Abu Muqawama retains its autonomy and the views and beliefs expressed within the blog do not reflect those of CNAS. Abu Muqawama retains the right to delete comments that include words that incite violence; are predatory, hateful, or intended to intimidate or harass; or degrade people on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. In summary, don't be a jerk.
From reader Jeff:
To answer your first question about 'the war in Afghanistan' being 'in the interests of the United States and its allies', it is first necessary to make the point that only several of the countries involved in this conflict actually consider it a 'war' in the first place. Though it may seem rather silly to get bogged down in a semantic quagmire, understanding this distinction is crucial when trying to answer your second question about 'how much is enough'. As such, we must first identify which 'war' it is we are talking about, as well as which adversary we are fighting. Not to be clear on these points also impacts on your third question about 'the strategic limitations of US counterinsurgency doctrine and operations'.
There is little doubt a political consensus exists in the US and many allied capitols about the need to counter Al Qaeda. Beyond this, no consensus exists either in terms of how to fight Al Qaeda, which other Islamist extremist groups to counter, or how many resources should be devoted to this mission. Because of these differences in means and ends, your first question must be answered in the negative.
The argument in favor of continuing along the current path presupposes that a 'Western' withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a victory for the Taliban, which would then allow Al Qaeda a secure base of operations to target 'Western interests'. It also presupposes several other things. For instance, it presupposes that 'withdrawal' is the equivalent of 'total withdrawal'. It also presupposes that a ‘Western’ presence is the necessary and sufficient condition denying a victory to the Taliban, which in itself presupposes that the Afghan government, or anti-Taliban elements of Afghan society more broadly defined, would be unwilling or incapable of defending themselves.
Resulting from all these assumptions is the belief that ‘counterinsurgency’ is the best, if not only option, despite its high cost and long duration. But are there alternative low cost and short duration options? These have yet to be presented. However, there is at least one credible option for waging a low cost/long duration conflict to deny Al Qaeda a ‘safe haven’. Ironically, this option goes by the name of ‘counterinsurgency’, but is of a very different type of counterinsurgency than is currently underway in Afghanistan. It used to be the case in the US, and still is in most of the other ‘fronts’ of what used to be called the GWOT, that ‘Big Military’ was kept out of ‘counterinsurgency’. Instead, the intelligence services working in conjunction with special forces and aid agencies waged a relatively low cost campaign, while avoiding the ‘high cost’ indefinite commitment of the bulk of American land power. Inherent in this ‘low cost’ counterinsurgency approach is recognition that achieving ‘success’ can take decades, not years.
Adopting a ‘low cost’ approach necessitates disposing of the false assumption that ‘withdrawal’ equates to ‘total withdrawal’, and that Afghan-supported ‘Western’ methods to defeating the Taliban are superior to Western-supporting ‘Afghan’ methods. There are several obvious advantages to this approach: it is less visible, it is cheap, it is sustainable, and it achieves the minimum consensus objective of denying Afghanistan as a ‘safe’ base for Al Qaeda. Thus to address your final question, the current ‘war’ is not in the interests of the US and its allies, but this does not mean that ‘war’ more broadly defined cannot secure our interests in Central Asia. The bottom line is that the US must wage war in such a way that its global strategic interests are not jeopardized in the pursuit of regional ones.