The commander of US and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal has, in his assessment to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, said that ‘increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.’
In a much awaited report, the general, expected to bring new thinking and strategies to the Af-Pak theater, has noted Indian influence on Afghanistan and said, “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian.”
But while the linkage between the growth of Indian influence in Afghanistan and Pakistani retaliation to that has been fairly obvious, in his report to Secretary Gates, General McChrystal confirms the US military belief of the likelihood of Pakistani ‘countermeasures’ in India in reaction to its influence in Afghanistan. This, even while admitting the beneficence of the Indian developmental effort in that country. “While India’s activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India,” says the general.
Even though it is not clear whether the general refers to action by the Pakistani state or by non-state actors against India, it would be safe to assume that the term used, ‘countermeasures’, is general enough to include both.
McChrystal also points the finger at Pakistan. “Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI. Al Qaeda and Associated Movements (AQAM) based in Pakistan channel foreign fighters, suicide bombers and, technical assistance into Afghanistan, and offer ideological motivation, training, and financial support. Al Qaeda’s links with HQN (Haqqani Network) have grown, suggesting that expanded HQN control could create a favorable environment for AQAM to re-establish safe-havens in Afghanistan. Additionally, the ISAF mission in Afghanistan is reliant on ground supply routes through Pakistan that remain vulnerable to these threats.”
He goes on to say, “Stability in Pakistan is essential, not only in its own right, but also to enable progress in Afghanistan. While the existence of safe havens in Pakistan does not guarantee ISAF failure, Afghanistan does require Pakistani cooperation and action against violent militancy, particularly against those groups active in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the insurgency in Afghanistan is predominantly Afghan.”
The general also warns of Iran and other nations in Central Asia Iran. “Iran plays an ambiguous role in Afghanistan, providing developmental assistance and political support to GIRoA while the Iranian Qods Force is reportedly training fighters for certain Taliban groups and providing other forms of military assistance to insurgents. Iran’s current policies and actions do not pose a short-term threat to the mission, but Iran has the capability to threaten the mission in the future. Pakistan may see Iranian economic and political initiatives as threats to their strategic interests, and may continue to address these issues in ways that are counterproductive to the ISAF effort.”
“Afghanistan’s northern neighbors have enduring interests in, and influence over, particular segments of Afghanistan. They pursue objectives that are not necessarily congruent to ISAF’s mission. ISAF’s Northern Distribution network and logistical hubs are dependent upon support from Russian and Central Asian States, giving them the potential to act as spoilers or positive influences.”
“The stakes in Afghanistan are high,” McChrystal begins his summary, admitting, “The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted. Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating.”
McChrystal thinks the next year will likely decide whether the insurgency can be defeated. “The impact of time on our effort in Afghanistan has been underappreciated and we require a new way of thinking about it, he says, adding, “Protecting the population from insurgent coercion and intimidation demands a persistent presence and focus that cannot be interrupted without risking serious setback.”
But he also says, “Second, and more importantly, we face a short and long-term fight. The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”
Throughout the assessment, General McChrystal underlines the need for more resources and forces. “Our campaign in Afghanistan has been historically under-resourced and remains so today. Almost every aspect of our collective effort and associated resourcing has lagged a growing insurgency – historically a recipe for failure in COIN. Success will require a discrete “jump” to gain the initiative, demonstrate progress in the short term, and secure long-term support.”
“Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it,” he says.
His strategy proposes optimal utilization of assets. “The new strategy will improve effectiveness through better application of existing assets, but it also requires additional resources. Broadly speaking, we require more civilian and military resources, more ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces), and more ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and other enablers. ”
“Overall, ISAF requires an increase in the total coalition force capability and end-strength. This ‘properly-resourced’ requirement will define the minimum force levels to accomplish the mission with an acceptable level of risk.”
“This is an important — and likely decisive — period of this war. Afghans are frustrated and weary after eight years without evidence of the progress they anticipated. Patience is understandable short, both in Afghanistan and in our own countries. Time matters; we must act now to reverse the negative trends and demonstrate progress.”
