STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL’S STRATEGY FOR AFGHANISTAN? ‘MUDDLE ALONG’
By: Lawrence Sellin, Colonel, U.S. Army (ret.), U.S. Army Reserve
There is a mind-numbing consensus among U.S. military leaders, past and present, that goes a long way to explain the 17-year stalemate in Afghanistan. They are clueless and stuck on automatic pilot.
Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who gives highly paid lectures on “Lessons of Leadership,“ recommended to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that we continue to “muddle along” in Afghanistan.
When asked what should be done, McChrystal responded:
I don’t know. I wish I did … If we pull out and people like al-Qaeda go back, it’s unacceptable for any political administration in the [United States]. It would just be disastrous, and it would be a pain for us. If we put more troops in there and we fight forever, that’s not a good outcome either. I’m not sure what [is] the right answer. My best suggestion is to keep a limited number of forces there and just kind of muddle along and see what we can do.
Echoing those muddle-along sentiments at a Washington Post Live event, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford stated his basic assumption:
Were we not to put the pressure on Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other groups in the region we are putting on today, it is our assessment that, in a period of time their capability would reconstitute, and they have today the intent, and in the future, they would have the capability to do what we saw on 9/11.
Dunford added, “If someone has a better idea than we have right now, which is to continue to support the Afghans and continue to put pressure on those terrorist groups in the region, I am certainly open to a dialogue on that.”
Dunford’s basic assumption — that is, his strategic ends — are correct, but his ways and means are not.
Dunford’s goal for Afghanistan depends upon the ability of the Afghan security forces to take the lead against the Taliban or any other terrorist entity that plans to use Afghanistan as a training or operational base.
For 17 years, the Afghan security forces have never had that ability and are unlikely to have it anytime in the foreseeable future. Even the incoming CENTCOM commander, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, stated that the death toll among the Afghan security forces resulting from the upsurge in Taliban attacks is presently not sustainable.
Putting additional pressure on the Taliban, whether it be political, social or military as Gen. Dunford suggests, is not the answer.
As long as Pakistan politically supports and militarily sustains the Taliban, providing a safe haven for the Taliban’s command and control, recruitment, training and medical treatment infrastructure, no adjustment in the U.S. training and advise mission will be sufficient to produce anything more than the current stalemate.
The political, social and military pressure Gen. Dunford recommends would have a greater strategic impact if it was directed at Pakistan.
Rather than a “muddle-along” tinkering with a failed policy in Afghanistan, the United States should take steps to change the strategic dynamics in the region, not only to affect the peace process in Afghanistan but to provide a better foundation for a future U.S. South Asia strategy, especially in regard to Chinese expansionism.
The strategic centers of gravity are Balochistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Within those lie Pakistan’s pain points and the regional leverage U.S. policy desperately needs.
Gen. George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa.