How Afghanization Can Work
Linda Robinson, Adjunct Senior Fellow for U.S. National Security and Foreign Policy
December 2, 2011
Option 1: Big COIN
* maintain the 68K US troops + as many NATO troops as possible
* counterinsurgency campaign
* successful so far
* non-viable: NATO reluctant
* zero-sum environment: funds spent on military efforts will sap funding available for civilian development assistance
Option 2: Counterterrorism
* counterterrorism is rarely effective as a freestanding approach and tends to produce negative political effects when wielded unilaterally.
Option 3: Afghan-led Counterinsurgency
The most desirable approach is one that puts Afghanistan firmly in the lead of its own counterinsurgency and nation-building effort, with the United States and international partners and donors in support. ... To paraphrase T.E. Lawrence, it is far better that those facing the insurgency do it themselves, however poorly.
What would an Afghan-led counterinsurgency campaign look like?
* Afghan forces would take over in all but the most conflicted areas of the country. * * The U.S. and allied support to the Afghan counterinsurgency should be almost exclusively focused on the south and east where the Taliban insurgency is strong, and in particular Kandahar and the eastern "P2K" provinces (Paktia, Paktika, and especially Khost).
* A very small node can remain in the west in Shindand
* the same can be done in the critical Salang Tunnel corridor in the north.
* reduced dramatically to a few high-level officers
* The command for training Afghan security forces should be primarily manned by Afghan trainers.
* Most of the troops would be embedded advisers, largely from the special operations community but augmented by conventional forces that are selected and trained for the mission.
* focus on supporting community defense and police, which have been egregiously neglected throughout the war.
* Eighty-eight of 265 Afghan police units in key areas (PDF) currently have no mentor at all.
How many U.S. forces would be required to support this "small COIN" option?
* A robust effort could be mounted with forty thousand troops, declining to twenty thousand or fewer as the Afghans become more proficient.
* embedded advisers
* about half of the personnel would provide support. Distributed operations in Afghanistan require substantial air lift, combat aviation, ISR, and logistics support
* the best way to defeat the ubiquitous buried bombs is foot patrols and Kawasaki all-terrain vehicles for off-road travel
How long would the United States have to support a twenty-thousand-strong COIN effort?
It is hard to say, but not longer than a decade, and the numbers would progressively decline to a few thousand as Afghans gain experience and as the insurgency shrinks. As the insurgency weakens, the current talks, best described as "pre-negotiations," are likely to gather steam as fighters realize the government will not collapse. The end of the war is likely to come a piece at a time, as insurgent factions peel off and reject the authority of Taliban leaders ensconced in Pakistan.
Is there a precedent for such an approach?
* El Salvador, Colombia, the Philippines
* El Salvador in the 1980s with fifty-five Special Forces trainers plus a robust country team with USAID, State, and intelligence officials who were dispersed around the country.