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U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is obsolete


by LAWRENCE SELLIN, PHD October 14, 2017

U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of Central Command, believes that military pressure will force the Taliban to negotiate:

"That's what the object is here is, to use the military pressure to bring them to the table and enhance the efforts, not only diplomatically but regionally, focused on bringing this to some kind of a political negotiation settlement and some kind of peace discussion that takes place."

It is Vietnam déjà vu.

In his October 5, 1964 memorandum "How Valid Are the Assumptions Underlying Our Vietnam Policy," Undersecretary of State George Ball posed several questions about the deteriorating political and military situation in South Vietnam, among them:

"Can we, by military pressure against North Vietnam, persuade the Hanoi Government to stop Viet Cong action in the South or at least reduce that action to the point where the Viet Cong insurgency becomes manageable? If complete military victory is not possible, can we, by military pressure against North Vietnam, at least improve our bargaining position to the point where an acceptable negotiated solution might be achieved?"

North Vietnam was, for decades, deeply committed to its policy of annexation of South Vietnam and repeatedly insisted it would only negotiate on the basis of a U.S. withdrawal.

The Taliban are deeply committed to controlling Afghanistan and have also stated it would only negotiate on the basis of a U.S. and NATO withdrawal.

The Paris Peace Accords, officially known as the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, was signed on January 27, 1973. Twenty-seven months later, North Vietnam overran South Vietnam.

After a negotiated settlement, I expect the Afghanistan government to fall to the Taliban within twelve months of a U.S. and NATO withdrawal.

The Taliban have four major operational headquarters in Pakistan covering the entire border with Afghanistan; Peshawar, Miran Shah (Haqqani), Quetta and northeast of Dalbandin. There are literally hundreds of recruiting, training and financial centers feeding into those headquarters with thousands of Afghans being educated in Taliban-influenced religious schools.

It is actually Pakistan with whom the U.S. should be negotiating because Pakistan oversees that vast Taliban infrastructure as well as controls the supply routes to our troops in land-locked Afghanistan.

And Pakistan wants the U.S. and NATO out of Afghanistan because it has other plans, but Islamabad is willing to let us bleed a bit more to improve their bargaining position with the Chinese.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of China's larger Belt and Road Initiative, aims to connect Asia through land-based and maritime economic zones. CPEC is an infrastructure project, the backbone of which is a transportation network connecting China to the Pakistani seaports of Gwadar and Karachi located on the Arabian Sea.

But CPEC is more than a commercial initiative. It is one element of China's strategy to overtake the U.S. as the world's foremost superpower. A humiliating defeat for the U.S. in Afghanistan would eliminate significant American influence in the region for at least a generation.

Huge tracks of land in Gwadar have been allocated to the Chinese for port and naval facility development as well as expansion of the international airport to handle heavy cargo flights. Surveying and soil sampling have been done by Chinese engineers along the Dasht River near the Iranian border. In the past weeks, high level talks between the Pakistanis and Iranians, sometimes with the participation of the Chinese, have taken place, most likely involving security, construction and resource use, particularly fresh water.

The Chinese are also investigating other sites along Pakistan's Makran coast including potential naval facilities in the Kalmat-Ormara area. The Chinese have visited and bought land in Sonmiani, which houses Pakistan's spaceport and space research center as well as a planned liquid natural gas terminal.

Chinese military control of Pakistan's Makran coast would allow Beijing to dominate vital sea lanes leading to the Persian Gulf and link to the Chinese base in Djibouti at the entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, both strategic choke points.

Withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO from Afghanistan would also allow China to exploit that country's estimated $3 trillion in untapped mineral resources, in addition to Balochistan's $1 trillion in gold, copper, oil, precious stones, coal, chromite and natural gas. 

It is unlikely that the Afghanistan strategy currently being pursued by the Trump Administration will produce either military victory or create the conditions by which a negotiated settlement favorable to the U.S. can be obtained.

That is because the strategy was designed more to match the contents of the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3-24 than reflect reality on the ground.

In 1964, George Ball asked a question about Vietnam policy that is applicable to the Trump Administration's "new" Afghanistan strategy:

"Are we proposing action against the North [in Afghanistan] because we are reasonably confident it will, in fact, work, or merely because we are becoming reasonably confident that the present course of action will not work and we are not able to think of anything else to do?"

There are alternatives to fighting the last war.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of "Restoring the Republic: Arguments for a Second American Revolution ". He receives email at lawrence.sellin@gmail.com.

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