Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

On Syria and Afghanistan

I haven't been keeping it up lately, but for many years I have maintained a blog called Today in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have followed the U.S. involvement in these places closely since the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan. Here are some thoughts on the recent abrupt announcement of troop withdrawals.

The sudden announcement by Individual 1 that the U.S. military will withdraw entirely from Syria, and troop strength in Afghanistan will be reduced by half, has created shock around the world. I have tried to be circumspect about my own opinions here, but I think it's clear I view the Afghanistan operation as a Sisyphean and pointless folly. I haven't referenced the U.S. presence in Syria much although it is obviously closely linked to the Iraqi operation. My general position is that the U.S. is far too  inclined to try to solve problems militarily. However, since the U.S. created the catastrophe of IS,  we did have an obligation to help solve it. Staying back and providing logistical and some air and artillery support to local troops was probably the best of bad choices.  The question of when to go, and on what terms, is still critical. Here is Adam Silverman on Syria.

"So what, exactly, are we actually doing in Syria? What is it that will stop as a result of this withdrawal order? We are basically doing two things in Syria. The first is a train, advise, and assist mission with our local Syrian partners who are predominantly Kurdish, but some are Arabs, who are fighting ISIS. This is a Special Forces mission supported by a some Marine Corps artillery. The second thing we’re doing is, as an extension of the train, advise, and assist mission, conducting stability operations among the Syrian population where we are partnered with and training our local Syrian partners. This is being done within a “by, with, and through” strategy of partnering with vetted local groups. If we pull out there will be four immediate effects.
  1. The collapse of the local stabilization we’re contributing to. This will result in increased internally displaced Syrians and Syrian refugees who will flee ahead of both Syrian and ISIS efforts to fill the vacuum the withdrawal will create.
  2. As a result of the first effect, we will see an increased humanitarian crisis in the areas we withdraw from.
  3. We will once again have abandoned the Kurds despite the promises we’ve made to them, which further diminishes the United States ability to exercise any form of national power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic), because it further demonstrates that we can’t be trusted, won’t keep our word, and can’t be counted on.
  4. The vacuum and destabilization created by the withdrawal will be filled by both Syrian forces and ISIS. They will move to occupy and control the areas we’ve left, will fight each other in them, and this will lead to further destabilization in Syria and, potentially, throughout the Levant. It creates new stresses, challenges, and threats for Iraq and Lebanon, as well as for Israel and Turkey even though both of those states have been pursuing their own interests in Syria. And because of increased refugee outflows, it will increase pressures and problems for our allies in the EU."

 So, this is not a combat operation. There have been at least a few commando operations in Syria that we know about, to apprehend specific individuals and gather intelligence, but none have been publicly known for quite a while.

Extraction of the U.S. forces without producing catastrophe would require, at a minimum, guarantees from Turkey to  refrain from attacking the Kurds while working toward a rapprochement such as they have with Iraqi Kurdistan. That would require the Syrian Kurds to repudiate the PKK. I don't know if they would do that but it's their only long-term hope, in my view. The Kurds would also have to be left with the means to defend themselves, and they would also have to negotiate federal status with Damascus, again analogous to Iraqi Kurdistan. Such arrangements would take time to negotiate, might be impossible, but certainly cannot happen without U.S. involvement.

As for Afghanistan, obviously the Kabul government is slowly but inexorably losing, even with the 14,000 U.S. troops who are there currently. I can't say what difference removing 7,000 will make, but this was done abruptly, without consultation with the Afghan government or NATO allies.

The Taliban, not suprisingly, have welcomed the announcement because they have made withdrawal of foreign troops a precondition for peace. However, of course, this actually complicates prospects for peace because they can wait until all the U.S. forces are gone and then largely dictate terms to the Kabul government, a view shared by many Afghans. Nevertheless NATO remains committed to Afghanistan so perhaps this will make little difference. In any case it was done impulsively and without proper planning and coordination.


Don Quixote said...

Our involvement in Afghanistan has been a red herring from the beginning. I liked Obama but I never could justify his toadying to the military establishment.

Cervantes said...

Yes, obviously I want the troops out of Afghanistan but it has to be done right. There is a peace process underway right now and there are allied forces in the country. The U.S troop presence is something to bargain with, that could lead to some sort of a cease fire and movement toward a settlement. We also owe the Afghans as much humanitarian aid as we can provide, and that requires security. Troops on a mission to provide security for humanitarian efforts are obviously different from troops in a combat role. The point is, this is just impulsive and has no plan or reason to it.

mojrim said...

The problem with "done right" is that we have never and will never manage that. As I've pointed out in other venues, all but one intervention of the post-war era (time delimited for brevity) has been stupi, evil, or both. The sole exception, atop the corpse of Yugoslavia, was a partial success and only that because it was led by others. The odds of the US brokering some kind of workable agreement between the half-dozen competing interests in Afghanistan would be laughable if it were not so tragic.

In my time there I noticed one overwhelming fact: the violence followed us. Sure, different individuals, villages, clans, and tribes had better or worse relations with the taliban, haqqani, and various other factions, but without us around they managed. Our involvement accomplished nothing but to wreck their negotiated arrangements and reset to zero, with a blood price for the favor.

Just get out. Declare victory and go home. No situation was ever so bad that it couldn't be made worse, and we're just the country to do it.