America’s Vision in Afghanistan: What is the Sustainable End State?

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obama karzai meeting.jpg
President Barack Obama chats with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during the start of a dinner at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 28, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis in discussions on US policy towards Afghanistan separates the silly from the serious in those who can define a workable “end state” that the US is willing to work toward and pay for.
Missouri 8th Congressional District Democratic candidate Tommy Sowers, a former Green Beret and West Point professor, writes a particularly potent critique of Congress’ dereliction of duty in defining a sustainable and workable end state in Afghanistan
This is a clip from Sowers’ piece “Who Will Pay for the Afghan Army? The Question Congress Must Answer Now” at Huffington Post:

Victory in Afghanistan relies on building the Afghan National Army and police towards a day when Afghans lead and our troops finally come home. My experience as a Special Forces officer was in building a professional Iraqi military from scratch. No easy task, but my challenges in Iraq paled next to the challenges faced by our troops in Afghanistan: the second most corrupt nation in the world, millennia of history absent a strong central government or military, poor education and infrastructure, a tribal mentality and an illegitimate government and leader.
Afghanistan’s specific challenges aside, the logistical question of the eventual size of the Afghan force is also problematic. History and General Petraeus’ own U.S. Army counterinsurgency doctrine recommends a minimum force ratio of 1:50, or an Afghan policeman or solider to keep the peace for every 50 civilians. Afghanistan’s current population is 29,121,000. Our doctrine dictates that to secure Afghanistan and bring our troops home will require training and arming, at minimum, 582,000 Afghans. This would be a force larger than the active U.S. Army.
Yet America’ current strategy is not to train the minimum force of 582,000, but to double the number of Afghan security personnel to 400,000. This will cost significant American blood and treasure to achieve, but Afghan will and funds to maintain.
400,000 Afghan security personnel will cost Afghanistan at least 15% of its GDP, far and away the greatest percentage spent on the military by any nation in the world. While U.S. doctrine states that the future Afghan military will be too few to secure Afghanistan, logistics portend that the future Afghan military will be too many for Afghanistan to maintain.
The question Congress must answer now: Who will pay for the future Afghan Army? The Afghans can’t. Our allies won’t. And America’s budget deficit and growing entitlements indicate America can’t pay forever.

The Afghanistan War planners have given the U.S. an unworkable nightmare that is sapping American power and encouraging doubt among allies and ambitions among foes.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

17 comments on “America’s Vision in Afghanistan: What is the Sustainable End State?

  1. jenny says:

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  2. Don Bacon says:

    Say again about government of Afghanistan, JT?
    Actually the government of Afghanistan — such as it isn’t — is profiting quite well, thank you very much. from WSJ:
    Over $3 billion in cash has been flown out of Kabul in recent years amid fears funds from corruption and narcotics are being stashed overseas. The sums leaving through Kabul International Airport are so large that US investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted US aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.

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  3. JT says:

    Sorry, but as long as the government, any government of Afghanistan agrees not to provide active support for international terrorist organizations, then the US should simply smile, salute sharply, turn around and march out. Not in 50 years, not in 8 years, but literally the very minute all parties sign any scrap of paper agreeing to do so.
    We can always launch predator attacks at suspected terrorists, but we might want to cut back a bit, because nothing makes terrorists quite like killing dozens of innocent people over and over again in order to try and kill suspected terrorists.
    Think of it as if you launched a missle at someone’s apartment building to kill a drug dealer in it, I think that the innocent neighbors, having nothing to do with it, would not take too kindly to it.

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  4. Don Bacon says:

    I would put Karzai’s life expectancy at about thirty seconds if he ever announced the nationalization of the multi-billion dollar Afghan drug trade. Can you imagine that happening in the US, for starters? Who would enforce it? And avoid losing their heads, that is.
    from WSJ:
    Over $3 billion in cash has been flown out of Kabul in recent years amid fears funds from corruption and narcotics are being stashed overseas. The sums leaving through Kabul International Airport are so large that US investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted US aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.
    The cash – packed into suitcases, piled onto pallets and loaded into airplanes – is declared and legal to move.
    More declared cash flies out of Kabul each year than the Afghan government collects in tax and customs revenue nationwide.

