A strategy for the forgotten war in Afghanistan

By Brig. Gen. Rob Givens, USAF, Ret.

The attacks on 9/11 were initially equated with the attack on Pearl Harbor. After nearly 16 years, rather than resembling WWII, our war in Afghanistan—our longest ever war—will arguably beat out Korea as our most forgotten. How could this be?

Clearly, the Afghanistan war’s impact on our nation and us as a people is significant. But if that is the case, how is it that we still do not have an achievable strategy? And worse, why aren’t our elected officials debating and voting on our policy?

Currently our top commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, has requested an additional 5,000 or so soldiers, and it seems that 4,000 have been granted by Secretary Mattis and President Trump. Gen. Nicholson is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s premiere school for planners, School Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) and our National Defense University. Only the best and brightest military minds are sent to these schools. So his request for additional forces, one might presume, is well thought out and will deliver the victory, which has eluded us for the past 15-plus years.

To paraphrase the plan, more U.S. troops will assist in training more recruits to replace losses of the Afghan Army over the past two years, as well as assist in increasing the professionalism and capability of existing Afghan forces. In addition, the U.S. will provide more forces to increase anti-terrorism efforts against any resurgent al Qaeda, ISIS, or Taliban elements.

The overall action will place enough pressure on the Taliban that they will negotiate with the Afghan Government to find a way to end what has become an Afghan Civil War—albeit with serious outside support. The resulting peace will create a more stable Afghanistan from which extremist terrorist organizations will be unable to plan and execute attacks against us.

But what if our desired end state isn’t achievable, regardless of how many forces the U.S. deploys?

If we send an additional 4,000 troops as reported, relax our rules of engagement, push our trainers down to the lowest practical level, and get diplomatically tough with outside supporters of extremist groups, it might allow us to maintain a position in Central Asia and thus influence Pakistan, Russia, China, and Iran. Of course, that would only last as long as we were willing to occupy territory with substantial numbers of soldiers (some would argue forever, as is the case in Korea, Japan, Europe, and elsewhere).

But would such a cost be justified? Could we convince the Taliban we won’t quit while at the same time convince everyday Afghans we’re not planning to occupy their country indefinitely, thus fueling hostility? Would that end the systemic corruption which plagues the ineffective Afghan government? And would such a massive investment from U.S. taxpayers and soldiers achieve an end state of a marginally performing Afghanistan that isn’t a harbor for international terrorists.

If the last decade and a half have proved anything, it’s that the answer to all those questions is a resounding “no.”

Our priority is to protect the American homeland; therefore, we should focus on that—not nation-building, regime change, and annihilating any form of terrorism anywhere around the globe.

All tools of statecraft—economic, diplomatic, and military—should be employed to eliminate threats to U.S. security. But that means making strategic choices and prioritizing missions.

It is impossible and unaffordable to eliminate every terrorist in Afghanistan, let alone around the globe. Fortunately, U.S. security does not depend on achieve such fantastic goals. What we need is careful consideration of ways and means to reach an end state that keeps Americans safe.

We must have this conversation as a people because it is our duty to give our men and women in uniform strategic objectives they can accomplish. Deploying military force and risking the lives of our soldiers must only be considered if there’s a vital national security interest and a sound strategy that has a chance to achieve success. To send them into harm’s way without a strategy, without an achievable end state, without the authorities to wage the war, is as morally reprehensible as not caring for them when they return.

Rob Givens is a former Brigadier General who served in the USAF for 27 years before retiring. Currently, Rob serves as a foreign policy fellow and national security analyst for Defense Priorities, having recently served as the National Security Advisor for a Republican presidential and senatorial campaign. Rob has extensive expertise in senior executive level of the national security process, previously serving as the Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of U.S. Forces Korea. He has held command at the squadron, group, and wing levels and holds Masters degrees from the School of Advanced Air Power Studies and the National War College.

This piece was originally published by The National Interest on June 20, 2017. Read more HERE