How Obama Can Win Afghanistan With A Soft Partition and the Reverse McChrystal Strategy E-mail

by Webster Brooks, Sr. Fellow - Center for New Politics and Policy

Today, the Center for New Politics and Policy (CNPP) released its
recommendations to abate the Taliban insurgency and stabilize Afghanistan
with a new strategy paper called “Obama Can Win Afghanistan with Soft
Partition & the Reverse McChrystal Strategy” (RMS). The RMS report
highlights recommendations to halt the Taliban’s momentum, reconfigure
US/NATO force structure on the ground with 20,000 additional troops,
stabilize Afghanistan’s post-election government and maximize vital
reconstruction efforts to unleash Afghanistan’s state building efforts.
The Reverse McChrystal Strategy provides a framework for President Obama’s
efforts over the next 18 months to achieve his central goal of preventing
a Taliban takeover and denying al Queda a platform in Afghanistan to
launch attacks against the United States. The report was drafted by Senior
Fellow Webster Brooks, Director of Brooks Foreign Policy Review; the
international affairs arm of the Center for New Politics and Policy. The
following summary of the Reverse McCrystal Strategy was released on
November 19, 2009 in Washington, D.C.
The critical moment for President Obama to announce a decision on
America’s strategy to win the war in Afghanistan is fast approaching. In
the ongoing series of White House war councils, debate continues on
General Stanley McChrystal’s August report that stated “Failure to gain
the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12-18
months)….risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer
possible.”  Over the next 18 months President Obama faces four critical
questions: 1) Developing a response to stem the Taliban’s growing
influence and putting the insurgency on the defensive, 2) Redeploying
U.S./NATO/ANA forces to tilt the battlefield in their favor, 3) Brokering
an agreement to form a power-sharing post-election government and 4)
Reorganizing state building and reconstruction efforts to create the
foundation needed to sustain Afghanistan. The Reverse McChrystal Strategy
(RMS) represents the best and most realistic strategy to achieve these
objectives in the next 18 months and prepare for the gradual withdrawal of
U.S. troops over the long run (3-4 years).

The centerpiece of the Reverse McChrystal Strategy calls for redeploying
U.S./NATO military and economic power to consolidate Northern, Central and
Western Afghanistan into a “maximum safety zone.” Securing these three
regions now where 65% of all Afghans live, and linking them to vital
reconstruction efforts is the most effective way to diminish the Taliban’s
momentum and solidify critical mass around the central government.
Supported by 20,000 additional American troops, U.S./NATO operations would
shift from conducting “clear, hold and build missions” inside the Taliban
dominated Pashtun belt to providing maximum security to Kabul and the 23
identified “median and low-risk” provinces where the Taliban’s presence is
minimal but spreading (see map). Recent Taliban advances outside the
Pashtun belt suggest that U.S. forces engaging their adversaries from
Kunduz in Northeastern Afghanistan to the southern province of Helmand are
overstretched and under resourced. General McChrystal’s request for 40,000
to 80,000 troops to pursue the elusive Taliban plays directly into the
Taliban’s hit and run strategy. Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to
maneuver and expand the battlefield, launching surprise offensives in new
areas. What is most important now for President Obama and the faltering
Afghan government is reversing the Taliban’s momentum by consolidating
order, safety and stability over a significant section of Afghanistan.
Demonstrating real progress and a model of a viable state is of the utmost
urgency. Securing Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan would not only
demonstrate tangible success, it would decisively impact the balance of
power on the ground.

