Better alternatives to sending more American soldiers to fight for Afghanistan

By Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret.

In an effort to check the deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan, the Trump Administration is expected to approve an increase in the number of U.S. troops there.  Yet as should now be unmistakably clear, such a deployment will have no impact on the military balance there, will not improve prospects for peace, and perhaps most critically, will not accomplish any American national security objectives.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand how advocates of America’s 16 years of war in Afghanistan continue to argue, emphatically, that not only should the mission continue, but we should expand it.

Reportedly, the president is considering up to 5,000 more troops. This proposal should be rejected.

In a 2009 report I authored while at the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, I argued that the then-30,000 troop increase under consideration would not succeed. I warned that by sending that many troops, “we risk upsetting the local population upon whom we rely for support but providing too few to militarily defeat the Taliban.”

In February 2012, after I returned from my second deployment to Afghanistan, I publicly reported that despite numerous positive assessments from senior U.S. officials, the troop surge had failed to accomplish its mission, and in fact, the U.S. was on a path to defeat. I wrote that as “this report has shown conclusively… the military surge failed to reduce the insurgency, and with the drawdown in full swing, our future efforts are virtually certain to likewise fail.”

With the Taliban stronger today than at any time since 2001, we now know the surge failed.

Therefore, I continue to argue that in the current environment it wouldn’t matter if the U.S. deployed 5,000 troops, 50,000 troops, or even a massive 250,000 troops.  American national security would not improve, the insurgency would not be defeated, and untold numbers of U.S. men and women would again sacrifice their lives for a mission that will fail. There are several reasons why I make this assessment with such confidence:

First, as has been well documented, the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) has for decades been supplying, harboring, and sometimes directing insurgent attacks in Afghanistan from its territory in Pakistan. Until or unless that support is eliminated or severely curtailed, the war will continue. 

According to Senator Hasibullah Kalemzai, Deputy Speaker of Upper House, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has confirmed that the blast materials for the horrific attack on May 31st that killed 150 in Kabul had come from Pakistan and that the ISI had supported the attack. It was necessary, Kalemzai believes,  for the U.S. “to put full diplomatic pressure on Pakistan” to stop their support to the Taliban.

Second, as has also been well documented, corruption of the Afghan government is pervasive. Secretary Mattis testified at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing, “This is a critical problem. I'd say this is the biggest strategic problem we face, is corruption.”.

Finally, stabilizing Afghanistan cannot be militarily attained. Afghanistan is a massive country, containing more than 250,000 square miles of territory, much of which is mountainous and inhospitable. I traveled throughout eastern and southeastern Afghanistan during the 2010-11 surge and observed that even with 140,000 NATO troops there were vast swaths of the country where the Taliban had free reign. It is a physical impossibility to prevent nefarious actors from operating in Afghanistan.

Of far greater importance, however, is the fact that political solutions cannot be imposed on any nation from outside by means of military power. The people on the ground who will have to live with the results must be the ones to craft the solution.

At present, the overriding priority for the US is to keep the nation safe from terrorist strikes originating from overseas.  To protect America, we don’t need to rebuild the entire country of Afghanistan. Thankfully, as with the rest of the vast territory around the globe, the Pentagon and intelligence community can and should continue their important work of identifying and eliminating security threats. That is a totally different mission than that which policy makers have pursued there for many years.

Instead of surging military forces into Afghanistan, Washington could engage in a concerted diplomatic effort in the region, including Islamabad, Kabul, and New Delhi, to convince Pakistan to cease or severely curtail cross-border support for the insurgency. If the Taliban and other entities lost their support from Pakistan, the Afghan security forces might be able, on their own, to sufficiently degrade the insurgency.

The U.S. could also put pressure on the Kabul government to make genuine, measurable progress in reducing corruption. Whatever course of action the Administration chooses, however, Congress should demand assurances that further aid—or the life of one more American troop—won’t be wasted.

The American government has an obligation to keep our citizens safe. We must now recognize, however belatedly, that accomplishing that objective cannot be accomplished in Afghanistan by deploying additional U.S. combat power. Sending more troops into Afghanistan now cannot and will not make America safer. It is time to instead employ means and tactics that have a chance of success.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow at Defense Priorities.

This piece was originally published by The Washington Examiner on June 21, 2017. Read more HERE.