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Whack-a-Mole in Afghanistan

There’s good reason to question the logic behind the fight against the Taliban, which has the United States playing whack-a-mole—defeating insurgents in one area, only to have them pop up elsewhere. As one lieutenant described a single battle, so too goes the war:

The sole escape for the insurgents was to ford the Helmand River and disappear into Zamindawar, an ungoverned desert extending from the dam to the foothills of a towering mountain range several miles north. “And they did exactly that,” the platoon commander said. “That’s the Wild West up there. We won’t ever go up there.”

Since everyone agrees that ISAF forces cannot be everywhere at once (or stay indefinitely), the only long-term strategy is to build up the Afghan national army and police force.  Yet France’s decision to pull out many of its trainers by the end of 2013 shows the practical problems the coalition faces in executing it.

Secretary Panetta’s announcement that the United States will play only a supporting role in combat by mid-2013 is an attempt to reconcile the urgency and the difficulty of training the ANA by shifting the incentives. Right now, coalition forces have every incentive to defeat the Taliban. Why? Put bluntly, because officers’ promotions depend on their units’ performance on the battlefield far more than on their progress made in training and integrating the ANA.  But forcing hard-charging soldiers and Marines to take a backseat might be the only way to force the ANA to get up front. Necessity is the mother of invention.

It’s also double-or-nothing. If the ANA can’t handle the Taliban and ISAF is out the door, there’s no prize for guessing what comes next.

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  • LarryD

    If the “evil capitalists” were as bad as Marxist propaganda paints them, some of these agitators would met with “accidents”.

  • YM

    Please. If you are going to spell Marines with an upper case “M,” spell Soldier with an upper case “S.”

    Army Strong.

  • Walter Sobchak

    Why are we bothering. The command structure, the training, and the resources of the Taliban are all in Rawalpindi. It is time to get our hostages (i.e.e soldiers and civilians) of that wretched […] hole, and then bomb the Pakistani Military Establishment’s physical assets into flinders. Mail the Indian Government a note telling them that it is their problem, and we do not care if they kill, cook, and eat them.

  • Hubbub

    This situation is absurd, you know. Does anyone really take building up an Afghan national army and police force as a counterweight to the Taliban? When we leave, the ANA will be the Taliban within a few months at the most. Local police forces will likewise be arms of the Taliban.

    Why does our government feel the need to lie to Americans who know what is really happening in both hellholes – Iraq and Afghanistan? We haven’t help build ‘nations’, we’ve helped arm and train our once and future enemies. Can our government not spare us the deceit?

    These two outposts of civilization will simply devolve into what they were before we got there – plus they will probably get billions in foreign aid from us because we will feel ‘guilty’ because we couldn’t bring them out of their morasses of backwardness.

  • Rifle308

    I served two tours in Iraq early on, 2003-2004 and then in 2005. Worked as an Army enlisted Intel Analyst, I was infantry before my back operation in 1999. I write this only to give background to my comment.
    Before we even went into Afghanistan I had friendly debates/arguments with higher ranks that the Army would need to add back some of the divisions we lost under Clinton because I beleved that invading, pacifing, and rebuilding a functional society in Afghanistan was going to be very difficult. Nearly all of the higher ranks I talked to disagreed. Well here we are playing “whack a mole” 11 years later because we do not have enough infantry.
    The first part of my first tour in Iraq had my Texas Army National Guard unit as fill in personnal for the Division Rear, S-2 of the 82nd Airborne Division. At the time the 82nd had operational control of all the troops in Al Anbar. I spent most of my time doing Powerpoint slide reports about all the not good activity of the last 12 hours. I often looked at the previous 24 hours reports and thought that we could find employment for another division just in Al Anbar. Years later the US leadership decided we did need more troops in Iraq as a whole.
    When the Marines came in to take over Al Anbar one of the Marine Generals said the Marines were going to apply a “velet glove” approach that had worked for them down south (Where the British and other allies ran into so much trouble later on after they assumed control there.)
    I bring this up not to try to brag but to point out a major error the US has made in the War on Terror, not enough ground troops, period. The generals and Pentagon completely mis-estimated as to both needed troop numbers and correct strategy to handle either Afghanistan and Iraq. I believe it was in an effort to minimize US causalities and with the idea that fewer troops would cause less resentment by the locals in both countries. Instead we failed early on to protect our friends among the locals who the insurgents targeted, and looked weak to both the locals and the various bad guys who slowly built up the insurgency that nearly defeated us in Iraq and looks to be doing so in Afghanistan.
    Our cutting and running from Somalia back in the 1990s enboldened Islamic terrorism, and lead to 9/11/01. If Iraq goes back to choas and/or the Taliban wins in Afghanistan the bad guys will again get bold. There will be another attack on the US homeland, likely to be as bad or worst than 9/11. Nowadays many people seem to believe there is some “Fortress America” that we can retreat to and ignore the big, bad, complicated, confusing, mean old world. I think that belief is foolish, and dangerous. We need to engage the world as it will certainly, for good or bad, engage us.
    To put it another way, if one lives in a bad neighborhood, putting bars on your windows and doors and rarely leaving the house may work in the short term, but not in the medium to long term. The thugs will eventually start prying those window and dorr bars off plus one has to leave the house sometime.

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