18 January 2019

Afghanistan After Mattis: A Revised Strategy to Focus on Counterterrorism and the Afghan Security Forces

by Michael E. O’Hanlon

The center of gravity in the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan should be modified. The focus should not be on nation-building writ large. Nor should it be on helping the Afghan government extend its control over more of the country’s territory—a desirable, but nonessential, objective. Rather, the emphasis should be squarely on making the Afghan security forces more resilient and capable. Doing so will likely keep the country’s cities and main roads in government hands, allowing the United States to preserve counterterrorism capacities in South Asia for the long haul.

This goal would be more readily achieved by keeping U.S. force totals near their current 14,000 troop level for some time to come. But it can also be attempted, with reasonable prospects, at smaller deployment figures if necessary, given President Trump’s potential interest in reducing the American military presence in Afghanistan by perhaps a quarter to half soon. To pursue these objectives, Washington should support Afghan policies like the following…

The center of gravity in the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan should be modified. The focus should not be on nation-building writ large.

Note here that:

a. While O'Hanlon here says that the focus (due to the lack of forces needed to do the job right) should no longer be on doing "nation-building writ large;"

b. He (O'Hanlon), nevertheless, seems to suggest that the focus should remain on "nation-building."

Q: So what really is nation-building -- from a U.S./Western perspective? 

A: From the RAND study entitled "A Beginners Guide to Nation-Building:"


The first-order priorities for any nation-building mission are public security and humanitarian assistance. If the most basic human needs for safety, food, and shelter are not being met, any money spent on political or economic development is likely to be wasted. Accordingly, this guidebook is organized around a proposed hierarchy of nation-building tasks, which may be prioritized as follows:

Security: peacekeeping, law enforcement, rule of law, and security sector reform

Humanitarian relief: return of refugees and response to potential epidemics, hunger, and lack of shelter

Governance: resuming public services and restoring public administration

Economic stabilization: establishing a stable currency and providing a legal and regulatory framework in which local and international commerce can resume

Democratization: building political parties, free press, civil society, and a legal and constitutional framework for elections

Development: fostering economic growth, poverty reduction, and infrastructure improvements.


Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

As the above RAND study formally and explicitly tells us, the ultimate goal of "nation-building" -- from a U.S./Western perspective -- this is the transformation of outlying state and its societies more along along modern western political, economic, social and value lines. 

Thus, as per O'Hanlon's thought above:

a. While we will continue to work to ultimately transform Afghanistan more along such modern western lines,

b. Due to the lack of necessary troop strength, we will only attempt to do this (nation-building) now in the major cities, in the more built-up areas, and not -- as it were -- in the more rural provinces/the countryside of Afghanistan?

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