1.- Reform or Go Home.
By David Kilcullen, a former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus and the author of The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.
Counterinsurgency is only as good as the government it supports. NATO could do everything right — it isn’t — but will still fail unless Afghans trust their government. Without essential reform, merely making the government more efficient or extending its reach will just make things worse.
Only a legitimately elected Afghan president can enact reforms, so at the very least we need to see a genuine run-off election or an emergency national council, called a loya jirga, before winter. Once a legitimate president emerges, we need to see immediate action from him on a publicly announced reform program, developed in consultation with Afghan society and enforced by international monitors. Reforms should include firing human rights abusers and drug traffickers, establishing an independent authority to investigate citizen complaints and requiring officials to live in the districts they are responsible for (fewer than half do).
Other steps might include a census and district-level elections (promised since 2001, but never held), fair and effective taxation to replace kickbacks and extortion, increased pay to diligent local officials, the transfer of more budgetary authority to the provinces and the creation of local courts for dispute resolution.
If we see no genuine progress on such steps toward government responsibility, the United States should “Afghanize,” draw down troops and prepare to mitigate the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will come when the Kabul government falls to the Taliban — which, in the absence of reform, it eventually and deservedly will.
2.- End Suicide Attacks.
By Robert A. Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.
To win in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies must prevent the rise of a new generation of anti-American terrorists, particularly suicide terrorists.
The metric for measuring this threat is not the amount of territory controlled by the Taliban or Al Qaeda, but the number of people willing to be recruited as suicide terrorists. These individuals are motivated not by the existence of a terrorist sanctuary, but by deep anger at the presence of foreign forces on land they prize.
This is why the number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan, overwhelmingly against military targets, has skyrocketed as United States and NATO forces have increasingly occupied the country from 2006 on. There were nine attacks in 2005, 97 in 2006, 142 in 2007, 148 in 2008 and more than 60 in the first six months of this year.
It is imperative to decrease the number of suicide attacks. Given the ethnic divisions of the country, our best tactic is to use political and economic means to empower local Pashtuns to feel that they have greater autonomy from both Taliban and Western domination, and less need to respond violently.
A similar strategy toward Sunni groups in Anbar Province reduced anti-American suicide terrorism in Iraq and is our best way forward in Afghanistan.
3.- If You Can’t Beat Them, Let Them Join.
By Linda Robinson, the author of Tell Me How This Ends: Gen. David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq.
Within a year, we must persuade large numbers of insurgents to lay down their arms or switch to the government’s side. Afghanistan’s doughty warriors have a tradition of changing alliances, but success will require both military operations focused on the insurgent leadership and, even more important, incentives for fighters at the local level.
Mid-level insurgents and their followers should be offered a chance to join a revised version of the Afghan Public Protection Force. These local self-defense forces should be expanded and tied to legitimate local governing structures — both official and tribal. The majority of development funds should be funneled to leaders to strengthen local governance and development and pay the militias’ salaries.
Local self-defense forces in Colombia, Peru, South Vietnam and, most recently, Iraq, have proved very successful. The creation of a viable force like this is the single most important benchmark for the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.
4.- Pump Up the Police.
By Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
For all the disputes over strategy, virtually everyone agrees that we need to strengthen the Afghan security forces, make them true partners and put them in the lead. Afghans want lasting security, and they want it to have an Afghan face.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, wisely wants to double the size of the Afghan Army and increase the police forces to 160,000 men. This requires not just money, but also a commitment to send more trainers, embedded advisers and partner units. At the moment, international forces in Afghanistan say they still lack about 30 percent of the trainers and mentors needed to train even the current police force.
Creating effective security forces will also require more aid to create a functioning local justice system with courts, lawyers and jails. This will take at least a decade, so for the short term we should assist efforts to revive Afghanistan’s traditional justice systems.
5.- Kick Out Corruption.
By Nader Nadery, a commissioner on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
To defeat the insurgency, the Afghan government and its main partner, the United States, need to win the confidence of the public. Accountability must replace the widespread immunity enjoyed by officials who abuse their power.
Despite all the problems with our recent election, the incoming government will have a chance to start fresh, and a proper vetting of all new officials is the place to begin. This means establishing strict accountability mechanisms for high officials in the districts and provinces as well as in the ministries and directorates in Kabul. Simply shuffling abusive and incompetent officials among offices — as has been the norm over the past eight years — keeps the public from getting the governmental services it needs.
While the corruption in Kabul is well known, the alliances that American and other foreign forces have made at the local level with abusive officials and influential figures have emboldened those Afghans and alarmed the Afghan public. These alliances must be examined and stopped. The next government should make a statement by quickly clearing out some of the most blatantly corrupt officials.
6.- Learn to Tax From the Taliban.
By Gretchen Peters, the author of Seeds of Terror.
Skeptics of state-building proposals question whether the Kabul government — now almost fully dependent on foreign aid — will ever be able to support the military and police forces being trained. Yet there has been comparatively little investment by the international community in helping Kabul collect taxes, even though insurgents and corrupt officials have proved it can be done.
