Two American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. By two soldiers of the Afghan National Army.
It’s happened again. Another “green on blue” tragedy. Two soldiers who, wearing their flag on their sleeves, left their families to help the Afghan people. Two soldiers who now return home in flag-draped coffins.
Nevertheless, even amidst the anger of another brutal betrayal, it’s crucial that we keep strategic perspective. We must recognize that there are a number of reasons for “green on blue” incidents. That for all their horror, these attacks constitute a tiny minority of Afghan-ISAF interactions.
For all the doubt that these Judas-soldiers foster, the situation in Afghanistan is improving. If we’re sensible, we’ll reject the false choice between Afghanistan’s stability and bringing our troops home.
We can do both.
For a start, while it’s true that Afghanistan continues to face a robust insurgency, the country’s future is looking brighter. Most hopefully; in ever growing numbers, Afghan security forces are assuming the operational lead from ISAF. Admittedly long overdue, this shifting responsibility helps explain why U.S. fatalities declined by over 50% between 2012 and 2013. The reduction in casualties is a testament to the successes that our military and their partners have won.
Still, metrics only tell one side of the story.
It’s true that the leadership and professionalism of Afghan forces vary from unit to unit. Again however, this is to be expected. No military is perfect. Even after thirteen years, concerns like merit-based promotion, logistical efficacy, and tactical-strategic bridging of operations take time to prosper. Inculcating these understandings into the Afghan state will take many years. In the interim though, we’re seeing Afghan security forces holding ground on the battlefield. A dynamic perhaps best encapsulated by the mixed face of operations in northern Helmand Province. Standing firm against committed and tactically proficient Taliban fighters, Afghan security forces are wiring themselves into the social fabric of their nation. With time, these positive trends will continue.
That’s the key — time. Because were we to withdraw prematurely, we’d be abandoning our Afghan allies just as their teenage years began. And we’d be doing so before they were able to attain the logistical, aviation, and staff headquarters expertise necessary to operate effectively and independently. The tenets of power necessary to retain power. This isn’t complicated. Take aviation. Without a helicopter lift capability, Afghan forces will be unable to maneuver with agility and effect. And without engineers, technicians, training officers, and a corresponding supply chain, a helicopter is just a mix of electronics and metal — good looking, but ultimately useless.
Of course, Afghanistan’s better future will require more than time and continued American investment.
At a basic level, it will also require new leadership on the part of the Afghan Government. At present, the misguided and delusional populist — President Karzai — is playing games with the “Bilateral Security Agreement.” Yet soon he’ll be gone. And all the evidence suggests that Karzai’s successor will sign a BSA — setting the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship with the United States. So there’s hope.
But there’s another factor we must consider.
What alternative do we have?
When it comes to Afghanistan, far too many pretend the choice of withdrawal is easy. But that’s disingenuous. We need to be aware that Afghanistan’s future will influence other foreign policies throughout the region. And not just in Pakistan. At another level, the situation in Syria shows what happens when territory is abandoned to extremism.
Does anyone seriously believe that Afghans will be protected by the maintenance of only U.S. sponsored social services? As if the Taliban will happily disarm themselves of their AK-47s when faced with schools. We know the opposite is true. The Taliban are bloodthirsty zealots who want to enslave Afghans to their psychotic agenda. Conversely, while Afghans won’t abandon the influences of patronage and tribal allegiance, at least not for many years, our retreat in fear is the height of folly. We must be astute to the critical strategic interest that Afghanistan continues to hold for our nation.