November 01, 2007

The Reality of Afghanistan

The New York Times is apparently getting Roger Cohen back for all that time he's spent in Paris over the years by leaving him in Afghanistan for an extended visit. Today's op-ed is worth reading.

Two things he notes that Abu Muqawama wants to highlight:

Like Poland, Afghanistan has suffered the fate of a weak state between powerful neighbors.

This is very true, and under-analyzed. Leaving Iran, Russia, and the former satellite states aside for a moment, many of Afghanistan's difficulties stem from the fact that it is and will always be a proxy battleground for India and Pakistan. The closer the ties between Afghanistan and India become, the more threatened Pakistan feels. The more threatened Pakistan feels, the more they allow foreign fighters operating from within their borders to destabilize the regime in Kabul.

I heard many assessments of how long Afghanistan will depend on Western military assistance, but Abdul Jabbar Sabit, the attorney general, was bluntest: “The Afghan Army will not be able to defend the country for 10 years, so the international force has to be here for at least a decade.”

He’s realistic. An intense U.S. effort is going into producing a credible 72,000-man Afghan Army by 2009. The number may be met, but the force’s ability to sustain itself and mount large operations will lag. Capt. Sylvain Caron, a Canadian “mentoring” a nascent battalion, said “the cultural change will take 20 years.”

The police are way behind the army. Training has been a disaster. Low salaries, belatedly rising to $100 from $50 a month, have made corruption endemic, particularly in narco-territory. Work on a credible police force has scarcely begun.

“We’re looking at a long-term commitment,” William Wood, the U.S. ambassador, told me. How long? “A number of years.” Like in post-war Germany? “It would just be dishonest to pretend to be able to give you a number.” But, he insisted: “The role of the U.S. military will change.”

That's COIN, folks. It takes a sustained, multi-decade presence. Abu Muqawama thinks, though, the American people understand this and are on board with such a presence. He is less certain the European public understands this. And it bears repeating that when the conflict started, the Europeans were responsible for two things in Afghanistan while the U.S. battled the Taliban militants and their allies: counter-narcotics operations and the training of the internal security forces. So far, the two biggest failures in Afghanistan have been...