Iraq Was Not Vietnam; Afghanistan is Not Iraq

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

The President’s decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan came after careful deliberation. The certainty of his rhetoric concerning withdrawal during the campaign has apparently been replaced with the thoughtfulness of the magnitude of the decision he needed to make.

His decision will likely define his Presidency.

Having served as the Central Command Special Operations Officer in 2001 through June 2002 and having been in Afghanistan and Iraq, I am concerned about the surge as planned.

To assume that a surge which worked in Iraq will work in Afghanistan is a potentially fatal strategic flaw. Afghanistan is not Iraq as Iraq was not Vietnam.

The strategic flaws of following an Iraq surge strategy are based upon the following concerns:

• The country of Afghanistan is a British invention as was Iraq. The difference is that Iraqis have a much greater national identity than Afghanis. The tribal influences are extremely strong in both nations but a national identity is virtually non-existent in Afghanistan.
• Afghans rule extensively through the Loya Jirga. To attempt to install a western style national government on Afghanistan will likely meet with failure.
• In efforts to train military and police in both countries, Iraq has met limited success. Since 2002 in Afghanistan the buildup of the Afghan military is unacceptable because we are attempting to train a national army versus regional army through the Loya Jirga.
• Afghanistan will provide Russia with the strategic opportunity to implement "Ivan’s" version of the "Charlie Wilson’s War". To think that the former Soviet Union is not stinging from their defeat in Afghanistan would be naïve. The ability to inflict great damage to U. S. forces after a surge would be disastrous.
• Significantly more forces in Afghanistan merely increase the size of the footprint or logistic base which increases the likelihood of more dissent by tribal militants. During my time in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the tribal leaders that I met welcomed our help but longed for our withdrawal.
• The strategic value of the "surge" to the Muslim world is that it shows our intent. Intent is as critical in that part of the world as the actual deployment of forces. To actually surge forces in every situation merely makes our actions predictable

To achieve victory in Afghanistan, the President should focus on three key elements which include using covert military forces, protecting our national treasury, and working with the Loya Jirga and the Afghan President to subdue the Taliban.

Abandoning Afghanistan should not be an option.

Covert military forces would include our own Special Forces, Marine Force Recon, Navy Seals, 93rd Wing U. S. Air Force as well as the CIA and our allies special forces. Significant funding increases are needed immediately to reverse the "Cold War Dividend" that was declared and paid in the 1990’s. The funding increases are needed to pay for significant increases in personnel for special operations. Our current forces have been excessively deployed since 2001.

Special Forces provide a much smaller footprint for the enemy and are specially trained for counter insurgency operations. Special Forces operate in very untraditional ways which is conducive to the type of terrain found in Afghanistan. They are the right force at the right time.

We must also recognize that protecting our national treasury is our mission and the terrorist’s objective.

We must be smart about fighting this war and be fiscally conservative and prudent in how we spend our limited resources. The President should fight insurgencies with counterinsurgency tactics. The cost of 5,000 Special Forces personnel is significantly less expensive than 30,000 conventional forces.

In the early 1970’s the Executive Branch decided to dismantle the human intelligence gathering capabilities of military intelligence. This capability must be rebuilt. The rebuilding of the intelligence capability is a decades long process and requires our legislative and executive branches to be consistent. Such a rebuilding will provide us with significantly less expensive alternatives to conventional warfare in the future.

Finally, the President must continue to demand that the Afghanistan government and the Loya Jirga take a very active roll in suppressing the Taliban. Announcing a time line for withdrawal may provide just that type of pressure to the Afghanis to get them active in their own defense.

Afghanistan is not Iraq and Iraq was not Vietnam but nothing less than victory is crucial to defeat terrorism.