Australian Major General: “Afghanistan Victory Possible … if …”
Comment at end
26th October, 2008
This respected Australian army general sounds, to me, on the same track as was our former Prime Minister. You remember him? The one who used several of the reasons and arguments below for staying the course. (I have bolded the remarks below that remind me of Blair’s words).
He was right then and people like him and Jim Molan will be proved right in the end, I am convinced. It seems we shipped the British bulldog out to Australia at the end of the 18th century along with a few other of society’s “misfits”. I have some more for our Aussie friends if they’re interested. Today’s misfits read The Guardian, belong to Liberty and generally forget our history, whilst telling us that history shows that “no-one ever won in Afghanistan”.
By Jim Molan – the Australian voice of experience from Iraq
THE head of NATO, General John Craddock, recently said that NATO’s mission in Afghanistan was being undermined by troop shortages and by operational restrictions on the use of troops.
National restrictions ensure that national interests are met but can result in making troops almost unusable. Heavily restricted troop deployments were referred to in Iraq as “self-licking ice-creams”, impressive in themselves but of no real use. And if European nations are wavering, why should Australia put its soldiers’ lives on the line? There are many reasons.
First, our involvement in Afghanistan is in our own interest. The struggle in Afghanistan is part of a global struggle. Australia is an interdependent part of this world and, as a rich and privileged country, has obligations. Failure would have implications for our region, particularly for Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world and a fragile new democracy.
Second, the Afghanistan war is winnable. We are not being asked to do the impossible. It is not going any worse than just about any other war. No wars go well initially and the average length of a counter-insurgency is nine years. We are really in only the second year and, just as we did not get serious about the Iraq war until its fifth year, we are not yet serious about the Afghan war.
Third, this is a morally defensible war, just as the counter-insurgency in Iraq that followed the contentious invasion was morally defensible.
Fourth, we are there now, and to withdraw is more significant than to not commit in the first place.
Pulling out of Afghanistan has consequences. Handing Afghanistan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda would solve no problem, and would betray 30 million Afghans who have as much right to determine their own future as Australians thought the East Timorese should have.
Precipitate withdrawal would increase the destabilisation of Pakistan, and embolden extremists, just as if we had failed in Iraq.
Let’s learn from Iraq. Iraq is not yet ancient history; the post-invasion lessons occurred only in the past few years and many are still being learnt. We may not have agreed with the invasion, but we can still learn from the counter-insurgency.
Serious fighting in Afghanistan has been occurring only over the past two years, and it is still nothing like the intensity of Iraq. I served in Iraq in the second year of that war and we faced three major issues: no unity of command or effort; no comprehensive plan; and insufficient troops.
We are only now overcoming these deficiencies. Security in Iraq may now be sufficient to effectively touch the hearts and minds of the people. The Iraq war was no more badly handled than any other counter-insurgency in history but, in its sixth year, the war is showing undeniable signs of success. If some US troops stay until 2011, as planned, that will make it an average nine-year counter-insurgency.
The problems in Afghanistan are similar.
A lack of unity of command and effort in Afghanistan has already been addressed by the US. It will take some time to have effect and to produce a comprehensive plan. This will be harder than it was in Iraq, because in Afghanistan, the US is highly dependent on its allies.
Nothing will solve the lack of reliable troops except sufficient numbers of such troops. Troop levels in Afghanistan makes Iraq troop numbers look luxurious. You cannot do the clever parts of counter-insurgency until you have established physical security, and that takes troops. The question is: how many troops and who will provide them? This was solved in Iraq in two ways – by the US troop surge of 30,000, and by increasing the number of Iraqi troops to more than 500,000 now.
What do we – the coalition, not just Australia – need to do to “win” in Afghanistan? Iraq can be our guide.
First, we need a consistent strategy to win, not a strategy to “go home”. We may have -winning rhetoric, but a -strategy is indicated only by action, not words.
We need the resources to win. A few more French or German battalions will not win the war. In a “self-licking” way, small numbers of new troops will just protect existing troops. Promised US commitments for next year may stop us going backwards as fast as we are now.
We need sufficient troops to establish greater security of the population. This will never occur at current troop levels.
We will never win the trust of the people without physical security. We may not be defeated immediately if we do not commit more troops now, but we will never win.
Australians should not hide behind the idea that we cannot make a big enough troop commitment to be meaningful. The US is desperately short of troops worldwide.
We need to use increased foreign troops over a period of time to protect the population and to attack the Taliban while we build up the Afghan army. We underestimated the numbers in Iraq – our first goal was to produce an Iraqi security force of 271,000. We soon learned that we needed 500,000, its current strength.
This will take three to five years in Afghanistan, as it took in Iraq.
The current proposed number for the Afghan army of 120,000 is ridiculously low for a country of 30 million. It should be at least double that and probably closer to 500,000. This will be expensive, but if you do not train and equip the force it is not worth doing. To even start down that road, you need a shield of sufficient foreign troops that can fight.
Major-General Jim Molan recently retired after 40 years in the Australian military. He is the author of Running the War in Iraq (HarperCollins).