President Obama said Wednesday that he didn’t fire Gen. Stanley McChrystal over policy disagreements. Too bad.
Almost every metric measuring military progress in Afghanistan has gone downhill since McChrystal took command a year ago, as an April Pentagon report detailed. More recently, a UN report revealed that incidents involving improvised-explosive devices — the main killer of our troops — rose 94 percent in the first four months of 2010 over a year earlier.
It’s notable that one of the few strong statements of support for McChrystal came from Afghanistan’s most notorious crime boss — whom McChrystal had claimed as an indispensable US ally: Ahmed Wali Karzai. AWK, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told The New York Times: “We are asking the decision-makers to send him back to Afghanistan.”
McChrystal put America’s eggs in the wrong basket. He had to postpone the much-touted “Kandahar offensive” when his “ally” AWK decided to withdraw his support for it.
But then, he has been using “a strategy of tactics,” as West Point history professor Col. Gian Gentile calls the fashionable new American way of war.
Yes: The counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) that’s been our guide in Afghanistan is a tactic, not a strategy — just as the Afghan “surge” McChrystal lobbied for was a tactic. Which raises the vital question: What is the US strategy in Afghanistan?
Under McChrystal, it seemed to amount to hoping that AWK would calm Kandahar for us — even if, as I detailed in a recent Foxnews.com exposé, he also sold the very explosives that are used to kill American soldiers.
McChrystal fell into the trap of thinking that COIN tactics would add up to victory. But I’ve seen US Army units following these tactics in southern and eastern Afghanistan since the summer of 2007. We’ve stationed men in small outposts among the population, we’ve held endless shuras with Afghan elders, we’ve spent endless American dollars on “armed social work.” And southern and eastern Afghans still plant IEDs on the asphalt roads we provided, and burn down the schools we built them — and in many areas respect the Taliban’s (shadow) government more than President Karzai’s.
The Afghan war is winnable, but not the way we’re fighting it.
First, counterinsurgency has never worked unless a good percentage of the population supports the government — and that’s no longer so in Afghanistan. We botched a chance to gain a reliable Afghan partner, presidential challenger Dr. Abdullah, when we let Karzai steal the election last August. But the Karzais have to go, now.
Probably the best way is to prosecute AWK for his many crimes and hope that his brother will flee. (A US anti-corruption team is said to be closing in on another Karzai brother, businessman Mahmoud, even now.) The Karzai cartel is hollowing out the Afghan state for its personal gain. If some of his brothers are jailed, it’s likely Hamid will flee.
Second, Afghanistan is winnable only if the Afghan National Police and Army can take responsibility for security. Progress has been glacial.
Just one of Afghanistan’s 360 police districts can operate without US help, and just 14 more are rated at the top grade for those requiring oversight — the same as in 2009. Far too many officers quit — 16,000 last year. And in the last year, there has been no rise in the number of Afghan army battalions rated at the highest functional level.
Penny-pinching is certainly not the problem: The $11.6 billion appropriated for training the Afghan police and army isn’t far off Israel’s 2008 defense budget of $12 billion.
One factor eroding the Afghan police is poor local governance, something that our troops on the ground struggle with daily. Some of this can be corrected by replacing the crooks at the top of the Afghan state.
The answer isn’t more troops or money, it’s the moral courage to show the Afghan people that another way is possible, and that we believe in it. McChrystal seemed determined to show the Afghans that we believed only in the power of their mafias.
McChrystal’s replacement, his boss and mentor Gen. David Petraeus, must make it clear to Pakistan that our allies have to act like allies. McChrystal was an enabler of the two-faced Pakistanis, who both clamor for more American aid, yet funnel support to the Afghan insurgency.
In short, the replacement of McChrystal could be the best news to come out of Afghanistan for a while — if it provokes the administration to re-examine our Afghan war in time to start winning it again.