by Michael G. Waltz
In this book, Michael Waltz, who served multiple tours in Afghanistan as a Special Forces commander as well as the Director for Afghanistan Policy within OSD, offers a unique blend of perspectives from the extremely tactical level of an ODA taking fire on the Pakistan border to writing “night notes” for the Vice President on Afghan policy. The book’s recommendations for improving our current Afghanistan strategy remain relevant today (as evidenced by the article Waltz posted in War on the Rocks on May12, 2017, namely: establish a long-term strategy for success, remove the Taliban’s sanctuary in Pakistan, and create a unified command and approach with our Coalition partners.
The key gap in our current policy is the lack of a winning, long-term, detailed, whole of nation strategy. Despite the assumed political unpalatability of a long war in Afghanistan (which ironically is already our longest with little American public outcry), we must make a commitment to stay in Afghanistan. This will require strategic messaging from the top which is tailored to the American public, “this is in our national interest,” to the Afghans, “we stand shoulder-by-shoulder with you to rebuild your country,” and to our Coalition Partners, “we need you to commit to a unified strategy.” We must also better identify the problems we are facing – i.e. a surge in IEDs is not the problem, the problem is the insurgency that motivates people to plant them. Reducing the narcotics trade requires a complex strategy that involves not just eradication but viable farming alternatives and local security. This will require a detailed and nuanced understanding of the local dynamics of war in every province. In 2010, Village Stability Operations (VSO) which focused on governance, security, and development coupled with personal oversight by U.S. Special Forces were key to cooperating with tribal leaders to resolve regional issues and kickstart sustainable development projects.
In addition to a winning strategy, the U.S. must stop Pakistan’s support to the Taliban in terms of intelligence, funding, and sanctuary. No state-supported insurgency has ever been defeated, so this is a critical aspect for strategic success. The U.S. must articulate and enforce specific consequences for Pakistan’s support – either implicit or explicit – for the Taliban. These may include withholding counterterrorism funding, conducting cross-border military operations to ensure Taliban fighters cannot exploit seams, and leveraging Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to pressure Pakistan into removing support for the Taliban.
Finally, we must improve the status of our current Coalition in terms of a unified chain of command and a unified approach. The current chain of command in NATO and with Arab partners is complex and convoluted, thus slowing decisions and progress. Having a large number of partners is no substitute for a few partners committed to a single course of action. Further, any coalition development strategy should ensure that those partners who do not want to participate in combat – or have restrictive ROEs – commit effort to air support, transport assets, intelligence, medical, and other logistics functions. Al Qaeda remains poised to flow back into any ungoverned spaces in the Middle East – it is in every nations’ strategic interest that we commit to a long-term partnership with the Afghans.