We've recently seen high level departures from defence officials in the Trump administration. And criticism and concern by allied governments.
Those frustrations are motivated largely by the US decision to leave Syria, but also, to a lesser extent, by the withdrawal of about 7000 troops from Afghanistan.
For the record, and to provide a context to my question, I believe that withdrawal from engagement in Syria will likely end up as a strategic mistake. However, my question is only about the Afghanistan part of POTUS' recent announcements.
Bearing in mind that some are criticizing "cutting and running" from Afghanistan, how is that strategy, humiliating though it might be, wrong and what would be better alternatives, at this point?
the US has been stuck there since 2001 and shows no immediate sign of tipping the balance towards establishing a stable, popular, non-Taliban government that stands on its own. Corruption remains extremely high and tribal allegiances matter.
nation building, eschewed among others by Doug Feith in War and Decision, might have worked in 2001. But by later years, many believed that reconstruction money was in fact being diverted into Taliban hands.
the Taliban have very little motivation to make significant concessions at this point. So, if not Trump in 2019, sooner or later another US president will likely end up making the same decision.
the lynchpin argument is avoiding another 9/11. But at 2400 US servicemen killed vs 2900 victims of 9/11, the numbers are comparable. Yes, casualty rates have dropped massively since 2014. But arguably, aside from Bin Laden's termination, in Pakistan, most of the gains were achieved in 2001, by overthrowing the Taliban at comparatively little cost. The risk of supporting high level terrorism would be well-known to any future Afghanistan goverment.
CO(unter) IN(surgency) wars are extremely hard to win in general. The gold standard has been Malaysia, with particular ethnic features. And Indonesia which was achieved at extremely high cost in human life, so tends to be hushed up.
the US armed forces are arguably focussing too much on COIN warfare, having ignored it too long before 9/11. This opens opportunities for peer adversaries (China, Russia) as too much effort is geared at procuring COIN-capable weapon systems. On a flip side, US forces have a huge edge in combat experience.
If we focus, not on what might have been, nor on debating other merits or flaws of the Trump administration's foreign policy, what is inherently wrong with a drawdown in Afghanistan and what would have been a better alternative?
stopping wasting lives and money in a war which is not being won.
refocussing US defense to things that matter. ISIS in Syria, North Korea, Russia, managing China's eventual ascent
being able to cut loose Pakistan.
- significant probability of the collapse of the current government and reversion to Taliban rule.
- safe-heaven for terrorists to strike elsewhere
- potential for massive suffering by Afghan population
- Afghan National Army weapons could up on black market
No, this is not an ideal situation, but in criticizing both the actions and the motivations for this decision by POTUS, one needs to offer constructive alternatives.
What credible alternatives have recently been suggested besides doing the same thing next year and the year after?