As President Barack Obama debates deploying more U.S. troops to a volatile Afghanistan, one expert is shouting out that the new commander in chief must substantially reinforce there or face certain defeat at the hands of a determined and resurgent Taliban.
Anthony H. Cordesman, called to testify about the Afghan war, read the riot act to the House Armed Services Committee Thursday, telling the members that although the war is winnable, the U.S. is losing “largely because of the failures of the previous administration, the U.S. Congress, and yes, to some extent, this committee.”
Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the lawmakers that the proposal for 30,000 more U.S. troops is the “bare minimum” necessary to shift from tactical victories to the kind of “clear, hold, build” strategy that had success in Iraq.
His no-holds-barred testimony came during a week that saw Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan arrive in Afghanistan and the Taliban pull off a coordinated series of deadly suicide attacks in Kabul — dramatizing the deteriorating security in the capital and across the country.
It is also a week when the White House has signaled that it may be waffling on dispatching those “minimum” 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
Faced with the first significant military move of his presidency, Obama may postpone a judgment on deploying a much larger force until after the administration completes a review of Afghanistan policy, according to defense officials quoted in a report in the New York Times.
Obama may choose to deploy only one or two additional brigades, between 3,500 and 7,000 soldiers, the officials said.
In addition to emphasizing the absolute need for that 30,000 troop deployment, Cordesman ticked off a number of bullet points of blame for the stalemate in Afghanistan. He said we would not be where we are if: We had accepted the fact that this is primarily our war, not that of our allies; and that we need to provide the leadership and resources to win it. The previous administration had honestly faced this fact and had provided the resources necessary to win it, or if Congress had taken the necessary action to understand what was happening, and to follow the money or lack of it, and to insist on transparency and public accountability. Previous ambassadors and commanders in the field had been given the necessary resources they requested — as “victory” turned into a serious insurgency, or had been told they could ask for what they needed instead of what they thought they could get. We had accepted the fact that we are fighting a serious war, not conducting an exercise in post-conflict reconstruction, and that we have to win this war to get to any kind of development and stability in Afghanistan and probably Pakistan as well. We had honestly recognized that the threat posed by extremism and terrorism is now concentrated in Pakistan.
Cordesman argued that the President and the Congress must accept the fact that U.S. resources must be used, and that we cannot expect NATO and our allies to fight a U.S. war.
“We recruited allies for a police action and nation building and then let an insurgency grow through under-resourcing and neglect — roughly one-fifth of the U.S. effort in Iraq. We must provide most of the additional U.S. troops, advisors, and resources necessary to reverse the situation or we will lose,” the expert warned.
Furthermore, advises the expert, the deployment of those tens-of-thousands of fresh troops needs to be matched by more civilian advisors and a U.S. funding effort based on coherent five-year plans and funding levels rather than supplementals and short-term fixes.
“Focus on building up the Afghan National Army, paramilitary elements of the police, and local security forces. Provide the money, advisors, embeds and other support necessary to make the Afghan Army effective and large enough to perform its mission,” he testified to the Committee.
Cordesman also wants the U.S. to address the corruption, incompetence, and irrelevance of much or most of the foreign aid effort. “The charges that the Afghan government is corrupt at every level are true, but so is much of the aid effort,” he charged.
“Some 40 percent passes through without impacting on the country, agricultural aid is far too limited, and aid does not focus on the areas where the Taliban threat is growing,” he added.
The expert had little good to say about the U.N. calling its effort “divided, corrupt, and focused on post-conflict needs.”
“Far too many allied and NGO [non-governmental organization] efforts are wasteful or exercises in symbolism. U.S. aid efforts put far too few resources into critical war-related needs and lack meaningful priorities, auditing, and measures of effectiveness,” he concluded.
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