What is Winning in Afghanistan?

Very interesting article in NYT by Elizabeth Samet on ending the Afghani war. So when is this war over? Good question. Elizabeth gets the perspectives of soldiers and this is fair enough. These are the guys who go in harm’s way — for what?

But the solution now is not likely to be driven by the military. It is more likely to be political in nature. How will that work? The initial thinking that it would end like the Korean war ended (with a sustainable stalemate) has not panned out. At least not yet. There is no border that can be efficiently secured that separates combatants. So we are looking at a slowly evolving political solution. One that brings the taliban back in to a certain extent — but without military control. And the US military policing things. Will this happen? No one knows.

One thing is clear, though. The US went into this war with objectives that could not be achieved. It was not possible to kick out the bad guys, do a quickie nation building job and leave the local good guys in power with lots of weapons. BTW, this didn’t work in Iraq either.  It didn’t work out very well in Vietnam either.

So why did the best and brightest strategists in Washington think it would work? That is a good question. My best answer is that those making the decisions back then did not really think it through on a strategic level. They were more ideologues than strategists. They thought it would be “easy”. And the nation has suffered from that.

So one lesson to be learned here — the next time we talk about military solutions as “easy” we might think again. That is not to say there is no role for military action. Right now, for example, I would love to see a stronger military action on behalf of the kurds in Kobani, Syria. but military action — even when it wipes out the other side — does not lead to “winning” without other stuff happening too.

What is that other stuff? To discuss that, we would need to get more deeply into conflict management modeling.

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