[Here are Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII.]
Fastabend : I
want to challenge us at the table. I want to give an example of some of the
things we lapse into. Half of us have said that the problem of the past decade
has been counterinsurgency and that we've done it and now we are all wrapped up
about whether we are going to do it again or not. I'm not sure we've done it.
You could equally assert that what we have done is brokered
two civil wars. And what's really striking to me about the difference between
the two experiences of the last decade and El Salvador: In El Salvador, there
wasn't that -- there were many moments that I had in many nights in Iraq
wondering about, "I wonder if we are fighting for the right guys
here." I think in retrospect we were brokering a civil war, and that's how
we calmed it down, by giving the Sunnis a chance to get it to a stalemate.
I think that civil war is still ongoing. I don't think Iraq
was a success unless we have an incredibly low standard for success. I can't
believe after over 6,000 dead and over 50,000 wounded -- not counting what's
happened to the Iraqis -- we leave behind a government that can't stop
overflights of arms to Syria from Iran. That counts for success? Really?
Alford: Would it
be better to still have Saddam there?
a ridiculous statement, if you don't mind me saying. Of course not. It would be
better to have enough presence and influence in that area to have justified
that sacrifice having made it. Or having had a better decision process about
whether we are going to make that sacrifice or not. We'd be a lot better off in
the coming months in our face-off with Iran if we had two, three brigades
around the five strategic air bases in Iraq. It would definitely influence
Alford: So that
should influence our decision in two years in Afghanistan.
Ricks: So you
think the way that the Obama administration resolved Iraq has fundamentally
weakened our position vis-à-vis Iran?
Fastabend: [Response off the record.]
Flournoy: Can I
just say for the record, a little bit of a point of fact. I think there was serious
discussion of a willingness of having a residual force. What changed the whole
dynamic was when [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki made the judgment that
he could not bring the guarantee of immunity for U.S. forces through the COR
[Council of Representatives] without risking a confidence vote on his
government, and therefore he wasn't willing to do that. Then you're left with
do you leave forces there with no immunities? That was a nonstarter. That's
what ultimately drove us to zero. It wasn't necessarily a preferred option for
the reasons you are describing.
thinking about this in the context of Afghanistan and the decisions that are
yet to come, I have questions.
One, has anything changed that has made us take a more
strategic approach or to ask the right questions now after so long of somehow
not getting to the right set of questions over the next two years? Because that
certainly -- this is a very reasoned discussion, but I think pulling back you
get a sense that there's just a rush to the exits and that that's what we are
doing. In part because the politics and the public opinion in the U.S. have
already gotten us out the door, does that have an increased risk from a
military point of view?
Second one: This issue that Shawn raised of what is our
post-Vietnam legacy? What is the version of that for post-Iraq and
post-Afghanistan legacy? There were obviously crucial decisions that were made
in the 1970s after Vietnam about what the U.S. military force was going to be,
how it was going to be reorganized. Have we learned the lessons from that? We
know we are going into a period of transition. Are the right things happening?
Are the right preparations happening? Is there a process to understand what
this moment of transition can mean over the long term?
Can I tack another question onto that? Which is, what do we see as an
acceptable end state in Afghanistan given the parameters that are on the table?
Fastabend: I like
Tom's light footprint, having a few bases there from which you go out and hunt
Mudd: Just the
ability to eliminate the target we
went into. [CROSS TALK, INAUDIBLE.] The only way Kabul makes a difference is it
affects our capability to protect ourselves. That's it.
Kilcullen, who couldn't be here today, maintained you can't do that because you
need the larger presence to acquire the intelligence that gives you the
Mudd: I don't
think that's true . . .
Dubik: Well, you
need the intelligence; whether it needs the larger U.S. presence to get that
intelligence is a separate issue. You can get the intelligence from Afghans...
Mudd: We can get
it in Pakistan.
Dubik: If the
relationship is correct and there is enough stability and trust that the
Afghans will give it to you. So I think that there's, for me anyway, a very
difficult set of questions to ask yourself.
