Strategy and Stratagem

Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani Yes, I have heard that the British forces have entered Kabul, and now I am wondering, how they would get out The Khan of Kalat
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That was hundred and fifty years ago. We should have in the meantime learnt a bit more, also about getting out from Afghanistan- this eastern version of Bermuda Triangle, only this one sucks in empires and anyone who happens to be in the neighbourhood.Just the other day, Obama spelt out a framework that has all the ingredients of precisely such a strategy. Some confusion is understandable: if the idea is to leave, then why the surge; or, conditions that could not be created in 8 years, how could they now be in one & a half . But then exit strategy is not merely a matter of packing one s bags and hitting the road. Like a declared doctrine, it hides more than it reveals. And indeed, it must provide sufficient space for freedom of manoeuvre. How would we have evolved one if we were asked to? I suppose one would have started with a review of the situation .
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The opposition, call it The Taliban, undefeated and gaining momentum. The government in Kabul- though not in control of important levers of power, money and military, and therefore not entirely to be blamed for the mess- losing ground. The state security apparatus-the Army and the Police- whatever its size and even when trained, cannot ensure security. Considering the geography, demography, and history of the Country, it can only be done with the help of regions and tribes. Public support to continue the war diminishing, at home as well as amongst the allies, some of them even raring to pullout. Economy, own and of the allies, under stress. Powerful domestic groups, the Republicans and the Military for example, buildingup pressure for more troops to Afghanistan.

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A surge for a last Hurrah was indeed an option. The mightiest country on earth, supported by the most powerful alliance ever, should be able to prevail, militarily. But what if did not; or, what was more likely, could not restore stability before people at home ran out of patience, or the governments out of money they would spare for an elusive victory? An orderly withdrawal in that case might be nearly impossible. A surge was still needed, even if as a stratagem. It would serve multiple ends. o If the good Taliban could be persuaded to cooperate by non -military meansmoney, share in future power structure, commitment to withdraw- additional troops would be needed to bring the bad ones in line.

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In case the non-military manoeuvre failed, additional troops would be readily available to resume battle. (That is what a strategic cycle is all about: alternating use of battle and manoeuvre.) Since a victory of arms best serves a nation s ego, the military must be seen to have played a significant part in the ultimate outcome. Most importantly, if the Afghan mission was aborted without having employed all available military means, for the incumbent government it would be politically fatal.

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The exit should ensure the following.
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It must not be seen as a retreat. One should be able to, if not declare victory, at least claim mission accomplished . Some order therefore must be restored before quitting. Remember, it is not only American prestige but also NATO s credibility, perhaps even survival, which are at stake! The successor government in Kabul if not exactly friendly should not be a hostile one.

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Since a number of channels are working to bring the Taliban on board, and assuming that some progress has been made, a public policy statement can be spun around the core concept. Its salient points can be rationalised as follows.
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Induction of more troops, besides serving the (already discussed) multiple objectives, would help pacify the political opposition, the military, and the corporate lobbies (military-industrial complex/ motley crowd of private contractors). A dateline for the thinning out of troops can be given, not only to placate the ever growing anti-war constituency, put Karzai on notice to get his act together, but also as a gesture to the Taliban, whose only pre-condition for a serious dialogue is an assurance that the occupation would be vacated. Its adherence would naturally take into account conditions on the ground . To help the main thrust- the negotiating track- most of the additional troops should not be employed on combat missions. Mercifully, the revised COIN doctrineprotecting key population centres - even though it surrenders the countryside to the Taliban (could become part of an arrangement), provides the reinforcements a defendable (saleable) role. And undoubtedly, force in being is a sound concept. Training of Afghan security forces by private companies, who would rather not train to get their contracts extended, is a waste of time and money. But even if duly trained, they cannot take over from the allied troops. As part of the overall exit strategy, it was still a sound project.

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Indeed, all that Obama said was neither subterfuge nor hot air. His reference to a clearly defined mission , refusal to set goals that went beyond their means , and need to retain balance between national security and economy were the more substantial parts of the policy statement. America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars

and prevent conflict -- not just how we wage wars , can be read both ways: rhetorically, or literally.
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Evolving this framework must have taken plenty of doing. ( Dithering , too, was essential, not so much for its evolution, but more to condition the audience.) Implementing it would take much more. Since most of the stakeholders want Afghanistan free of foreign forces, there are good chances of success. However, there are also a few stumbling blocks. o Taliban are hard negotiators. Tribesmen are suspicious by nature: the key to survival in harsh environments. Americans, not used to rough edges, are impulsive. o All militaries have a problem restraining the use of force. The American military cannot resist using its abundant resources. Collateral Damage is a concept, it had to therefore perforce invent and formalise. Whereas it may sabotage a peaceful transition by design, it was more likely to force the Taliban abandon the talking track simply by using its natural instincts. Indeed, nothing of the above may see the light of the day if this analysis is based on faulty assumptions. But if it is not, Pakistan need not have any fears. Protesting about the US not having sufficiently consulted us, more violence along the Pak-Afghan borders due to the surge, and Indians gaining more influence if an unfriendly government was installed in Kabul, may keep everyone on toes (though I doubt if anyone would be much impressed). The fact is that Pakistan s cooperation is so vital to this process, especially in bringing important Taliban factions on board, that we should be able to take care of our core interests. And it is also a fact, proven by history, that regardless of who ruled Afghanistan; Kabul was compelled to find at least a Modus Vivendi with Pakistan. No favourites is a policy that could always serve us well.

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