McChrystal advocates the need for a new strategy for effective COIN operations. “We cannot succeed simply by trying harder; ISAF must now adopt a fundamentally new approach. The entire culture — how ISAF understands the environment and defines the fight, how it interacts with the Afghan people and government, and how it operates both on the ground and within the coalition — must change profoundly.”
“ISAF requires a properly-resourced force and capability level to correct this deficiency. Success is not ensured by additional forces alone, but continued under-resourcing will likely cause failure.”
“Nonetheless, it must be made clear: new resources are not the crux. To succeed, ISAF requires a new approach – with a significant magnitude of change — in addition to a proper level of resourcing.”
His outline of the proposed strategy, prescribing a change in the operational culture and processes of ISAF, reads, “This assessment prescribes two fundamental changes. First, ISAF must improve execution and the understanding of the basics of COIN — those essential elements common to any counterinsurgency strategy. Second, ISAF requires a new strategy to counter a growing threat. Both of these reforms are required to reverse the negative rends in Afghanistan and achieve success.”
“ISAF is not executing the basics of counterinsurgency warfare,” he says.
General McChrystal’s objective reads, “Accomplishing this mission requires defeating the insurgency, which this paper defines as a condition where the insurgency no longer threatens the viability of the state,” adding, “GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) must sufficiently control its territory to support regional stability and prevent its use for international terrorism.”
In the assessment, McChrystal has emphasized the need for a new strategy that will require an increase in the size and effectiveness of Afghan security forces. The assessment also indicates the general’s strong belief in the requirement of a population-centric counter-insurgency strategy, where protecting the population, not killing the insurgent is the priority.
The assessment goes on to describe the participants in the conflict. “There are five principal actors in this conflict: the Afghan population, GIRoA, ISAF, the insurgency and the eternal ‘players’. It is important to begin with an understanding of each of these actors, starting with the most important: the people.”
“The people of Afghanistan represent many things in this conflict – an audience, an actor, and a source of leverage — but above all, they are the objective. The population can also be a source of strength and intelligence and provide resistance to the insurgency. Alternatively, they can often change sides and provide tacit or real support to the insurgents. Communities make deliberate choice to resist, support or allow insurgent influence. The reasons for these choices must be better understood.”
“GIRoA and ISAF have both failed to focus on this objective. The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government. These problems have alienated large segments of the Afghan population. They do not trust GIRoA to provide their essential needs, such as security, justice, and basic services. This crisis of confidence, coupled with a distinct lack of economic and educational opportunity, has created fertile ground for the insurgency.”
“ISAF’s center of gravity is the will and ability to provide for the needs of the population “by, with and through” the Afghan government. A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency; the insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. This is their war and, in the end, ISAF’s competency will prove less decisive than GIRoA’s; eventual success requires capable Afghan governance capabilities and security forces.”
The assessment warns that the battle could go either way. “Either side can succeed in this conflict: GIRoA by securing the support of the people and the insurgents by controlling them. While this multi-faceted model of the fight is centered on the people, it is not symmetrical: the insurgents can also succeed more simply by preventing GIRoA from achieving their goals before the international community becomes exhausted.”
McChrystal identifies the two major challenges to his command and also includes the political challenges of Afghan governance, saying, “The ISAF mission faces two principal threats and is also subject to the influence of external actors.”
“The first threat is the existence of organized and determined insurgent groups working to expel international forces, separate the Afghan people from GIRoA, and gain control of the population.”
“The second threat of a very different kind, is the crisis of popular confidence that springs from the weakness of GIRoA institutions, the unpunished abuse of power by corrupt officials and power-brokers, a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement, and a longstanding lack of economic opportunity. ISAF errors have further compounded the problem. These factors generate recruits for the insurgent groups, elevate local conflicts and power-broker disputes to a national level, degrade the people’s security and quality-of-life, and undermine international will.”
“Addressing the external actors will enable success; however, insufficiently addressing either principal threat will result in failure.”
