TERRORISM SALON: Greg Djerejian on Tactics Versus Strategy


(Greg Djerejian is a financial services professional and publishes the popular blog The Belgravia Dispatch)
With all due respect (and I sincerely mean this, not meant just as the requisite boiler-plate), I find Peter a tad too cock-sure in how he portrays more boots on the ground as a total no-brainer (“well, do the math”). I understand the importance of boots on the ground for stability operations, indeed in the pages of my blog urged for supplementing our forces in Iraq back in the day, before the decision was belatedly made on the surge (once finally implemented after the myriad criminal ineptitudes of the Rumsfeld era, I disagreed with the wisdom incidentally, as it was not accompanied by a serious regional diplomatic strategy, so that we were merely forging tactical, localized security improvements but missing the wider strategic lens the situation demanded, and indeed still does today).
This is something of my issue w/ Peter’s note below too. Yes more troops equals more stability (at least in the short term), but to what end? Peter says he

…can’t get into that strategy as that is a much longer answer unsuitable for a post,

and perhaps so, but if we are involved in nation-building efforts in Afghanistan via ‘clear, hold, build’ in the wilds of Helmand Province, supposedly to align Pashtun tribes (say the large Alizai Tribe) w/ the Karzai Government–it behooves us to at least define better for what long-term objective we are doing so?

Forgive me if this is mawkish, but let’s make this more basic, if a tinge emotive: what do you tell the mother of a fallen Marine her son died for in Afghanistan, now well half a decade plus since UBL has fled the scene? To stress, the leaders of 9/11 are no longer there, after all, and peasants in southeastern Afghanistan who prefer neo-Talibs to Karzai won’t be the ring-masters of the proverbial “next 9/11”, I don’t think (for reasons I alluded to in an earlier exchange).
There have and will always be groupings in Afghanistan (and across the frontier in Pakistan) that are sympathetic to Islamist tenets–even some more ‘purist’ and ‘backwards’ than that of the central government’s ‘approved’ degree of requisite Islamic conviction/decorum, alas–and no amount of our young Captains trying to tee up assorted Jirgas will change this, I’m afraid. Nor can we transform Afghanistan into a Euro-style democracy with autobahns connecting Kandahar to Jalalabad, and looping back West to Herat. (Sadly, our own infrastructure, as Felix Rohatyn and others don’t tire of reminding us of late in the pages of the FT, is crumbling, and quite badly).
Combine this with what I indeed referred to as Afghan’s ‘historic aversion to interlopers’ (and I’ve found in life not to always put too much stock in polling data, so am less enthused seemingly than Peter about those results he quotes below, not least given the apparent trend-line), I’m simply not persuaded we might not feel ourselves increasingly adrift strategically in Afghanistan in the coming years–surge or no surge. This is particularly true as, scratch a mid-level European NATO planner, I suspect, and they probably can’t help wondering how an alliance meant to defend Western Europe from the predatory inclinations of the Soviet Union has transmogrified into an alliance requesting that young Germans and Danes and Spaniards engage in nation-building efforts half-a-world away from the post-historical pleasures of a good meal in Brussels.
After all, if we are there to prevent a “safe haven” by this logic we fall in to Fred Kagan and ilk la-la land and should be militarily nation-building across the border in Pakistan too. Again, horrific plots are more likely to be getting planned in the Parisian banlieu or slums of Hamburg than tiny villages in Helmand, I’d think, save those HVT’s still hiding in the region, whom we should of course be going after with all the mechanisms our national power–albeit mostly non-military save special mission ops to apprehend them, I’d think, rather than tens of thousands of men involved in a counter-insurgency that I believe does not necessarily, to this day, have the benefit of enjoying a coherent strategic overlay convincingly explicating why they are there and to what concrete ends.
All this said, Peter does mention more special forces below as key

…to build up the size of the Afghan army and police.

As someone who worked on the “training and equipping” (“T&E”) of Bosnian Federation forces, I’m all in favor of a major T&E program for the Afghan security forces. But this is very different than nation-building and winning hearts and minds in remote hamlets bordering Pakistan, so we should perhaps clarify what we mean to be doing as part of the Afghan mission better, I’d say.
— Greg Djerejian
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.


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