June 05, 2009

Triage: The Next 12 Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan

I was hoping to roll out the new CNAS report on Afghanistan and Pakistan with the new and improved Abu Muqawama. Alas ... the new and improved Abu Muqawama is still dealing with a few glitches. Expect that online later today or over the weekend. (I will just say this, though: Old Abu Muqawama is to Blue Steel what New Abu Muqawama is to Magnum.)

In the meantime, digest the new report -- authored by me, Dave Kilcullen, Nate Fick, and Ahmed Humayun -- on Afghanistan and Pakistan that will be formally released next week.

When I arrived at CNAS, I was a bit hesitant to lead the team working on this report. As you all know, I last served in Afghanistan in 2004 and have spent most of the past five years in the Arabic-speaking world. One of the great things about developing expertise about one region of the world, though, is that when you look at new regions, you more quickly -- to borrow a favorite phrase of Donald Rumsfeld -- know what you do not know.

So with the blessing of CNAS, I hired Christian Bleuer, Josh Foust, and Nick Schmidle as consultants and to make sure I got my facts straight. I am not the "pro's pro" on Afghanistan, but luckily, I know plenty of people who are. This report, then, benefited greatly from the many readers -- some in the United States, some in Europe, some in Central Asia -- who took the time to provide suggestions and tell us where we were getting things wrong in earlier drafts.

The second reservation I had about this project was that the administration, U.S. Central Command, and the Joint Chiefs had already conducted three strategic reviews on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it looked as if the president had already settled on his policy and a strategy. How, then, to be useful?

What we agreed to do was to offer four operational recommendations -- two for Afghanistan, two for Pakistan -- and to then provide metrics for gauging whether or not the U.S. and allied strategy was succeeding or failing. In the end, I think we have managed to write both a provocative and useful policy paper.

This next week, LTG (Ret.) David Barno will lead a discussion on this paper at the CNAS annual conference. Andrew Bacevich and COL Chris Cavoli will also be there to provide critiques and to contribute to the discussion. I tried to recruit co-panelists who would both provide a balanced assessment of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the tactical, operational, strategic, and political levels. I also tried to find people who might disagree with parts of our argument. It should be a lively discussion. In the meantime, read the report and sound off in the comments.