The general identifies the three main adversaries of ISAF in Afghanistan, saying, ” The major insurgent groups in order of their threat to the mission are: Quetta Shura Taliban (QST), the Haqqani Network (HQN), and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). The groups coordinate activities loosely, often achieving significant unity of purpose and even some unity of effort, but they do not share a formal command-and-control structure. They also do not have a single overarching strategy of campaign plan. Each individual group, however has a specific strategy, develops annual plans, and allocates resources accordingly. Each group has its own methods of developing and executing these plans and each has adapted over time. Despite the best efforts of GIRoA and ISAF, the insurgents currently have the initiative.”
He goes on to point out the failures of ISAF in Afghanistan and prescribes two strategic measures. “ISAF is not adequately executing the basics of COIN (Counter Insurgency) doctrine. Thus the first major recommendation is to change and focus on that which ISAF has most control of: ISAF. The coalition must hold itself accountable before it can attempt to do so with others.”
“ISAF will change its operating culture pursue a counterinsurgency approach that puts the Afghan people first.”
“ISAF will change the way it does business to improve unity of command within ISAF, seek to improve unity of effort with the international community, and to use resources more effectively.”
For this, what McChrystal says is required is improvement in the understanding of the Afghan people. “ISAF personnel must be seen as guests of the Afghan people and their government, not an occupying army.”
He also advocates building personal relationships and the projection of confidence. “When ISAF forces travel through even the most secure areas of Afghanistan firmly ensconced in armored vehicles with body armor and turrets manned, they convey a sense of high risk and fear to the population. ISAF cannot expect unarmed Afghans to feel secure before heavily armed ISAF forces do. ISAF cannot succeed if it is unwilling to share risk, at least equally, with the people. In fact, once the risk is shared, effective force protection will come from the people, and the overall risk can actually be reduced by operating differently.”
General McChrystal also recommends decentralization of commands and support to the re-integration and reconciliation between the Afghan people, also interestingly advocating economic support to COIN.
“ISAF has an important asymmetrical advantage; it can aid the local economy, along with its civilian counterparts, in ways that the insurgents cannot. Local development can change incentive structures and increase stability in communities. Economic opportunity, especially job-creation, is a critical part of reintegrating the foot-soldier into normal life.”
But he warns that economic support to counterinsurgency is different and cannot be a substitute for long-term development.
In terms of ISAF’s operational structure, he calls for unity of command for the force. “ISAF’s subordinate headquarters must stop fighting separate campaigns,” says the general, who also lists radical increase in partnership, integration and embedding with ANSF, acceleration of the growth of the ANA (Afghan National Army) and transfer of responsibility for long-term detention of detainees to GIRoA, as other changes in ISAF’s strategy.
The new strategy is to consist of three stages. “These stages will unfold at different rates and times in different geographic areas of Afghanistan,” says McChrystal, listing the stages as, gaining the initiative, strategic consolidation and sustained security.
Towards the end, General McChrystal again repeats the need for more forces in Afghanistan. “Proper resourcing will be critical. The campaign in Afghanistan has been historically under-resourced and remains so today – ISAF is operating in a culture of poverty,” he says, adding, “Consequently, ISAF requires more forces.”
McChrystal concludes by saying, “The situation in Afghanistan is serious. The mission can be accomplished, but this will require two fundamental changes. First, ISAF must focus on getting the basics right to achieve a new population-centric operational culture and better unity of effort. Second, ISAF must adopt a new strategy, one that is properly resourced, to radically increase partnership with ANSF, emphasize governance, prioritize resources where the population is threatened, and gain the initiative from the insurgency. This will entail significant near-term cost and risk; however, the long-term risk of not executing this strategy is greater. The U.S. Strategy and NATO mission for Afghanistan both call for a committed and comprehensive approach to the strategic threat of an insecure and unstable Afghanistan through proper resourcing, rigorous implementation, and sustained political will, this refocused strategy offers ISAF the best prospect for success in this important mission.