The Washington Post is currently serializing excerpts from Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, which reads distressingly like Count Ciano’s diaries. Yesterday’s excerpt quotes Marine Corps General James L. Jones, the current NATO commander, saying to another Marine, General Peter Pace, on the eve of his accession to the Chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "You’re going to face a debacle and be part of the debacle in Iraq."
I’ve known General Jones since he was a major. He is an acute observer of the political scene, and his warning to General Pace was right on the mark. Unfortunately, General Jones is now caught up in another war, the war in Afghanistan, which is not going altogether well. Perhaps it is time to share some bad news with him, as he did with General Pace.
I hope this autumn finds you well and enjoying the rigours of chteau campaigning. No wonder the Europeans fought so many wars; they had such lovely places to fight them in.
In another part of the world, less lovely, the snows will soon bring campaigning to an end. As winter will offer some time for adjustment there, I thought I should say to you what you said to General Pace: if NATO continues on its present course, you’re going to face a debacle and be part of the debacle in Afghanistan.
It is not news to you that the Taliban has the initiative. What your staff may not be telling you is that NATO is helping the Taliban stage its comeback. NATO is botching the war in Afghanistan in ways remarkably similar to those the U.S. has employed in Iraq. It is conducting massive sweeps, bombing villages, and alienating locals. It may not be too late to turn it around; no one is better positioned to do so than yourself. But if you are to avoid presiding over one defeat while Pete Pace presides over another, you need to act along the following lines:
1. Stop fighting the Pashtun. The war in Afghanistan is in part a civil war, and the Pashtun always win Afghan civil wars. NATO’s presence won’t change that outcome, although it may delay it. If NATO doesn’t want to end up on the losing side, it needs to make peace with the Pashtun, then if possible ally with the Pashtun. As NATO’s supreme commander, that ought to be your main strategic objective.
2. Stop attacking the Taliban. Of course NATO forces must respond when attacked, but don’t look for fights. Every engagement with the Taliban, won or lost, moves you farther away from peace with the Pashtun. Drop the sweeps, "big pushes," etc. Stop talking about body counts; those bodies are almost all Pashtun.
A story in today’s Washington Post shows the right way to do it. It reports a deal between British troops and local elders:
Under the agreement reached in the small town of Musa Qala, in Helmand province, British troops will not launch offensives. In return, the elders will press the Taliban to stop attacks, a NATO spokesman said Monday.
"If we are not attacked, we have no reason to initiate offensive operations. The tribal elders are using their influence on the Taliban," NATO spokesman Mark Laity said.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan will hate this, but those forces are now under NATO command, which is to say your command, Jim. Make them stop doing things we know don’t work, like sweeps.
3. Remember one of John Boyd’s favorite admonitions: we don’t want to be attacking the village, we want to be in the village. Operationally, NATO’s focus should be a variant of the Vietnam CAP program. The units in the village should be backed by mobile reserves that can fight battles of encirclement (U.S. forces can’t, but maybe someone else in your coalition can). When the Taliban hit a village, the object should be to encircle them and take prisoners, not kill them. One turned prisoner is better than many bodies.
4. Eliminate all airstrikes. Not only will they continue to hit civilians, they make NATO into a monster. Every airstrike, no matter how "successful," is a blow against NATO at the moral level of war.
5. Finally, accept that Afghanistan will remain Afghanistan. It will not become Switzerland. Stop promoting things like "women’s rights," i.e. Feminism, that tell the locals we want to force Hell down their throats. At best, NATO may be able to leave Afghanistan what it once was, a state with a weak central government, powerful local war lords, a narco economy and chronic, low-level civil war. It would probably help if the monarchy were restored. Anything more as a strategic objective is unattainable.
To accomplish any of this, you will need to tell the U.S. military and Washington to pound sand. Remember, you don’t work for them any more. What are they going to do to you, shave your head and send you to Parris Island?
William Lind [send him mail] is an analyst based in Washington, DC.