Following on the heels of recent reports from British military and diplomatic circles that the war in Afghanistan can't be won, a new report from Tony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies lay out in excruciatingly painful terms how bad the situation is. Cordesman, who is both a principled, hardline conservative and a true scholar and military expert, is probably the most prolific thinktank analyst in all of Washington. His analyses are all must-reads.
The only question is: Does the United States have the stomach for a Thirty Years' War against the Taliban? I doubt it, and I hope not. But Cordesman (and others) are right that that's what it would take to have a prayer of victory there.
Yesterday I spoke with a top advisor to John McCain, who said point-blank that the war in Afghanistan will go on for many years. "This is a decades-long project," he said. There is no exit for US and NATO troops until the Afghan army and police are ready, he said. "The transition will take at least a decade." And it will take a lot more US forces.
Cordesman's new report is called "Winning the War in Afghanistan," and it takes off from there.
The real war is political, ideological, and a struggle for the control of the political and economic sphere. It is also a war of attrition. ... We are running out of time. ... We currently are losing, and the trends have been consistent since 2004.
Taking aim at people who suggest that more aid, more state-building efforts, more money for Afghan courts, and such will help win the war, Cordesman pooh-poohs that. "We face a crisis in the field--right now," he writes.
We need to stop the spin and liar's contests, and provide honest public reporting. We need enough transparency and credibility to get sustained Congressional, Media, and public support for a long war. ...
We cannot make the progress we need to make in 2009 and 2010 by "fixing" the Afghan central government or "fixing" NATO. We may make some progress in both areas, but at least for the next two years, the military dimension will be shaped largely by US forces, those of our allies that are already in the fight, and the improvements we can make in the field in the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and possibly the Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps. ...
At least during 2009 and 2010, priority must be given to war fighting needs over longer-term development, improving the central government, rule of law, etc.
Cordesman says that winning the war will require more troops, better strategy, less interference from Washington over decisions by Centcom, and a lot more effort in IS&R (intelligence, surveillance, and reconaissance), and Special Forces covert ops. He concludes:
Stop "bs-ing" the American people. Tell them what new draft US intelligence assessments say, provide the level of transparent and honest reporting that prepares them for the necessary level of sacrifice. Do not issue another vacuous Department of Defense report like that issued in the June. The December report should at least equal the level of similar reporting on Iraq. Prepare the nation for a long war; build up credibility and trust.