First, what's necessary to protect our interests? Apropos of
why we went in there to begin with.
Second, what do I have to do in the country to be in the
position to make attacking al Qaeda a real capability? For me anyway, when I
ask myself that question, that gets to some degree of stability in the country,
some degree of relationship with the military and the population, and some
propping up of the military in terms of enablers to allow them to do what they
can do and, I think, want to do.
Crist: To me a
larger issue of defining success in Afghanistan is something that doesn't
destabilize Pakistan. I'm far more worried about the impact of a drawdown from
Afghanistan is going to have on Pakistan than I am . . . [inaudible].
wanted to respond to, "Is this all just a rush to the exits?" I think
you'd see a very different set of decisions if it were just a rush to the
exits. I think Dale actually described it well when he said that we are at a
critical juncture in the whole campaign, which is when you really do put the
Afghan forces you've built -- helped to build -- in front. And you still have a
hand on the back seat, but you want to do that before you draw down
substantially. You want to put them up front while you are there to be able to
help and advise and adjust. It's that milestone that's being -- the judgment is
that they are ready for the most part.
Let's have a year, year-plus, to make sure that this is
going to work and make adjustments as necessary and then get to the much more
circumscribed mission, which is about securing our counterterrorism objectives
long term vis-à-vis al Qaeda in the region and making sure that the Afghan
forces can at minimum prevent the overthrow of the central government and a
return to some kind of safe-haven situation. That's the critical thing -- that
does not take a huge long-term U.S. force. It requires some, and I would agree
with your point on at least in the near time some of those neighbors ought to
be pretty [INAUDIBLE OVER COUGHING]. So it can't just be advisors. If it were
really like wanting to wash our hands of this, you would see a very different
profile than what just came out of the White House and the meeting with Karzai.
It's hard to reconcile the kind of wash-your-hands view with what has been
telegraphed -- you know, deputy national security advisor talking about a
potential zero option even though that was likely just a negotiating tactic --
the very real possibility that it could be a presence anywhere between 2,500
and maybe 6,000. That's certainly sufficient to continue the necessary CT
But we've built an army there that is going to require an
enormous follow-on assistance presence as well as financial support, a part of
this that really hasn't gotten, I think, nearly enough attention. If the bill
for the sustainment of the Afghan security forces is somewhere around $4
billion in 2015 and if we only have 3,000 forces there, we can say all we want
to about trying to diverge the troop footprint from the congressional
appropriation, but our history shows us that those two things are inextricably
linked and that the fewer troops you have there the less chances you have of
getting the necessary money to support them. And we all know why the
communist-backed regime fell was when Moscow stopped funding Kabul. And so I
think we are not paying nearly enough attention to the money question.
But we still, I think, are not asking ourselves -- our
government is not asking -- whether this grand plan of building such a large
ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] with such complex logistical
requirements, with such complex need for enablers, which will likely have to be
internationally provided for some years, is at all feasible there, and in the
time remaining between now and the end of 2014 should the security force
assistance mission be more than just pushing the Afghans into the lead but also
one last-ditch attempt to triage this to get to a smaller, more manageable
force that has a better chance of holding its own.
actually goes back to the whole issue of, "OK, it might have been a better
original decision to go with local forces. Then, what sort of local
forces?" I actually think in Vietnam our fundamental error was in '62, '63
not emphasizing local forces and keeping our eye on that ball and just
"no, we are not putting our national forces in." It might not even
need to look like your forces. It might be better to have an indigenous force
that looks like an indigenous force. But Jim Dubik is an expert on this having
done this. Jim?
