US-NATO Mission accomplished or a worse failure in the wake of Vietnam?

As US tries to utilize each and every bit of tactic to unleash its mega war machinery to somehow put an end to its longest military engagement, the fog of war did not only keep itself to Afghanistan. What is also shrouded in mystery is the shape of the things to come, as the endgame in Afghanistan approaches. There is a broad consensus among most analysts that the Thirteen-year war is in the process of moving towards its logical end; yet, what shape this process would eventually take, still remains obscured by the dizzying speed of events. But the real question seems to be the systematic fogging of the question that, is it Mission accomplished by the US & NATO’s coalition or a plan to reinvent the cover for another Vietnam?

U.S. soldiers walk to get in to a U.S. military plane, as they leave Afghanistan, at the U.S. base in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, July 14, 2011. The first groups of the U.S. soldiers are leaving Afghanistan as President Barack Obama announced last month that he would pull 10,000 of the extra troops out in 2011 and the remaining 23,000 by the summer of 2012. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
U.S. soldiers walk to get in to a U.S. military plane, as they leave Afghanistan, at the U.S. base in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

On December 1, 2009, Obama, in a speech at the West Point Military Academy, outlined his strategy for Afghanistan, curiously titled “The way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”  The strategy announcement culminated a three-month-long painstaking review process.  Barak Obama alluded to this difficult process several times during the speech: “This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.”

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Soldiers taking their fallen for medical extraction

However, more than the widely expected troop surge, it was the following announcement which caused a great stir within Afghanistan and among U.S. partners:

“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

However, as the president further elaborated on the core elements of the strategy in the speech, it became evident that the strategy in fact was a wholesale endorsement of the Commander, U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal’s assessment of the Afghanistan war effort:

“These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.”

General McChrystal’s Afghanistan assessment plan drew heavily on the counterinsurgency framework, with a liberal peppering of “nation-building” concepts. The strategy utilized the counterinsurgency perspective to prioritize tasks rather than as a specific code of conduct. The country is divided into Regional commands, each dealt according to its own specifications. But what it as a whole meant was to win over the people with security and services attentive to local needs, thereby depriving insurgents of popular support, dividing them from the people, and eventually affording an opportunity to kill or “reconcile” them, eventually aiming at a calm exit by the US-NATO Alliance.

In the meanwhile, a central part of McChrystal’s strategic assessment was the acceleration of the training of Afghan security forces so that the coalition troops can effectively partner with them and eventually hand security over to the Afghan forces. The priorities included training of the Afghan National Security Force which includes the police and the army.

  1. A) Afghan National Army (ANA)
Non Commissioned Officers of the Afghan National Army, recite the oath ceremony of the first term bridmals,  July 15th, at the Gazi Military Training Center, Kabul, Afghanistan. Gazi Military Training Center was established February 2, 2010, by Turkish Armed Forces, Afghan National Army Training and Doctrine Command's, and NATO's Training Mission-Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Bradley Lail) (Released)
Non Commissioned Officers of the Afghan National Army at the Gazi Military Training Center, Kabul, Afghanistan. Gazi Military Training Center was established February 2, 2010, by Turkish Armed Forces, Afghan National Army Training and Doctrine Command’s, and NATO’s Training Mission-Afghanistan.

As of June 2009, the Afghan Ministry of Defence had 103,475 authorized personnel, with 89,521 actually assigned. The Afghan National Army operational units had 66,406 soldiers authorized, with 53,417 assigned to around 80 kandaks or battalions. The remaining personnel are assigned to civilian posts in the Ministry of Defence and serve in the headquarters, infrastructure, ministerial and general staff positions, training and transfer accounts.

There have been claims by various independent sources questioning the reliability of the official figures regarding the turnover rate in the Afghan Army. According to the U.S. Department of Defense reports to the U.S. Congress on Afghanistan in January and June 2009, the AWOL (Absent without leave) rate is running at around nine per cent.  However, this figure is contested within the Department of Defense itself. Published data by the U.S. Defense Department and the Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan reveals that one in every four combat soldiers quit the Afghan National Army (ANA) during the year ending in September 2009. With the total strength of ANA in 2009 estimated to be 103,475, according to this calculation, the turnover rate among Afghan soldiers is as high as 25 per cent.  However, both the turnover and the recruitment rates are likely to improve with the improved pay package announced in December 2009.

