October 29, 2007

MICHAEL YON IS WORRIED ABOUT AFGHANISTAN: “Iraq is looking better month by month. But at the current rate, surely we shall fail in Afghanistan.”

Sounds like we need to take a new approach, as we did in Iraq.

UPDATE: Lawhawk says the problem is Pakistan. “Instead of fighting to win, the Pakistani government under Musharraf is fighting to simply bide time. That’s a losing strategy for everyone but the Islamists, who use this time to regroup and rearm.”

And read this analysis from Strategypage: “While the Taliban are seen as the major problem in Afghanistan, that is not really the case. The big problems are poppies, corruption and Pushtun tribal politics. All three of these combine to produce the Taliban. But to eliminate the Taliban, you have to destroy the highly profitable drug business, curb the corruption and deal with the Pushtun problem. None of these solutions are easy to implement.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Chuck Simmins emails:

Glenn, the problem with Afghanistan is that it is a NATO operation. The European approach, as we have seen in Basra in Iraq, involves far more accommodation, and far less giving terrorists new accommodations.

The major complaint in Afghanistan is the lack of participation by our NATO allies in the pacification / anti-terror operations. Indeed, the utter lack of preparedness for any such ops. The Canadians have been outstanding, punching well above their weight class. The Brits and Aussies have done well, too, though the Brits have given away gains through diplomacy on several occasions.

The Dutch and French Air Forces have made their ground troops look bad.

I’ve heard quite a few complaints about the NATO operation in Afghanistan.

MORE: A contrary note from Josh Foust of Registan:

I noticed you posted about some frustrations on the mission in Afghanistan. Over at Registan.net, we’ve been covering the ways it has been faltering for years, as well as a series of policy prescriptions for how to right it. The most salient to the thrust of your post is this piece on what’s going on in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and urges caution about drawing too many conclusions:
Link. (and more here: Link.)

I have to point out that with the possible exception of pointing fingers at Pervez Musharraf, your links to analysis are almost entirely flat out wrong. Strategy Page in particular seems to confuse cause and effect—poppies are a symptom of severe instability and a wrecked infrastructure, not a cause ( Link ); similarly, for centuries Pashtun tribal politics (called “Pushtunwali”) have provided appropriate, non-violent means of conflict resolution and justice, and it is only in recent decades as we deliberately imported Saudi-style Salafism into the tribal regions that things got out of hand (the excellent Afghanistanica covered this several months ago: Link). In this analysis, corruption is likewise both a cause and symptom, though to conflate it with opium and the Taliban (or even to conflate the Taliban with Pashtunwali) is a mistake.

Similarly, the bit about NATO is at best sort of true: while it is true the European countries have been stingy in their commitments, so have we: to date, Afghanistan a total amount of aid from us what we send to Iraq every few months. From the start, it was crippled, underinvested (the first year of occupation only had a few million dollars allocated toward development and reconstruction, and already troops were being siphoned off to invade Iraq), and ignored—by both the media and by the Bush administration. It’s a bit silly to complain that NATO doesn’t shell out when we can barely be bothered to.

Well, unlike Europe we’re busy elsewhere.

MORE: When I posted the above I didn’t realize that Josh Foust had posted on this. Sorry, Josh, but taking a few hours to respond to your email is nothing I’m going to apologize to, and linking to people you disagree with is not error requiring “correction.” And the rather churlish reference to “superwarblogger Michael Yon” explains why I tend to discount your analyses — Yon’s spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, he’s got a lot of contacts there, and he’s got a good track record.

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