The Afghanistan War: Tactical Victories, Strategic Stalemate? With Comment by Chuck Spinney

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The Afghanistan War: Tactical Victories, Strategic Stalemate?

David Wood, Politics Daily, 13 February 2011

The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, likes to describe the tactical gains his troops are making against insurgents. But a stream of independent data and analysis suggests a wide gap between those battlefield gains and the strategic progress needed to convince a skeptical President Obama, Congress and the public to stay with the war effort for at least three more years.

. . . . . . .

But an estimated 7,000 insurgents who had given up and come over to the government later went back to fighting because of poorly managed and underfinanced programs to resettle and reintegrate them, according to a detailed study by the Afghan Analysts Network, an independent nonprofit research organization.

. . . . . . .

On a broader canvas, the United States continues to suffer a negative strategic impact, in part because of its involvement in Afghanistan, according to James Clapper, director of national intelligence.

He testified in Congress on Thursday that al-Qaeda continues to be able to recruit willing new fighters by aggressively exploiting such explosive issues as “the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. support for Israel” all of which “fuel their narrative of a hostile West determined to undermine Islam.”

Comment by Chuck Spinney

Chuck Spinney Sounds Off...

The author of this important report in Politics Daily (also attached below), Dave Wood, is a very experienced combat reporter and one of the very best US reporters covering Afghanistan. (Truth in advertising: I have known and admired Dave for 25 years.)  Wood has produced an an excellent, if grim, Afghan SITREP that is well worth studying carefully, including its hotlinks.

I think it would be a mistake to conclude that the situation being in a kind a balance, because we are in a strategic stalemate, however.  While it is probably true we are in a strategic stalemate in the strictest sense of term ‘strategic,’ every year the Taliban is able to maintain its menacing posture gives the insurgents additional leverage at the far more decisive grand-strategic level of conflict:  To wit, ask yourself if any of the following five trends (which are inversions of the five criteria defining a successful grand strategy) is way out of line:

(1) Polls tell us that the political will at home to continue this war is slowing deteriorating;

(2) our allies are also going wobbly and some have already pulled the plug;

(3) uncommitted countries are not being attracted to our cause and our warlike activities are alienating many in the Muslim world;

(4) the insurgents’ will to resist shows no sign of weakening; and

(5) no one the US government has a clue how to end this conflict on favorable terms for the United States that do not sow the seeds of future conflict in the region, or with Islam.

The Afghan insurgents may not understand grand strategy in these terms, but they understand instinctively that they can outlast invaders, because they believe they have done it before to Alexander the Great, the British at the height of their imperial power, and the Soviets.  Is there anyone who not think the the insurgents’ moral is being boosted by the prospect of outlasting the Americans?

A simple grand-strategic analysis reveals that time is clearly on the Taliban’s side and to assume that battle hardened leaders of the Taliban do  not understand this is just a tad optimistic, to put it charitably.  In fact, the breakdown of President Obama’s strategic review last December, which devolved into a dispute over when to leave, simply reinforced the obvious.

Chuck Spinney
The Blaster