The front page of the Washington Post this morning is nothing less than steroidal. One half of above-the-fold is dedicated to a lengthy feature exploring modern USMC officer training, the other to the launch of fresh Marines into Helmand Province as part of President Obama’s soon-to-be-announced COIN strategy in Afghanistan. More boots, more firepower for clearing, holding and building. COIN in action, concentrated on long-standing trouble spots in Pashtunistan, just as Kim and Frederick Kagan had always dreamed (although they would have preferred more boots, more firepower, but alas, there is always time).
The rub of it all is that this plan cannot work in the long-term without capable, competent, semi-non-corrupt, loyal Afghan police and Army to HOLD if and when U.S Marines leave these southern areas of the country. The Post story doesn’t get to this glaring reality until the end of the piece, in which reporter Greg Jaffe quotes Army spokesman Greg Smith saying, “this will be a credibility test for the [Afghan] government to see if it can deliver.”
No, this will be a credibility test to see if COIN or Surge II can deliver, and for President Obama, who is betting the rapidly waning credibility of his presidency on a myth that was spawned in Iraq and will likely see a very troubled, if not ill-fated resolution in Central Asia.
Why? Because, as stated in the WaPo report and by numerous military analysts for and against the war, the success of COIN in Afghanistan depends on the breadth and fitness of Afghan National Army (ANA) (supposedly an estimated 90,000 today) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) (supposedly an estimated 80,000). And it ain’t doing so good.
I wrote about this for Antiwar.com last month. I only hit the tip of the iceberg. It’s all about recruitment, retention, the quality of training and above all, loyalty to the central government. Not only is there trouble with all of the above now, Obama’s plan, envisioned by Gen. Stanley McChrystal & Co., seeks to expand the number of Army recruits to 134,000 by next October in order for this whole thing to work. It’s nothing less than a house of cards.
Intrepid Inter Press Service writer Gareth Porter has an excellent report this weekend about the rotting wood at the base of this COIN construct, and it has everything to do with the recruits themselves. More than 40 percent now are ethnic Tajiks, enemies of the Pashtuns we are seeking to pacify in the south. Pashtuns just won’t volunteer for Karzai or Kabul or for the official republican guard of “the other”:
The massive shift in the ethnic composition of ANA troops in recent years is leading to another civil war between the Pashtuns and a Tajik-led anti-Pashtun ethnic coalition similar to the one that followed the fall of the Soviet-supported regime in 1992, according to some observers…
The latest report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, issued Oct. 30, shows that Tajiks, which represent 25 percent of the population, now account for 41 percent of all ANA troops who have been trained, and that only 30 percent of the ANA trainees are now Pashtuns.
A key reason for the predominance of Tajik troops is that the ANA began to have serious problems recruiting troops in the rural areas of Kandahar and Helmand provinces by mid-2007.
At least in the Pashtun province of Zabul, the percentage of Pashtuns in the ANA has now been reduced to a minimum. In Zabul province, U.S. officers embedded in one of the kandaks (battalions) reported earlier this year that they believed only about five percent of the troops in the entire brigade are Pashtuns, according to a report by Army Times correspondent Sean D. Naylor published in the Armed Forces Journal last July…
Meanwhile, Tajiks have maintained a firm grip on the command structure of the ANA. [Then Defence Minister] Marshall Fahim put commanders from the Tajik-controlled Northern Alliance in key positions within the Ministry of Defence as well as the ANA command.
[Chris] Mason recalled that the United States thought it had an agreement with President Hamid Karzai under which the command structure of the ANA would be reorganised on the basis of ethnic balance, starting with the top 25 positions.
But Karzai never acted on the agreement, Mason said…
Mason said the refusal of Pashtuns in the south and east to join the ANA is part of a “self-reinforcing spiral”. The more Dari, the language spoken by Tajiks, becomes the de facto language of the ANA, said Mason, the more Pashtuns will see it as an alien institution.
“The warlords have already started rearming,” said Mason.
Although the United States “has done as good a job as it could have” in trying to make the ANA mirror the broader society, Mason said, it can only “attenuate” rather than prevent such a [civil] war in the future, even with a larger troop presence.
Read the whole piece here.
Supporters of the “new” Obama/McChrystal strategy will be pointing relentlessly to the supposed “success” of the Iraq Surge to bolster the argument for Surge II in Afghanistan. Former Bush courtiers and reanimated neocon zombies are already dusting off the old rhetorical flourishes, and are simultaneously slapping Obama on the back while warning him not to go wobbly. But the whole thing is wobbly. For those of us who had hoped Obama had more intellectual and political courage to do more than “send in the Marines,” this year in foreign policy has shaped up to be nothing less then a parade of grim disappointments.
UPDATE : I forgot mention this report, also via Gareth Porter, which finds that one in four Afghans recruited into the Afghan National Army quit in 2009 — and those numbers, according to an administration source, are considered a “serious problem.” A 25 percent desertion rate? For sure.