Essential reading: The McChrystal report


General Stanley McChrystal has delivered his initial assessment of the war in Afghanistan, and it is grim. McChrystal sets out an overall strategy of allied forces (ISAF) providing security to prop up the Afghan government (GIRoA) and security forces while they become stronger, more credible, less corrupt and capable of both supporting and protecting the population and winning the support of the population. But there’s no indication that the Afghan government or security forces are moving in that direction, and no reason given to believe that they will.

McChrystal advocates focusing on what is under ISAF control: a change of ISAF direction and practices, supported by greatly expanded military and civilian resources from the United States. It is clear that, even from a military perspective that accepts war as the answer, the increased resources McChrystal requests will not be enough to “win” Afghanistan. The crucial element – an Afghan government that is responsible to and supported by the people – is not achievable through U.S. military efforts. Excerpts from the document show the depth of the disaster-in-progress.

The 66-page document, leaked to the Washington Post, is essential reading. About half of the document is text, with the balance consisting of more technical appendices. It is, at best, an ambiguous call for more money, U.S. soldiers and civilians:

The greater resources will not be sufficient to achieve success, but will enable implementation of the new strategy. Conversely, inadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced.

McChrystal clearly describes the current shortcomings of the U.S. effort:

As formidable as the threat may be, we make the problem harder. ISAF is a conventional force that is poorly configured for COIN [counter-insurgency], inexperienced in local languages and culture, and struggling with challenges inherent to coalition warfare. These intrinsic disadvantages are exacerbated by our current operational culture and how we operate.

Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us – physically and psychologically – from the people we seek to protect. In addition, we run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves. …

The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by fvarious officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government. These problems have alienated large segments of the Afghan population. They do not trust GIRoA to provide their essential needs, such as security, justice, and basic services. This crisis of cofidence, coupled with a distinct lack of economic and educational opportunity, has created fertile ground for the insurgency.

ISAF’s center of gravity is the will and ability to provide for the needs of the population “by, with, and through” the Afghan government. A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency; the insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. This is their war and, in the end, ISAF’s competency will prove less decisive than GIRoA’s; eventual success requires capable Afghan governance capabilities and security forces. While these institutions are still developing, ISF and the international community must provide substantial assistance to Afghanistan until the Afghan people make the decision to support their government and are capable of providing for their own security….

McChrystal describes three Taliban organizations. QST is the largest of the organizations.

The QST has a governing structure in Afghanistan under the rubric of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They appoint shadow governors for most provinces, review their performance, and replace them periodically. They established a body to receive complaints against their own “officials” and to act on them. They install “shari’a” courts to deliver swift and enforced justice in contested and controlled areas. They levy taxes and conscript fighters and laborers. They claim to provide security against a corrupt government, ISAF forces, criminality, and local power brokers. They also claim to protect Afghan and Muslim identity against foreign encroachment. In short, the QST provides major elements of governance and a national and religious narrative. HQN and HIG co-exist with, but do not necessarily accept, the QST governing framework and have yet to develop competing governing structures.

In sharp contrast, the government has been plagued by corruption unlikely to be remedied by the just-concluded election, with its widespread evidence of massive fraud.

Tolerance of Corruption and Abuse of Power. Widespread corruption and abuse of power exacerbate the popular crisis of confidence in the government and reinforce a culture of impunity. Local Afghan communities are unable jto hold local officials accountable through either direct elections or judicial processes, especially when those individuals are protected by senior government officials. Further, the public perceives that ISAF is complicit in these matters, and that there is no appetite or capacity – either among the internationals or within the GIRoA – to correct the situation. the resulting public anger and alienation undermine ISAF’s ability to accomplish its mission. The QST’s establishment of ombudsmen to investigate abuse of pwoer in its own cadres and remove those found guilty capitalizes on this GIRoA weakness and attracts popular support for their shadow government….

In summary, the absence of personal and economic security, along with the erosion of public confidence in the government, and a perceived lack of respect for Afghan culture pose as great a challenge to ISAF’s success as the insurgent threat. Protecting the population is more than preventing insurgent violence and intimidation. It also means that ISAF can no longer ignore or tacitly accept abuse of power, corruption, or marginalization.

The recommendations made by McChrystal focus on a change to a new operational culture for ISAF – first, a “population-centric COIN” that puts the people first, and second, a more unified command for ISAF. This would include “radically expanded and embedded partnering” with Afghan security forces, which must accelerate their growth and working with good government. McChrystal suggests that may mean working more with local governments, but has no real remedy for the corruption now pervasive in the Afghan government.

The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government.