In addition to collecting taxes from the illegal opium trade, Taliban forces extort money from trucks carrying legal cargo through their territories and demand “protection fees” from local businesses, even hitting up construction projects financed by NATO.
Government officials also take illegal kickbacks — one governor in the eastern part of the country is reported to earn as much as $10 million a month extorting trucking firms. But this money doesn’t end up in state coffers — it just lines the governor’s deep pockets.
The “civilian surge” should include tax experts who could help federal and provincial officials develop mechanisms for collecting revenue — and make sure that money ends up where it belongs.
7.- Polls Have the Power.
By Merrill McPeak, the chief of staff of the Air Force from 1990 to 1994.
By and large, my generation of military professionals trained for and thought about what we might call “Type A” war — modern war, featuring the clash of mechanized forces fielded by industrial states. Happily, we never had to fight the Soviets on the northern German plain, though Operation Desert Storm showed we might have been pretty good at it, had the balloon gone up.
In Afghanistan we’re fighting a “Type B” war that is in some of its essentials “postmodern.” Like postmodernism itself, the concept has a variety of meanings and may not represent a coherent set of ideas. But one thing is clear: the Type B enemy likely has little to lose — no territory to protect, few important targets at risk, perhaps even no life worth living. Thus the Type A objective of fatally weakening an opponent by destroying assets important to his success — in theory, a measurable process — is replaced in Type B war by the much more complicated, essentially unquantifiable task of defeating him.
In time, democracies tire of war, as well they should. Thus, the single most important factor a Type B enemy counts on is time. The outcome in Afghanistan may be determined already, simply because we’ve been there for eight years. The strategic center of gravity is American public opinion, which will tell us when we’ve run out of time. If you want to know how we are doing in Afghanistan, read the polls in America.
8.- Take a Risk.
By Andrew McDonald Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
While in Afghanistan last summer as part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s initial assessment team, I found many American and other international units more focused on protecting themselves than protecting the Afghan population. Traveling through the allegedly secure city of Mazar-i-Sharif with a German unit, for example, was like touring Afghanistan by submarine. What little I saw of the city was through a small slit of bulletproof glass in an armored personnel carrier. (While I was a light-infantry officer in both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I had never before traveled in an armored personnel carrier.) The Germans offered their assessment of security in the region, but since they lack regular face-to-face contact with the people living there, why should I trust their analysis? Can they speak with authority on the degree to which an insurgent campaign of intimidation is having an effect when they themselves keep the Afghans at such a distance?
It’s not just the Germans, though. Some American and other allied commanders also insist on protective measures that hamper troops from interacting with the population and gathering information on what is driving the conflict at the local level.
After eight years of war with little to show for American and allied efforts, many Americans have tired of the campaign in Afghanistan and are wary of putting our soldiers in greater danger. But if we are to be successful in Afghanistan, it is a risk we must take.
9.- Don’t Believe That We Can Afford to Lose.
By Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Kimberly Kagan, the president of the Institute for the Study of War.
America cannot achieve even the minimal objective of preventing Al Qaeda from re-establishing safe havens in Afghanistan without a substantial increase in forces over the coming year. The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan’s south is growing. The Afghan and international forces there now cannot reverse that growth. They may not even be able to stem it. That is the assessment of the top American commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
President Obama said in August, “If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.” Some of his advisers now say the opposite: Taliban control will not lead to terrorist havens. Why not? Osama bin Laden first built camps in the territory of a Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, in the mid-1980s. Relations between Al Qaeda and the Taliban remain close. Even if they do not invite Al Qaeda in, could they, unlike Pakistan, keep Al Qaeda out? The president was right: the triumph of the Taliban will benefit Al Qaeda.
Rejecting General McChrystal’s request for more forces leaves two options. The United States withdraws and lets Afghanistan again collapse into chaos, or it keeps its military forces and civilians in harm’s way while denying them the resources they need to succeed. Neither is acceptable.
10.- Pakistani Patronage.
By Paul R. Pillar, a former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the C.I.A. and a professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program.
The government of Pakistan, through its intelligence agency, has long been a patron of the Afghan Taliban, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal recently warned that the collaboration continues. Pakistan sees the relationship as a way of hedging its bets in Afghanistan, an asset in its confrontation with India.
It is difficult to define a clear benchmark for ending that aid because the Pakistanis refuse to acknowledge that any relationship exists. But let us consider it to have ended or gone into remission if, a year from now, six consecutive months have gone by with no credible reporting of the sort that underlay the general’s observation.
The significance of this benchmark is threefold. First, Pakistani patronage is an impediment to subduing the Taliban. Second, it is an excellent gauge of how well or poorly NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan is going. Continued Pakistani dealing with the Taliban would reflect Islamabad’s judgment that it is going poorly enough that bets still must be hedged. Third, an end to the relationship would eliminate one of the biggest paradoxes in the rationale for the counterinsurgency: the Pakistani government that our efforts in Afghanistan are supposedly helping to save is assisting the forces from which we are trying to save it.