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  5. kotzabasis says:

    The following extract is from a paper of mine written on October 2008 and published in the American Chronicle and in my blog Nemesis under the title: No Half Measures: How to Win the War in Afghanistan.
    To Clausewitz, the master in matters of war the following was axiomatic: That the success of a war depends on the unison of the natural resources of a nation with the existence of its people. It

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  6. David says:

    We have yet to meddle in Afghanistan to the benefit of Afghanis. I gather that the closest to constructive meddling, and I certainly do not classify it as constructive in any overall sense, was the Soviet Union’s attempt to prop up their government in Kabul. But they too were occupiers, as were the Brits back when, and they too were not welcome.
    I do think there are Americans, including many military assigned there, who want to be constructively engaged. I have simply come to see it as an impossible task. We are occupiers, we are not welcome, and we blew the closest thing we had to an opportunity when Bush abandoned Afghanistan so he could invade Iraq.
    We cannot construct a positive from what we did starting in 1979, followed by our indifference once we had made Afghanistan the Soviet Union’s Viet Nam, one of the most despicable bases for foreign policy I can imagine, or from rubble-izing a country already reduced rubble as we sought revenge for 9/11. And then once we were there, the Taliban was rendered essentially powerless, and the population was looking about to see who would do what to them, we essentially left them to twist in the wind. Remember when Karzai asked for $30 million to help with reconstruction and the Bush administration refused to consider it? And we most certainly did nothing to provide domestic security for Afghanis when it was still at least a possibility we might be able to.
    I do not know what direction Karzai would have gone at the time if we had chosen active involvement in constructive ways, behaving not as unwanted occupiers but rather as a constructive presence. I do not know how Afghanis would have responded. I do know we chose a course that guaranteed nothing good could come of Bush’s invasion and shoestring occupation of Afghanistan. And now we are faced with the resurrection of the worst aspects of Afghanistan’s social and political existence.
    And Afghanis, many of whom at one point might have responded positively to our presence, now essentially want nothing to do with us or our drones.
    We have no choice but to leave, deliberately and systematically, doing as little harm as possible and good whenever the opportunity presents itself, as American men and women in uniform so often demonstrate a desire and willingness to do whenever they can.
    But Afghanistan has become what Viet Nam was: a place we don’t belong and the location of internal warfare we cannot stop and have no business being a part of. There is no silver lining to this one, unless after we leave Afghanis slug it out, settle on a government or segmented tribal existence, and find some workable relationship with the rest of the world.
    Just as we could have before 9/11, we can stop any actual terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan without waging war on or occupying the country. We are way past due to start working intelligently with all nations in the region, including Iran. For God’s sake, we unseated and then killed one of al Qaeda’s worst nightmares, wreaking utter havoc on a nation of 25 million people in the process, and then let chaos reign until it was too late to do anything by try, through brutal, horribly expensive countermeasures, to bring about something resembling a stabilized nation. How effing smart was that?
    The essential problem with US policy in the region is that it has not only been short-sighted and narrowly focused, it has often lurched back and forth between borderline indifference to anything but narrow geopolitical and energy interests and downright stupidity.
    And all the kings horses and all the kings men…

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  7. nadine says:

    “At least that’s how I interpret things.”
    You have a Marxist notion of economics, where “capitalists” never make money, they only steal it from others. Can you notice that far from “squeezing every penny” from Germany and South Korea, both these places started out as poor, war-ravaged countries 50 years ago and have since become very prosperous?

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  8. nadine says:

    “Does perpetual military occupation satisfy your definition of “Sustainable End State?””
    It could. We’ve had troops in Germany and South Korea for over 50 years, and that’s worked rather well.

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  9. The Pessimist says:

    Does perpetual military occupation satisfy your definition of “Sustainable End State?”
    The US will never voluntarily leave either Iraq or Afghanistan, nor any other occupied territory in an oil rich area until the last penny of profit has been squeezed out. Only a stronger military force can quickly drive the capitalists out, and that stronger force has not yet materialized on the battlefield. So, we have simmering conflicts around the world that simply feeds profits directly into Eisenhower

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  10. Don Bacon says:

    The Afghanistan National Army (ANA), composed predominately of illiterate Tajiks fighting Pashtuns, has a habit of selling its kit in the bazaar, not fighting and going AWOL.
    A recent U.S. government audit was damning. Arnold Fields, the U.S. Defense Department’s inspector general for Afghanistan, concluded that the capabilities of many “top-rated” ANA units had been “overstated” by NATO commanders. Several ANA units officially passed as able to operate without international support or guidance have not proved they are capable of independent operations, the auditor found in a report last month.
    NATO commanders almost always describe operations as Afghan-led, although it is not always obvious that is the case. For example, when an important bridge near Kandahar City was blown up by insurgents several months ago, NATO said the operation to fix it was led by Afghan troops. In fact, virtually all the work was done by Canadian and U.S. navy Seabee engineers while the few Afghan soldiers at the site rested in the shade.
    The Afghan police are even more worthless, and more corrupt.
    According to the July 15 Brookings Afghanistan Index, the ANA is recruiting about 34,000 enlistees annually. The re-enlistment rates are 57% for soldiers and 63% for NCOs, with an AWOL rate of 9%. The ANA numbered 119,000 in May 2010, the police 104,000. Still, the ANA claims to have grown by 27,000 in the past year. You do the math — how can the Afghan security forces double in size?
    The current ANA target strength is 171,600 by October 2011. The ANA costs $2.2 billion a year. This will rise to $3 million a year after the expansion, which itself will cost $17 billion. The Afghanistan government revenues are $1bn and expenditures $3.3bn. GDP is $23bn.
    On June 30th, General David Petraeus told a Senate hearing that “it will be years” before Afghan Forces can fully take over the fight against The Taliban in Afghanistan. Petraeus provided a striking analogy for what we are trying to do in Afghanistan: “Indeed, trying to train and equip host nation Forces in the midst of an insurgency is akin to building an advanced Aircraft while it is in flight, while it is being designed, and while it is being shot at.”
    In other words, impossible. Time to leave!