Still, doubts remain regarding the level of training imparted to the hurriedly expanded Afghan Army as also the duration of such training. Also, scepticism has risen that the new targets set by President Karzai during the London conference would ever be met. In the final communiqué issued after the London Conference, the participants also committed to providing the necessary support to the phased growth and expansion of the ANA in order to reach the figure of 171,600 personnel by October 2011, as approved by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board on January 20, 2010.

  1. B) Afghan National Police (ANP)

Afghan National Police marching

The Afghanistan National Police is Afghanistan’s frontline of defence against insurgency and organized crime. Yet, despite early $10 billion in international police assistance, the Afghan police are riddled with corruption and incompetence and are far from the professional law enforcement organization needed to ensure stability and development.

Using improperly trained, ill-equipped, and insufficiently supported ANP patrol men as “little soldiers” has resulted in the police suffering three times as many casualties as the Afghan National Army. The police are assigned in small numbers to isolated posts without backup and are targeted by the insurgents. Beyond  funding  the  Taliban,  the  explosion  in Afghan  narcotics  production  has fuelled widespread  corruption  in  the Afghan government and police. Drug abuse by police officers has become increasingly common as have other forms of criminal behaviour.

So on so forth goes on the efforts lined up by the McChrystal strategy expecting big changes by 2010 but with deadline of 31st December 2014 approaching head on US is still stuck with its war machinery in search of a safe passage which is only Pakistan as roughly more than 40% of the departure is taking place through Pakistan.

What the US military is discovering is that the shifting of troops and materiel across the globe, and then finding them homes, shelter and storage space, is complex and won’t come cheap.

To take one example for which some preliminary figures are available, it’s estimated that moving approximately 9,000 Marines from Okinawa and spreading them out to several other locations in the region, as plans call for, would cost about $12 billion, according to Defense Department figures.

In the years following the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Pakistan was frequently accused of duplicity in the US-led “war on terror”, even though it provided extensive logistical support. This included bases for the US Air Force to carry out strikes in landlocked Afghanistan, transit routes for NATO supplies (now flowing freely again), collaboration with US intelligence agencies to arrest top al-Qaeda members, and military operations in the Pakistani tribal areas against pro-Taliban militants.

Yet the Americans still believed that Pakistan’s support was half-hearted and that it tacitly supported the Taliban. One reason for this belief was Pakistan’s opposition in principle from the beginning to the war on the Taliban. Former president Pervez Musharraf consistently urged the Americans to engage the Taliban in a political process.

In the early days of the conflict, the Americans were not interested in any form of reconciliation with the Taliban as the regime had been toppled in a matter of months and its leaders were holed up in the mountains straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan: Washington had no reason to talk to such losers.

Nine years on, the situation had changed dramatically. The American war machine came under siege and huge swathes of Afghanistan fell either under direct Taliban control or heavily influenced by the Mujahidin. And even three years after that US is unsuccessful in every kind of strategy it comes up with. The loss to the giant is unaccountable as is the loss to the lives of the innocents it has usurped. In Sha Allah we will oversee the US strategy in the near future and the plans it has made for its sparsely displaced army. For now I leave the readers with a verse from the ultimate truth, Allah’s Word, The Noble Qur’an.

“Verily, those who disbelieve spend their wealth to hinder [men] from the path of Allah, and so will they continue to spend it; but in the end it will become an anguish for them. Then they will be overcome. And those who disbelieve will be gathered unto hell.” (Al-Qur’an 8:36)

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Linguist and researcher by profession. Special interest in regional security issues of South Asia. Focus on threat analysis of Pakistan. Mission is to play his part in uplifting & presenting the true narrative Pakistan. Editor-in-Chief and founder www.groundzero.pk