U.S. Army General Stanley A. McChrystal submitted his initial assessment of the rising conflict in Afghanistan to President Barack Obama. Aside from the fact that this certain report was leaked to the media, this is nothing new. Commanders are always submitting their situation report (SITREP), or in this case, initial assessment as Gen. McChrystal has been in current command since June 15, 2009.
Assuming command of an already controversial conflict in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal observed that “The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted. Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating.” With a grasp of the overall attitude and direction, his assessment is full of information that would be useful to the administration in determining the future involvement of American forces.
Redefining the Fight
This is a different kind of fight. We must conduct classic counterinsurgency operations in an environment that is uniquely complex.
Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population.
Not a stranger to desert warfare, as he was part of both Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, his understanding of history and the inner workings of classic counterinsurgency operations, Gen. McChrystal could be treading down a failed path similar to that of Vietnam. The two conflicts are similar in many ways. Both were highly debated conflicts in the start, and heavily contested during. The failed outcome of Vietnam, in many eyes, would not be a path many Americans are willing to go down.
Another commonality, their uniquely complex environments. Where Vietnam was intensely fought in the jungle, Afghanistan is being fought in the mountains and communities. While they are differing terrains, it is how difficult the discernment of friend and foe is that makes the terrain hard to make advancements. Fighting among the population was difficult in Vietnam, and is proving more and more arduous in the Afghan region. The protection of the people is the priority over seizing terrain or destroying insurgents.
Another similarity between Afghanistan and Vietnam, are the short and long-term implications:
We face both a short and long-term fight. The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insugency is no longer possible.
Over the last eight years, the American people has been somewhat patient. However, when defecits mount higher and higher for what seems to be an unending war, their commitment faulters and becomes null. A clear plan must devised to mesh the short-term yet decisive victories with the long-term goal of defeating the insurgency and restoring Afghanistan to its population.
To accomplish this measure, Gen. McChrystal proposes a focus be placed on two principle areas:
- Change the operational culture to connect with the people.
- Improve unity of effort and command.
Taking care of the people will most definately improve unity effort and command. Without the population focused on the effort to shield and protect them from the insurgents, there cannot be a relationship with the Afghan command and their unifying hand in controlling the violence. Certainly, taking care of the people will ease the burden on the command and their efforts.
Gen. McChrystal outlines that “These concepts are not new. However, implemented aggressivley, they will be revolutionary to our effectiveness.” Correct in that they are not new, but there is some doubt as to its effectiveness. With the majority of both Afghans and Americans in opposition of continuing operations, the outcome of any further actions, however aggressive they may be, would have to not only be sold to the Obama administration, but also to the people of Afghanistan and America. A joint effort on both fronts to combat the insurgents is what could show to be most effective and revolutionary.