Dubik: I think
there's still some learning to be done on both our part and the Afghan part on
exactly what the ANA [Afghan National Army] is. And I'll just focus on ANA and
not the greater. We certainly, I think anyway, made exactly the right decision
in 2009 to expand the Afghan army and at the same time to disintegrate the
development effort, to take the combat forces and to accelerate them as fast as
we could and to allow the enablers to grow at what is going to be a really slow
pace. I think that was the right decision, and I think it got us to a better
point than we are now. The enablers, though for me, is really going to be a
very -- it's not a settled question, let's put it that way. For me, anyway, in
the near term, the set of enablers they need are pretty well known and have to
be externally provided.
But we've never really asked the Afghans in a way that is
meaningful. To say, "OK, how do you really want your army to be
organized?" We have asked them, so I don't mean to say we haven't. But
we've asked them in our presence, and that's like asking your younger brother,
"You want to go to a movie with me?" or "Oh, yeah, I'm going
with you." When you're not there, the answers might be different. The set
of enablers that we assume now -- and I've written about them and drank some of
that Kool-Aid myself -- but the enablers that we ask now may not be, after the
question is settled in, say, 2015, which I think is probably the right time
frame, the enablers that they really need or want. And the current organization
of regional commands probably will stay, but in our absence the arrangement and
relationship of those regional forces and how they're -- that I still think
there's some learning to occur in 2013 and 2014 when our presence is
diminishing and their sovereignty and judgment increases.
We saw a good bit of that in Iraq in 2009, '10, '11 when they
started making more independent decisions about their own force. Now I know the
two cases are significantly different, but there are certain commonalities.
On paper what was done starting in 2009, I think, made sense. There was a lot to
be said for it. But it just didn't fundamentally take into account the
political realities that we face here. It made assumptions about the
willingness of the U.S. government to continue sustainment, and it assumed that
there would be a robust U.S. security force mission. I don't think 2014 was on
the table in '09, but it made assumptions about robust U.S. support -- physical
support -- for many years.
argument. But those assumptions, as questionable as those were, were better
than the assumptions of 2001 through '9, when we were going to grow the army at
such a slow rate that we would be there for 150 years before we were done with
it. Because we were growing it at the rate of its slowest -- we integrated the
force, so we weren't going to put a force out until all elements were ready.
Ricks: I remember
reading somewhere that we couldn't start training the Afghan soldiers until
they were literate. 99 percent of soldiers in world history have been
illiterate. Why can't we have a few illiterate soldiers here?
Blake Hounshell: Are
the Taliban literate?
Alford: Don't you
think they'll evolve back after we leave in '14? There'll be an evolution back
to their history and natural tendency?
be a shift. I don't know if it's evolution back or forward. And that's what I
mean by learning. We are going to learn what actually works and what's actually
raising that point actually only to get us to this question of clearly there is
a broad consensus around this table that the civilian-military dysfunction was
a key part of what got us to where we are. All I was trying to do was to
suggest how can we isolate what are sets of decisions or strategic choices that
do fall more on the military side of the ledger.
For example, Shawn started us off with his question about
rotation. Why wasn't there ever a decision? I don't know and I may be wrong
with this, but my guess is that is not so much coming from the civilian leadership
as this is how our Army works, this is how our system works. So, yeah, we have
to have a new commander in Afghanistan every year.
Dubik: I have a
different opinion. It certainly is a major component of the military decision.
But if you make the assumption that the war is going to last X amount of time
and [so] you don't need to grow the size of the ground forces, then you're kind
of left with a de facto rotation
decision. Or you're not going to allow policy-wise to go there and stay because
that's not an acceptable policy.
The nexus of those kinds of decisions is by its nature
civil-military. And in fact in my other comment about autonomy, that's why we
have the wrong model. These are shared
decisions, and they have to be shared decisions. The commitment of resources in
a military campaign is not merely a military decision. This is, and necessarily
will be, an important civilian component of the decision. The rotation stuff --
in Iraq for example -- if we are going to leave by 2004, then you don't have to
grow the size of the army, and, well, we're not really 2004. Maybe it'll be
2006: "OK, we'll just rotate our way through this."
(One last installment to come, about Iran, of course.)
USACE Photo by Matthew Rowe