Anal­y­sis casts doubt on abil­ity to win in Afghanistan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - MARIEKE VAN DER VAART

The 10-year-old war in Afghanistan could end in a U.S. de­feat be­cause of a lack of cru­cial fac­tors his­tor­i­cally nec­es­sary to coun­terin­sur­gency vic­to­ries, a new Rand Corp. study said.

The Rand Na­tional De­fense In­sti­tute re­leased a pa­per June 27 that com­pared the mil­i­tary ef­forts in Afghanistan to other in­ter­na­tional strug­gles against rebels in the last 30 years.

From 1978 to 2008, only eight coun­tries suc­cess­fully fought na­tional rebels, in­clud­ing Croa­tia, Tur­key, Uganda, Peru and El Sal­vador. The Rand pa­per said that fac­tors that all of them held in com­mon are miss­ing in Afghanistan, which casts doubt on the U.S. like­li­hood of suc­cess.

“While ever y in­sur­gency may be unique, [. . .] the things that a gov­ern­ment needed to do to de­feat an in­sur­gency were the same. What was dif­fer­ent was how dif­fi­cult do­ing those things was,” said Christo­pher Paul, a Rand ex­pert who wrote the re­port.

Last year, Mr. Paul con­ducted a Pen­tagon-funded study of in­sur­gency conflicts over the last three decades, en­ti­tled “Vic­tory Has a Thou­sand Fathers,” and ap­plied the find­ings to his new pa­per on Afghanistan.

Ever y vic­to­ri­ous gov­ern- ment strat­egy in the past 30 years ac­com­plished most of 15 “fac­tors,” such as cut­ting off rebels’ abil­ity to raise money, re­cruit fight­ers and main­tain sup­ply lines.

The Rand pa­per found that U.S. coun­terin­sur­gency ef­forts in Afghanistan have failed in many of those goals.

Ad­di­tion­ally, gov­ern­ments in countr ies that suc­cess­fully fought rebels were more or less demo­cratic. They held free elec­tions, and their cit­i­zens con­sid­ered them more hon­est than their op­po­nents. The Rand pa­per ex­pressed doubts about the Afghan gov­ern­ment meet­ing those stan­dards, as well.

Mr. Paul said the find­ing is sig­nif­i­cant, but does not mean the fight in Afghanistan is over. Most of the coun­tries in the study were los­ing their wars at some point be­fore even­tu­ally de­feat­ing their rebel en­e­mies.

“Poor be­gin­nings don’t ne­ces­si­tate poor ends,” Mr. Paul said. “That’s a source of op­ti­mism. If things don’t go well ini­tially, there’s the pos­si­bil­ity of turn­ing it around.”

The pa­per ’s con­clu­sions were drawn from a panel of 11 ex­perts on Afghanistan, in­clud­ing pro­fes­sors, pub­lic-pol­icy an­a­lysts and cur­rent and re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cers.

“The take­away is: If you’re fight­ing an in­sur­gency, do as many of the right things as you can, and do as few of the wrong things as you can, and do it as long as you can,” he said.

“If you do that, his­tory is on your side.”


The In­ter Con­ti­nen­tal ho­tel in Kabul was at­tacked by mil­i­tants June 29. NATO he­li­copters fired rock­ets be­fore dawn at Tal­iban gun­men who stormed one of Afghanistan’s premier ho­tels, end­ing a brazen, nearly five-hour as­sault that left 19 peo­ple dead, in­clud­ing all eight at­tack­ers.

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