam Smith, found its conquest, subjugation and plunder of the subcontinent distasteful.
According to a recent report, Chinese aspirations in Pakistan are not just about profits, but resemble the colonization of South Asia by the East India Company:
“The plan envisages a deep and broad-based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history in terms of how far it opens up the domestic economy to participation by foreign enterprises.”
“For instance, thousands of acres of agricultural land will be leased out to Chinese enterprises to set up ‘demonstration projects’ in areas ranging from seed varieties to irrigation technology. A full system of monitoring and surveillance will be built in cities from Peshawar to Karachi, with 24 hour video recordings on roads and busy marketplaces for law and order. A national fibreoptic backbone will be built for the country not only for internet traffic, but also terrestrial distribution of broadcast TV, which will cooperate with Chinese media in the ‘dissemination of Chinese culture’.”
In addition to the already 30,000 Chinese workers in Pakistan, CPEC calls for visa-free entry of Chinese into Pakistan and the establishment of “civil armed forces” to protect Chinese investments and “a coastal enjoyment industry that includes yacht wharfs, cruise homeports, nightlife, city parks, public squares, theaters, golf courses and spas, hot spring hotels and water sports” built for the Chinese under CPEC.
The expansion of the port of Gwadar and its international airport will include a concomitant increase in Chinese residents, estimated to reach 20,000, which may be a prelude to the establishment Chinese regional military facilities. A base in Gwadar at the mouth of the Persian Gulf would complement the Chinese base in Djibouti at entrance of the Red Sea, both strategic choke points.
So, while the U.S. is expending more blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to regulate our progress there by controlling the battle tempo and the supply of our troops, China is successfully pursuing its geopolitical interests in South Asia, which will eventually include Afghanistan.
By choosing the wrong policy in Afghanistan, there is no end to what the U.S. can’t accomplish strategically.
Here’s a hint – you reach the Taliban through Pakistan and you reach Pakistan through China.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.
There has been a lot of writing lately on Afghanistan as the new administration struggles with what do to there, just as the previous administration struggled mightily to define both the mission and the end game. In the absence of any good ideas, or any solutions, the last administration tragically kicked the can down the road for eight years, pursuing the status quo of a policy pretty much everyone knows has failed.
Obama’s advisors told him he faced two broad choices: 1) stay the course, which would cost $50 billion a year and probably continue to go sideways, or 2) pull out of Afghanistan and see it almost immediately dissolve into a problematic festering petri dish of terrorists, like the disaster which is Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, many of President Trump’s current advisors are the same unimaginative military guys who have been suggesting the status quo for 16 years.
The bottom line is that there are no easy choices in Afghanistan.
There are no silver bullets but to keep kicking the can down the road, spending about $50 billion a year on the effort and accomplishing little to nothing, cannot be high on President Trump’s list of things he wants to do. The President is desperately looking for some alternatives and his military-centric cabinet seems incapable of coming up with anything other than to keep doing the same thing and to maybe surge another 4,000 troops to Afghanistan. Really? 4,000 more troops are going to turn this around? The “troop surge” is a common military strategy when things are going bad, but it’s not too creative.
Mikhail Gorbachev tried it when things were going bad for the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It didn’t work well for him, either. The Soviets withdrew completely on 15 February 1989.
The idea that the addition of 4,000 new troops in Afghanistan on top of the 8,500 already there is going to make a difference is absurd. We had about 100,000 troops in the country previously and we couldn’t “win.” The whole idea of the troop surge – more of the status quo – is nonsensical. This is as if you found yourself in charge of running a big black and white TV factory that was doing poorly because the market for black and white TVs had evaporated, but instead of making any changes to the product line, your management consultant’s advice was to double down on black and white TVs by starting to run a second shift of workers at the plant.
It’s like that old line, “We don’t know where we are and we don’t know where we are going, but we’re making really good time…”
In his book “Dereliction of Duty,” now current National Security Advisor LTG H.R. McMaster excoriated a whole generation of U.S. military leadership for not speaking truth to power and for not articulating their objections to the strategy then being used in Vietnam at the behest of Washington politicians. McMaster faulted the military leadership for not having developed good alternatives for policy-makers to what the military leadership knew in their hearts was a failed strategy and one that could not win. McMaster called it an abdication of the Generals’ professional and civic responsibilities.
What about Afghanistan today? Are we winning? What exactly is “victory” in Afghanistan? Are we just going to be in Afghanistan forever spending $50 billion a year? Are we going to be doing the “nation building” role forever, lest Afghanistan slip back into being a hot bed of terrorism? Does anyone have any plan other than to keep doing what we have been doing for the last 16 years, spending untold billions in blood and treasure every year because no one can articulate anything else we might do instead?
The real tragedy is that these bad decisions on the war in Afghanistan have real and lasting consequences. Thousands of young men and women are being sent into harm’s way in Afghanistan every year with an ill defined mission, in non-combat operations, just waiting to get shot at. The vast majority of our soldiers in Afghanistan never even leave the U.S. base.
There has to be a better way. There has recently been some talk about getting the big U.S. military footprint out of Afghanistan, saving tens of billions of dollars a year, and doing more work with private contractors in conjunction with Afghan forces. Is it a perfect plan? No, but you’re not going to find a “perfect” plan for Afghanistan because if there was one, we would already be doing it. But, I have been surprised at how quick some pundits are to poke holes in the idea while offering zero ideas of their own about what we should do other than the same status quo of the last 16 years. We had better start thinking more broadly about our options in Afghanistan and what the end game there might look like, otherwise some young smart colonel in the war college will be writing a sequel to McMaster’s book in a few short years titled, “Dereliction of Duty II: The Afghanistan Years.”
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