America’s Last Counterinsurgent?

As an armchair (well, Aeron-chair) General, I’ve long regarded the adventure in Afghanistan as futile, for reasons that anyone who knows the history of that extraordinary country will understand. What I didn’t expect was that a major US military figure would set out the problem clearly in public. Yet that is exactly what Obama’s appointee, General McChrystal, has done. Here’s a useful summary from Foreign Policy of what he told Congress:

McChrystal’s report describes what must change in Afghanistan to increase the odds of success. However, neither the U.S. military nor the rest of the government can hope to do much about these problems before the political clock runs out in the United States. The problems McChrystal discusses include:

1. The need to elect a president Afghans (and Americans) will accept as legitimate

2. Corrupt and ineffective Afghan governance at the national and local levels

3. U.S. soldiers’ lack of facility with Afghanistan’s languages,

4. The U.S. military’s inability to gain trust and credibility with the population,

5. The difficulty expanding the size and quality of Afghanistan’s security forces,

6. The requirement to significantly disrupt Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan,

7. The requirement for U.S. and NATO countries to accept higher casualty rates over the medium term as they attempt to protect Afghanistan’s population.

Foreign Policy‘s inference is that

McChrystal’s report will have unwittingly rendered a fatal blow to Western counterinsurgency doctrine. It will be hard for anyone to seriously recommend counterinsurgency elsewhere after it was abandoned in Afghanistan. McChrystal will be America’s last counterinsurgency general for a long while. The United States will still have to endure a long era of irregular warfare. It just needs a new military doctrine for this era, and fast.

At least the Americans are being relatively open about the fiasco in Afhganistan. (And there are voices there now muttering openly about a “twenty-year war”.) Over here there’s only official hypocrisy and psychological denial. What really gets my goat is the cynical nonsense spouted by British ministers as the list of British casualties lengthens almost by the day. We’re now in the kind of position that the US got into in Vietnam — fighting a war that we cannot win, yet (allegedly) cannot afford to lose.