The Reverse McChrystal Strategy also calls on U.S./NATO forces to scale
back forward operations for one year in the Pashtun belt where the Taliban
enjoys real support, superior battlefield knowledge and strategic depth
with supporting rear-guard bases in Pakistan. The tactical pullback in the
Pashtun belt would be done in conjunction with the mass redeployment to
Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan. A “demilitarized zone” and safe
transit corridors to-and-from the Pushtun-belt provinces would be
established for commercial purposes and safe passage. In addition, US/NATO
forces might continue the “limited use” of Drone attacks and Special
Forces operations on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border to interdict arms
shipments and infiltrating al Queda elements. Redoubled efforts in
cooperation with Pakistan’s government to destroy critical Taliban support
networks in Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is of
critical importance. Concurrent with these changes, Afghanistan’s
government would open discussions with Pashtun tribal leaders,
parliamentary officials and “willing” Taliban elements over a potential
framework for regional autonomy and other national reforms.

While the RMS embraces General McChrystal’s call for a shift from
defeating the Taliban by force of arms to creating safe havens, it
reverses the battlefield deployment and political focus by winning the
hearts and minds of two-thirds of Afghanistan’s provinces first. It
optimizes opportunities to contain and undermine the Taliban by negating
the most compelling factor powering its surge; the prevailing state of
chaos across Afghanistan led by an incompetent and corrupt Karzai
government and criminal warlords.

By increasing troop levels, resetting US/NATO/ forces and tactically
pulling back in the Pashtun Belt, President Obama will gain valuable
breathing room to bring America’s allies on side, settle the post-election
political governmental crisis and train additional Afghan National Army
troops. Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah must find a way to work
together in a new coalition government. The effort to stabilize Northern,
Central and Western Afghanistan will require significant compromise
between Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and Turkmen who were the core of the
Northern Alliance that helped topple the Taliban in 2001. Many of these
forces also supported Abdullah Abdullah in the first round of the
presidential elections. For better or worse, as a Pashtun, Hamid Karzai
can still be a valuable asset in talks with provincial leaders on
instituting various forms of autonomy in Pashtun communities. While the
character of the Taliban’s insurgency is Islamic-based, the Taliban has
remained a predominately ethnic-Pashtun movement. Increased autonomy may
create new vehicles and greater choice to incorporate Pashtun cultural,
religious and traditional practices into provincial governance structures,
thereby dispelling notions that only the Taliban can fulfill these
aspirations. The essential point of autonomy in the Pashtun belt is that
increased empowerment at the provincial level will afford Pashtun more
choices and resources to exert independence from the Taliban.

Critics of the Reverse McChrystal Strategy will undoubtedly claim that any
pullback-temporary or otherwise- from taking the fight to the Taliban is
tantamount to capitulation or surrender. But there is no purely military
solution to end the war in Afghanistan. The consensus view is that
sufficient damage must be inflicted on extremists Taliban elements to
create conditions that will compel moderate and wavering Taliban elements
to align themselves with the central government. By creating a safe and
viable Afghanistan state in Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan
supported by a majority of the Afghan people, the Taliban’s rationale that
they are the only force that can restore order will be severely
undermined. Containing the Taliban’s advances by a soft partition of the
Pashtun belt will halt their expansion and reverse their momentum.
Increased efforts with Pakistan to neutralize their rear-guard support
bases will bottle the Taliban up in a confined space. Offers of greater
autonomy and redefining their relationship to the Afghan government will
stimulate more debate among the Pashtun people about where their future
interests lie and further undercut support for the Taliban. The Reverse
McChrystal Strategy in its initial phase will significantly weaken the
Taliban militarily and drain its political support among the Pashtun
people. Moreover, RMS can accomplish all these achievements with the
lowest possible U.S./NATO casualty rates. With public opinion weakening in
America and Europe for the war, tangible success in stabilizing 65% of
Afghanistan today combined with minimum casualties is the formula to
sustain support for the cause in Afghanistan. If and when US/NATO forces
have to move decisively to fully re-engage militarily in the Pashtun belt
they would confront a far less formidable adversary.

Prosecuting unpopular wars against insurgencies that cannot be won
militarily is sometimes the burden of policing empire. There are no easy
options for President Obama in Afghanistan. What is required now is an
imaginative approach that breaks with conventional thinking. The Reverse
McChrystal Strategy offers both. ******
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