Bigger is not always better – By Andrew Sklover

15 May

When President Barak Obama addressed US armed forces at Baghram AFB on May 2, he spoke to the Strategic Partnership Agreement that had just been signed. Regarding the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Obama stated that “we’re not going to do it overnight, we’re not going to do it irresponsibly, we are going to make sure that the gains, the hard fought gains that have been made are preserved.” But to what strategic extent will we be able to guarantee this?

‘Regional Alignment,’ a strategy General Raymond T. Odierno hopes to implement with the rapidly approaching budget cuts to the army should be expanded to a small contingency of both civilian and military advisors in Afghanistan, post 2014. Regional alignment focuses on making a smaller active duty force more efficient, and should be translated laterally to include the remaining US advisers in Afghanistan. Through “improved language training, cultural training and even equipment training” the remaining contingent of advisers will be able to improve response time and cooperative equipment sharing between US advisors and Afghani security personnel, working toward the ultimate goal of a ‘secured’ Afghanistan.

The message President Obama sent to the Afghani people, that “as you stand up, you will not stand alone” must be reinforced with a commitment to provide adviser assistance post 2014, ensuring that we will continue to stand behind a growing Afghanistan. While Vice President Biden prefers to refer to the remaining personnel post 2014 as trainers, a more hard line stance should be taken. A recent study by the DOD showed evidence that none of the Afghani police forces, and only one Afghani army battalion “was effective without foreign support.” While Afghani troops have made strides in recent years, it is clear that there is still a substantial reliance on foreign support.

Rather than rely strictly on ‘trainers’ who do not engage in combat or even live side by side with Afghani security personnel, smaller “adviser task forces” as described by Bing West should be the focus of the US contingent. Instead of grouping all remaining US military personnel together in central bases in Kabul, far from the front lines, advisers should be living and fighting alongside the Afghani security personnel, establishing the key personal link between homegrown ground forces and tactical US firepower. To make sure we capitalize on the hard fought gains and sacrifices of both US and Afghani troops in such areas as the Pashtun south and east, the US must inevitably come to the realization that casualties will be an unavoidable part of the process. However, utilizing a simple cost-benefit analysis, the advantages of a stable Afghanistan less reliant on US troops far outweigh the costs of a few unavoidable adviser casualties, especially since all military personnel must realize and accept the risks inherent with the job. Compared to the other outcomes possible, such as a large, expensive and politically unpopular US presence in Afghanistan post 2014, or a chaotic, failed state inevitably morphing into al Qaida safe haven, the deployment of trained advisers at the required level seems to present the best possible option

The biggest problem in working with the local population is their genetic coding for violence and warfare. The United States as a nation must accept the fact that our style of democracy simply will not work for every nation, despite our good intentions. No single political philosophy can satisfy all sovereign nations, and no foreign style of government should ever be imposed upon them. While US officials may simply be attempting to provide local residents with all the comforts available in the US, we must realize that many Afghans neither want nor need our luxuries viewing them as alien at best and corrupting at worst. The Afghans are a people who have survived for centuries based on the severe logic of tribal warfare coupled with an absolute rejection of all foreign domination, and they will not be laying down their arms anytime soon for a trip to McDonalds.

Instead of setting lofty unattainable goals as President Obama has urged in staying away from, we should aim to preserve Afghani sovereignty. Let the people of this harsh land have a forceful say in their own government, rather than impose a puppet US democracy which will likely fall soon after our withdrawal due to incompetency and corruption in the government. By installing key military advisers to keep the Taliban on the outskirts, as well as sufficient State Department civilian advisers to assist whatever government the Afghani people choose, we will take great strides towards winning the hearts and the minds of this fiercely independent people.

In summation, the US should be a supportive force for the Afghanis, not just another reviled, failed occupier. If small, relatively inexpensive and regionally aligned adviser task forces can help the Afghanis secure their own land by keeping the Taliban and al Qaida at bay and on the run, then hopefully a stable, secure Afghanistan will emerge. If not, then history is bound to repeat itself.

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