This is a harsh criticism of U.S.military strategy in Afghanistan, written by well-known military columnist and retired army officer Ralph Peters. The points he makes are controversial. Some of his statements are shocking. But his basic point needs to be taken seriously into consideration by all of us who are evaluating U.S. policy in that region.
To me, it seems absolutely incomprehensible that any military commander could even contemplate substantially enlarging his commitment to a major military conflict on the other side of the world before he has established secure and reliable lines of supply and reinforcement, and a secure exit route if strategic conditions make withdrawal necessary. That was a simple rule that I think I was taught in the first week of MIlitary Science 101 when I started my ROTC course as a college freshman 62 years ago!
February 17, 2009
THE 36,000 US troops in Afghanistan are prisoners of war. They're still armed and fighting. But their fate lies in Pakistan's hands, not ours.
It's time to rethink our nonstrategy in Kabul. We got our initial actions right in the autumn of 2001, slaughtering terrorists, toppling the Taliban and empowering would-be allies. But we've been getting it wrong every year since.
We're now on the verge of doubling our troop commitment to a mismanaged war that lacks sane goals and teeters toward inanity. And we're putting our troops at the mercy of one of the world's most-corrupt states - Pakistan - which has cut a deal with extremists to enforce Sharia law a short drive from the capital.
After taking apart al Qaeda's base network and punishing the Taliban, we should have left the smoking ruins. This should have been a classic punitive expedition: We're not obliged to rehabilitate foreign murderers.
As for those who exclaim that "We would have had to go back!" -- well, so what? Had we needed to hammer Afghanistan again in 2007 or 2008, that still would've been cheaper in blood (ours and the Afghans') and treasure than trying to build a "rule of law" state where no real state ever existed.
Staying left us with criminally vulnerable logistics -- ever the bane of campaigns in the region. The Brits and the Soviets both learned the hard way that superior fighting skills don't suffice in Afghanistan: You need dependable, redundant supply lines.
But we rely on a long, imperiled land route through Pakistan for up to 80 percent of our supplies -- a route that Pakistan can close at any time.
And the Pakistanis have closed it, just to make a point.
I'm convinced that the recent flurry of successful attacks on supply yards in Peshawar and along the Khyber Pass route were tacitly -- if not actively -- approved by the Pakistani intelligence service (the ISI) and the military.
Previous attacks were rare and unsuccessful. Suddenly, in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, our trucks were burning. The Pakistanis were making the point that we're at their mercy: They wanted us to rein in a (rightly) outraged India.
They also want the new US administration to multiply foreign-aid bribes. (There isn't enough cash left in the country for Pakistan's elite to steal.)
Our response? We're paying up. Plus, dumber than dirt, we're turning to the Russians for an alternate supply line -- after they bullied the Kyrgyz government into ending our access to a vital airbase north of the Afghan border.
But the central problem is the blind-alley mission. We kidded ourselves that we could conjure up a functioning rule-of-law state in the obstinately lawless territory known as Afghanistan, whose various ethnic groups hate each other unto death.
Instead of setting a realistic goal -- mortally punishing our enemies -- we decided to create a model democracy in a territory that hasn't reached the sophistication of medieval Europe.
And our own politics only complicate the mess. Since Iraq was "Bush's war," the American left rejected it out of hand. For Democrats seeking to prove they're tough on terror, Afghanistan became the "good war" by default.
Yet partial success in Iraq could spark positive change across the Middle East. Success in Afghanistan -- whatever that is -- changes nothing. Iraq is the old, evocative heart of Arab civilization. Afghanistan is history's black hole.
But President Obama has made Afghanistan his baby to show that he's strong on security.
What's the end-state, Mr. President? How do we get there? How do you solve the greater Pakistan problem?
By sending another 30,000 US hostages in uniform? De-fine the mission -- what, specifically, are they supposed to accomplish?
God knows, every decent American should want this ragamuffin surge to succeed -- but it's the military equivalent of the financial bailout package: Just throw more resources at a problem and hope something works.
Personally, I'm sick of seeing our troops used as a substitute for intelligent policies -- while every wonk in Washington drones on about there being no military solution to war, for God's sake.
No military solution? Great. Bring the troops home and deploy more diplomats, contractors and accountants. See how long they survive.
It's grimly entertaining to observe how American leftists, who shrieked that we should "support the troops, bring them home" while Iraq was all the rage, won't say "Boo!" about Obama's war of choice. (They're still not enlisting, either.)
Our botched deployment to Afghanistan as warriors who morphed into squatters defies military logic, history and common sense. The Brits learned -- finally -- that you deal with Afghan problems by occasionally hammering Afghans, then leaving them to sort out their own mess. You kill the guilty and leave.
Not us. We're going to build Disneyworld on the Kabul River.
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of "Looking for Trouble."