I have had my attention drawn to a post in Defense One (No, not the Defense version of Police One) about the current situation in Afghanistan. Please go read it. If you don’t, you will not necessarily understand some of the points I am going to make. Go on, I’ll wait…
This a familiar theme – “This time for sure.” Surges, drawdowns, you name it. It has all been done. So this is completely the same, right?
Well…not quite. There are a couple of changes to the rules that will make US forces more effective. The US is bringing in some forces that have been noticeably absent on the Air side of the house. Also, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has been through a fairly tough time that has winnowed out the weakest links, and the Afghan Air Force has come into somewhat useful form. Will this help – sure. Is it enough…probably not.
Why not? As I have previously harped upon… the Pakistani element in Afghanistan’s problems is quite large. Have they received the warning shot (or warning Twitter as the case may be) over the bow needed to get them to slow down helping or tolerating the various insurgent groups? That would take the other Pakistani State apparatuses, most notably the Army, to decide US aid is more important than the ISI’s fixation on Afghanistan. Probably not happening at present. However, there is a new factor coming into play. A big source of money and assistance for the ISI and their insurgent backing came/comes from Saudi Arabian sources. Pakistan is pretty much pals with the Kingdom. With the big shakeup in Saudi Arabia – Prince Mohammed bin Salman seemingly taking the reins and taking steps toward reforms – the money spigot might be turned off. There are two reasons bin Salman might cut off the ISI /insurgents;
1) A desire to concentrate Saudi efforts against Iran, not on some Pashtun border squabbles that yield nothing for Saudi Arabia, and
2) THEY ARE RUNNING OUT OF MONEY. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal wasn’t hanging upside down in a posh hotel room because they were shaking a few loose Riyals out of his pockets. Allegedly, a whole bunch of money has been beaten out of, er…recovered from the “corruption crackdown“. The “welfare family living on a lake of oil” is running low on cash, thanks in large part to greater US production. They don’t have lots of money to throw at the Pakistani insurgent machine.
Is that enough to turn the tide? Possibly…maybe even a coin flip of a chance.
HOWEVER, the single most important remaining factor is the Afghans themselves. Are they content to suffer the corruption, at levels that would make a Chicago Alderman blush, that saps their slim resources? Do they want to fight on, or suffer under creepy theological rule again? Do they care enough about “Afghanistan” or are they solely concerned about their home village, district or province? THAT will be the main determinant. That is my greatest fear as well – a fractured nation and a non-cohesive society cannot stand off a determined and foreign supported invasion of phanatiques.
I was often asked, when I came home from Iraq, some version of “will they make it”? My reply was always the same – we gave them their chance, it is up to them. Despite my personal feelings for the people and the area, I would say that it is time to say the same for Afghanistan. Maybe with a little bit of (unwilling) Saudi restraint, Pakistani hesitation, US pressure and the Afghan backbone, the whole mess can wind down to the dull background of squabbling and occasional gunfire that was Afghanistan’s past.