Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How Michael Scott would end the war in Afghanistan

That’s right, I’ve snuck in a clip from The Office.

When it comes to ending the Afghan war, the Administration is trying to have it three ways. It wants to leave Afghanistan—which the American public wants—and appeal to militarists, as is necessary during an election year, while negotiating with the Taliban. 

The Administration is hoping to initiate “authentic political negotiations” by May of this year. Additionally, as part of their “something for everybody” approach, the Administration plans to bring home the bulk of US troops by 2014, while simultaneously leaving behind American forces. Thousands of CIA officers and US Special Forces will likely remain in Afghanistan, focusing on “counterterrorism” operations—whatever that means. This may actually be a rational negotiation strategy: targeted operations against insurgent leaders may pressure Taliban negotiators to reach a settlement, without the "large footprint" of American forces. And, by magically transforming Taliban leaders into “terrorists,” militarists can be assuaged that the War on Terror continues. It’s win-win-win.

Establishing a sort of “stay-behind” CIA/Special Operations force may also be necessary because of the paltry development of Afghan security forces. According to US Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti only 1% of Afghan security forces can operate independently, while another 43% are effective so long as NATO commanders are leading them, gathering intelligence, and providing air support and medical evacuations. Then there’s the material issue: low pay and inadequate weaponry are a significant problem for the Afghan Local Police. With defense cuts and geostrategic shifts looming, it seems that the American government may no longer want to foot the bill for Afghan security forces.

In what some seem to be good news for the Afghan government, fewer foreign fighters are coming to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Given that Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns form the bulk of the Taliban’s rank-and-file, this probably won’t actually affect the insurgency. But, it will make it harder to justify the continued presence of western forces in the region: no global jihadis, no rationale for staying. Of course, as I indicated above, counterterrorists are magicians, transforming “insurgents” into “terrorists” with ease.

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