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KABUL — Some powerful Afghan politicians and tribal leaders have expressed doubts that more U.S. troops can turn the tide of the war, as President Barack Obama prepares to unveil a new Afghanistan strategy Tuesday.
U.S. Army’s own specialists in Afghanistan’s culture and society are warning that relying on the tribes there may be a waste of time. “Most of Afghanistan has not been ‘tribal’ in the last few centuries,” notes a recent report from the Army’s Human Terrain System at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. “In fact, many scholars are reluctant to use the word ‘tribe’ at all for describing groups in Afghanistan.”
But over the past few months, senior members of the Obama administration have lost some of their enthusiasm for COIN. It may be a good approach in the abstract, they say, but there are problems with applying it in this particular context.
First, they say, COIN is phenomenally expensive. It consists of doing a lot of things at once — from increasing troop levels to nation-building — and doing them over a long period of time. America no longer has that kind of money, and Americans won’t accept a new 10-year commitment having already been there for eight.
Second, it may be possible to clear and hold territory, but it is looking less likely that we will be able to transfer it to any legitimate Afghan authority. The Karzai government is like an organized crime ring. The governing talent is thin. Plans to build a 400,000-man Afghan security force are unrealistic.
Third, they continue, the population in Afghanistan is too dispersed for COIN to work properly. There would be a few bubbles of security, where allied troops are massed, but then vast sanctuaries for the insurgents.
Fourth, COIN is too Afghan-centric and not enough Pakistan-centric. The real threats to U.S. interests are along the Afghan-Pakistani border or involve the destabilization of the Pakistani government. The COIN approach does little to directly address that.