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  11. sagesiah says:

    Steve, I wanted to know your thoughts on this.
    Why didn’t the US attempt to create a confederate
    government for Afghanistan, with a giant Afghan
    jirga essentially putting it into a constitution?
    This would seem to reflect the political
    conditions on the ground much better than a strong
    central state, and God knows the Afghan tribal
    leaders have no problem creating new coalitions
    all the time, which would be handy when creating
    national policy in a jirga. Was there the fear
    that certain tribal leaders would still want to
    harbor al-Qaeda? Or that the leaders would never
    completely forswear violence, and would therefore
    create a civil war the minute we left? The
    position of tribal leader, as primitive as it
    sounds, is actually pretty institutional; in other
    words, people respect the leaders because they are
    the tribal leader, not because of who they are
    necessarily. Maybe this is just too naiive to
    think the Afghans would be able to function
    peacefully in a confederacy, but just wondering if
    the idea was ever discussed or considered.

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  12. drew says:

    No one will vote for a guy who both throttled the domestic
    economy and proved to be a bad wartime exec.
    Afghanistan is about to become extremely violent.

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  13. drew says:

    Afghanistan will either become safe for opium production and a
    vassal of Pakistan, or we will be there for 20-30 more years.
    If I’m wrong, it’s only because Petraeus is better than some
    Napoleon/Marshall hybrid. He may be, but this is tough duty.
    I think the November election, and Obama’s interest in being
    reelected, will more greatly influence the outcome than efforts at
    COIN in Afghanistan. Obama can’t be re-elected if he oversees a
    debacle in his only offshore military adventure.

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  14. WigWag says:

    “Thanks Wig: We need to put Afghanistan up for adoption to the collective stakeholders in its region. (Steve Clemons)
    If that would work to insure that girls can continue to go to school and women can continue to leave their homes unaccompanied by their husbands it would be fine with me.
    But I’m skeptical. The only person I’ve seen offer even a version of a plan for how to involve the region is Flynt Leverett. He believes that because Iran and the United States have common interests in Afghanistan these two nations should work together.
    Of course that’s as far as he goes; few if any details are ever provided by him or anyone else. And then we have the problem that Leverett is so enamored of Iran that he exaggerates their willingness to work cooperatively with the United States just as he exaggerates the cooperation that Iran offered to the United States (supposedly through Hillary and him) when they worked at the State Department.
    If someone has a real plan for the region to “adopt” Iran, they should present it. If the best that’s offered is the proposition that if only we worked with Iran everything would be fine for women in Afghanistan, then only a dope would believe it.
    Things for women are clearly not as bad in Iran as they were in Afghanistan under the Taliban; but that doesn’t mean they are good.
    As for other regional actors; exactly who should we work with? Pakistan? India? They’re fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan. China? Do they want to get involved with the mess in Afghanistan? Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan? Can these nations be counted on for anything?
    If you have a plan, Steve, it would be very interesting to hear it.

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  15. Steve Clemons says:

    Thanks Wig: We need to put Afghanistan up for adoption to the collective stakeholders in its region. best, steve

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  16. Philip Smucker says:

    “Afghanistan: the second most corrupt nation in the world, millennia of history absent a strong central government or military, poor education and infrastructure, a tribal mentality and an illegitimate government and leader.”
    Apart from the bad sentence structure of his Huff piece, all of the above is an awfully condescending approach to the whole conundrum. What is really so wrong with a “tribal mentality” afterall? Or is it just that we can’t fathom that?
    Steve. Would love to hear your own personal take on how we can prevent the Taliban from killing some of my best friends. I recall that we have spent nearly one trillion dollars on Iraq since Bush pulled the best and brightest of the Special Forces out of Afghanistan.
    A proper “end state” won’t be easy, but Afghanistan should not be the victim of Bush’s pin-headed move into Iraq. Cheers

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  17. WigWag says:

    There may be no viable “end state.”
    The United States may just have to stay in Afghanistan for 50 years serving as a constabulary force that insures that girls can still go to school and women can still leave their homes unaccompanied by their husbands.
    Americans who don’t like it should just consider it penance for Jimmy Carter’s and Zbignew Brzezinski’s invention of the Taliban.
    Those who think highly of Brzezinski should be especially cognizant of the words of Colin Powell about Iraq.
    When it comes to Afghanistan, Brzezinski broke it; now America owns it.

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