Unified Afghan Effort

Posted in Afghanistan | 24-Aug-09 | Author: Christopher Lamb and Martin Ci

Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls on a reporter during a briefing the at Pentagon, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates notes the administration's new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan must produce progress this coming year before domestic political support for the mission evaporates.

Toward that end, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new dual-hatted commander of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) forces and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), reports back to Washington this month with a plan for reversing the deteriorating situation there.

Reports indicate McChrystal wants more troops but has been told they won't be forthcoming for the time being. In any case, what he needs even more is a way to unify effort among the 40 countries, three major international organizations (United Nations, European Union and NATO), scores of U.S. government organizations and innumerable nongovernmental organizations working to promote stability and defeat the Taliban insurgency.

Counterinsurgency requires the integration of diplomatic, informational, military and economic elements of power. Allies and diverse U.S. national security organizations must work well together across a wide range of difficult issues in complex and shifting circumstances.

It is easy for the entire effort to lose cohesion and end up with subcomponents working at cross purposes to little or even negative effects. To date, that has been the case in Afghanistan.

For example, operations producing inadvertent civilian casualties and alienating the Afghan public have increased over the past several years.

Such operations used to be conducted primarily by conventional forces, but now often involve U.S. special operations forces. Even Army Special Forces that traditionally focus on working with host-nation forces now pay as much attention to kill/capture missions as they do to working with Afghan forces on counterinsugency.

Kill/capture operations that undermine counterinsurgency objectives by producing too many inadvertent civilian casualties are just one of many unity-of-effort challenges that imperil U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.

Now that we have a new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy, several steps should be taken to get the disparate forces involved moving in the same direction. First, all OEF forces except special-mission units should be merged into NATO's ISAF mission so that it becomes the singular military effort in the country.

This is more practical than often assumed. OEF and ISAF objectives have been converging for the past few years. OEF now conducts nation-building efforts such as training the Afghan Army, and ISAF has moved from stabilization operations to counterinsurgency.

More importantly, NATO countries that a few years ago resisted a merger of OEF and ISAF because they feared the United States would abandon Afghanistan to NATO are now more supportive of ISAF taking the lead role because it is clear the United States will stay and provide leadership.

Steps to improve civil-military cooperation are also needed. As a recent report from the House Armed Services Committee concluded, "history is replete with examples" where ambassadors and military commanders do not cooperate, and "rather than depending exclusively on personalities for success, the right interagency structures and processes need to be in place and working."

In this regard, the national security adviser should ensure that McChrystal and Karl Eikenberry, the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, deliver a joint plan to Washington and that they receive direct guidance on the need to collaborate. The two leaders should exchange key staff members and make decisions collaboratively whenever possible. Otherwise, the final say should be a function of the security situation. Eikenberry would resolve contentious issues in those provinces where security was good enough to allow progress toward political objectives to take priority, and the converse would hold for those cases where McChrystal would have the last say.

Finally, Army Special Forces must focus exclusively on working with Afghan forces in the context of the ISAF mission, while special-mission units conducting kill/capture operations are monitored closely to ensure they support rather than undermine counterinsurgency efforts. Initially, McChrystal, a veteran of both Army Special Forces and special-mission units, should be given veto authority over any operations that are not directly tied to counterinsurgency objectives.

Eventually, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the new three-star NATO ISAF commander, should take responsibility for this oversight because he is charged with coordinating day-to-day operations.

With so much at stake and so little time to reverse a deteriorating situation, the strategy must include additional steps to improve the odds that the diverse actors working for success in Afghanistan are pulling in the same direction. Otherwise, additional troops or any increased resources likely will be wasted.

Lamb is a research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Washington. Cinnamond has trained and co-led the Afghan Special Investigation team investigating assassinations by the Taliban. These views represent only those of the authors.