Washington (AFP) Aug 6, 2009
Taliban insurgents are exploiting popular frustration with the Afghan government and trying to hold out until NATO-led forces leave the country, a top US general's former advisor said on Thursday.
"The Taliban strategy, looking at from here, seems to be one of exhaustion to basically wait us out until we get tired and go home," David Kilcullen, who advised the US military on counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq.
The militants are mostly avoiding direct confrontation with US and coalition forces and biding their time, Kilcullen told a Washington audience at the US Institute for Peace.
"You can see in the way they're organizing the population, intimidating the population, not fighting the coalition forces, not fighting the Afghan government -- but just trying to sort of keep their powder dry and wait for another day," he said.
Kilcullen, a former Australian army officer and author on irregular warfare, was credited with helping shape a successful US counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq under the then commander, General David Petraeus, now head of US Central Command.
"Most insurgents defeat the counter-insurgent by causing the home government to lose confidence and give up," he said.
"They're not going to defeat us on the ground in Afghanistan. But they could defeat us in London, in Washington, in Ottawa and cause the international community to pull out."
Breaking the intimidating influence of the insurgents means winning a war of perceptions among Afghans, but the Kabul government's reputation for corruption poses a threat to the international effort, Kilcullen said.
"You have to work with a legitimate Afghan government, and that's one of the critical weaknesses we have right now," he said.
The Taliban seeks to exploit discontent with Kabul and take advantage of a vacuum at the local level where government authorities are often absent or ineffective, he said.
One Taliban commander has even set up a panel to hear complaints from Afghans about his forces, and promised swift action if one of his troops was at fault, he said.
Kilcullen's comments came as the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David McChrystal, prepares a pivotal assessment of the war effort amid speculation he may press for more US combat troops -- a politically-charged issue in Washington.
Kilcullen said more US and NATO troops were needed to prevail in the Afghan fight, but it was impossible to find enough manpower to cover the entire country, he said.
"We do not have the forces available to secure the whole country at the level we need to. What we need to start doing is a fairly ruthless triage," he said, looking at "where are we, where do we need to be."
earlier related report
At that time, the report's senior author, Stuart Bowen, suggested that many of the same mistakes will likely occur again in Afghanistan because none of the substantive changes in oversight, contracting and reconstruction planning or personnel assignments that Congress, auditors and outside experts proposed for Iraq have been implemented in Afghanistan.
Less than two months after the release of the Iraq report, problems in the Afghanistan reconstruction program began to appear in the media. The similarities are striking.
A Washington Times report in March 2009 stated that as much as $5 billion of the Iraq reconstruction money was wasted on dubious contracts, often in areas where poor security made development projects unfeasible. Retired U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said that $32 billion spent in Afghanistan since 2001 has been less than effective, in part due to mounting instability in the country.
Both Fields and Bowen said that a lack of U.S. oversight and coordination among various agencies supervising reconstruction has compounded the problems. As stated in the Iraq report, entities such as the departments of Defense and State, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Corps of Engineers mostly act independently under circumstances in which coordination and collaboration are critically needed.
More importantly, Fields has recognized that poor coordination between Americans and their Afghan counterparts risks wasting money and slowing the reconstruction process. As recently as July 19, Fields stated, "There isn't always a direct connection between what the Afghans feel that they need and what the reconstruction effort is delivering."
One of the key recommendations of the Iraq report stressed that programs should be geared to indigenous priorities and needs and that host country buy-in is essential to long-term success. In many cases, there was a lack of sufficient Iraqi participation in deciding how or what to reconstruct and ensuring that projects could be maintained afterward. Sustainability of projects depends upon developing the local capacity of people and systems. Such an approach must include the ability to clearly distinguish between pursuing reconstruction to stimulate long-term economic growth and conducting reconstruction to support a counterinsurgency campaign.
In Iraq the U.S. government failed to strengthen its capacity to manage contractors. Even in late 2005, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad couldn't match projects with the contracts that funded them, nor could it estimate how much they would cost to complete. The report states that reconstruction in Iraq eventually consisted of 62 offices and agencies. There were no command-and-control capabilities, interagency project management or interoperable information systems that could effectively coordinate the activities of the hundreds of firms and subcontractors performing work at thousands of locations across Iraq.
The SIGAR report to Congress dated July 30 said five agencies and commands -- the department of state, the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Forces -- Afghanistan, Combined Security Transition Command -- Afghanistan and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Afghanistan Engineer District -- play major roles in the implementation of U.S.-funded reconstruction programs in Afghanistan. SIGAR found that the availability and use of information systems for project management varied significantly and didn't allow agencies and commands to share information easily. As the SIGAR correctly noted, a single system providing a common operating picture of the various ongoing projects would contribute enormously to the efficiency and effectiveness of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
What are we waiting for? Commercially available solutions that enable applications running on different platforms, written in different programming languages, using different data representations or using different programming models to communicate with each other without altering the original applications themselves already exist.
Every day American, NATO, coalition and Afghan troops are risking their lives to provide a secure environment to make reconstruction possible. We owe it to them to get it right, right now.
(Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)
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