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McChrystal’s Initial Assessment: The Situation as It Stands September 25, 2009

Posted by Trice Kabundi in Analysis.
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Source: CIA

Source: CIA

General McChrystal’s leaked Initial Assessment evaluating the situation in Afghanistan both strengthens and challenges the perspective many hold of the current strategy in Afghanistan.  Current US strategy focuses on finding, “dismantling, disrupting, and defeating” insurgencies within Afghanistan through conventional military operations. McChrystal’s straight-forward 66 page report calls for a larger and more efficient utilization of troops, resources, and engagement on the ground, which was widely expected.  The report, however, also states that changes are needed to the overall strategy, as “the insurgents cannot defeat us militarily but we can defeat ourselves,” indicating that a new strategy focusing on winning hearts and minds is more determinate of our success than military might. The following are major themes from the Assessment.

Afghan Population Centered Strategy

McChrystal’s report places fresh emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians and winning their support, and states that the military must be more focused on the Afghan people rather than on “seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces.”  The current strategy, in McCrystal’s view, has given the Afghan people little incentive to support the mission. The report explains that for the Afghan people, threats to their security and progress not only include the insurgency, but the government itself.  Afghans fear the insurgency because the reestablishment of the Taliban would mean a return to severely enforced brutal forms of justice. Afghans do not trust the government because of rampant corruption and ineffectiveness.  Coalition forces are viewed with skepticism as they have failed to connect with the average Afghani.  Though the Afghan people do not typically support the Taliban, the disconnect from both the government and the coalition pushes many towards a propaganda emitting insurgency.

A change in “Operational Culture”

McChrystal stresses the need for a complete change in “operational culture.” The change in strategy, essentially, is the getting troops out of the tanks and into the streets where they are able to form more substantive connections with the Afghan population.  McChrystal’s perspective is that the mission has become too centered on “seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces”, and less centered on interacting with the Afghan population. The lack of involvement has led to the aforementioned severe disconnect between troops and civilians.

McChrystal acknowledges that this strategy potentially poses an increased risk to the safety of troops; however, he argues that coalition has no chance of achieving success unless it is willing “to share risk, at least equally, with the people.”  Troops therefore need to spend “as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases.”

Along with a lack of engagement, McChrystal highlights the inability of troops to understand the cultural complexities, needs, wants and will of the Afghan people incapacitates a true counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that is essential for accomplishing set goals of the mission. The number of essential officers with training in local languages is grossly insufficient, further widening the schism between the people and the troops.  A small portion of the coalition’s resources has been utilized to increase the understanding of Afghanistan’s society and people.

Increase in the number of US troops

The recommendation for an increase in the number of US troops has proven to be the most contentious aspect of McChrystal’s assessment, although anticipated. Those opposed to a troop surge in Afghanistan question the US’s ability to continue to fund an increased number of troops over an extended period of time, and also view such a decision as a hasty course of action lacking an in-depth analysis of all viable strategic options. McChrystal states, however, that failure in Afghanistan is certain without an increase in the number of troops on the ground. This recommendation is made in light of surmounting challenges confronting troops and the Afghan population. Currently, the Karzai government has control over roughly 30 percent of Afghanistan, the Taliban is in control of 3 percent with influence over 30 percent, and tribes and local groups control the remaining areas.

As the insurgency’s control and influence slowly spreads, the lack of sufficient troop presence in many areas allows the insurgency to gain an increasingly stronger foothold in more areas of the country. Along with diminishing the spreading presence and influence of the insurgency, it is also essential that enough troops be present in order to effectively protect the Afghan people from “insurgent coercion and intimidation.” While the Afghanistan National Security Force is present, it has been built from the ground up and is still growing in both size and capabilities. In the meantime, there is still a need for a strong coalition force.

Increase the size and abilities of the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF)

The report is clear that long-term success in Afghanistan is fundamentally up to the Afghans.  Part of this success, however, lies in the establishment of a multi-level, solid partnership with the ANSF. Along with strengthened cooperation, the report encourages a large increase in the size of the ANSF. The current strategy set next year (December 2011)as the original date set for increasing the size of ANSF from 92,000 to 134,000.

It is McChrystal’s assessment that the deadline be changed to October of this year along with a much higher increase to 400,000. The ultimate goal is to reach a point where the ANSF will be prepared to take the lead in future security operations.

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Comments»

1. DennisVega - September 30, 2009

Your blog is so informative … ..I just bookmarked you….keep up the good work!!!!

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