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Mattis breaks down the new Afghanistan strategy.

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    Posted: 05-Oct-2017 at 10:35am

The goal, the plan, what's different and how it all ends

AFGHAN STRATEGY EXPLAINED: The most often-asked question in yesterday’s back-to-back Senate-House hearings on President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy is how is it different from what has failed to produce victory in 16 years of fighting. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford spent the better part of five hours explaining the nuances, first in the morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and then in the afternoon to the House panel. Here, in about a five-minute read, is the new strategy explained, in FAQ form:

What is the goal? Unlike in Iraq and Syria, where the objective is total annihilation of the Islamic State, the goal in Afghanistan is to convince the Taliban they can’t win, and drive them to peace talks with the Afghan government. It is, in Mattis’ words, a test of wills and breaking the will of the Taliban requires creating the conditions that persuade the enemy that continued fighting is futile. “We intend to drive fence-sitters and those who will see that we're not quitting this fight, to reconcile with the Afghan national government,” Mattis said.

What is the plan? Mattis and Dunford looked at the performance of the Afghan military and determined that special forces units and other troops with embedded U.S. advisers usually won, while conventional Afghan troops often lost. So a key aspect of the plan is to put U.S. or NATO advisers with all the Afghan forces on the front lines. That means sending another 3,000 or so U.S. troops, and several thousand more from other NATO countries. Those troops will accompany the Afghan forces into the field, and — this is a critical change — they will be authorized to call in U.S. and coalition airstrikes to support the ground operations. “Make no mistake, this is combat duty, but the Afghan forces remain in the lead to do the fighting,” Mattis said.

How is it different? Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. was operating under the pretense that combat operations with the Taliban ended in 2014, and U.S. offensive strikes were limited to cases of self-defense, or when the Taliban were close enough to present a direct threat. Afghan forces were left on their own, with no air cover to battle the Taliban, often taking heavy casualties. Now Mattis has taken the gloves off. There are no restrictions on airpower, and no requirement for “proximity” to provide close air support. “We did not give the young Afghan boys the sense that they had the high ground when they were fighting against this enemy, that the NATO air support could have given them,” Mattis said. “Today, I can bring that air support to them.”

The other big change: There is no timetable for victory, no announced withdrawal date, so the Taliban cannot just wait out the U.S. “There was always a sense that the United States was going to pull out in 12 months,” Dunford told the Senate panel. “And the Taliban, frankly, fed that message to their fighters, and that's how they motivated their people year after year, was, ‘One more year in a fight, and then we're going to defeat the coalition. They are going to leave Afghanistan.’ ”

How many troops are we talking about? The additional 3,000 or so U.S. troops will bring the U.S. troop number to 14,000, along with 6,800 NATO and coalition troops and 320,000 Afghan National Security Forces. NATO countries have also promised to send several thousand additional forces, once they are briefed on the new strategy. Mattis has promised to provide transparency on the overall troop levels, but says he won’t disclose troop movements in or out of the country that could aid the enemy. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand asked if he would “be honest with the American people about the numbers of troops you are sending over.”

“No, ma'am, if it involves telling the enemy something that will help them,” Mattis replied. “Yes ma'am — yes, senator, in any terms of honesty with this committee in private, at any time, in closed hearing.” Mattis said he would provide “approximate” troop levels to the American people. “We will tell them we are adding the troops. We'll give approximate numbers. We're not hiding this.”

What will victory look like? “What it means is that the Taliban decide to stop killing fellow countrymen and women and sit down, as some of the small groups have, and start working with the Afghan government,” Mattis said. “Some of them will peel off early. Some will fight to the rugged end. But the bottom line is we will fight and talk at the same time.” Mattis said this is not a war that will be won by vanquishing the enemy. “The bottom line is we are going to go after al Qaeda. We're going to go after ISIS. And if the Taliban wants to break with them and stop killing people and rejoin the political process, then we see reconciliation as the way we will end this war.”

Does this strategy have a name? Nothing as catchy as “The Surge,” which was the name for the 2007 adjustment in Iraq that was credited with turning the tide of battle. This plan has been dubbed “R4+S” by Mattis, who explained it stands for regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconciliation and sustain.

How long will it take? Years. The first real indication of whether the new strategy is producing the desired results will come with the next “fighting season,” when the weather turns warm in Afghanistan. “Next summer's performance by the Afghan force will be one indicator,” Dunford said. “There's also a very important event taking place in Afghanistan next year, which is the elections. You know, I think the — we'll see the Afghan's ability to perform the security function associated with the elections as being a very good indicator as well.”

What about Pakistan? Trump has said he will put more pressure on Pakistan, which has allowed a safe haven for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters along the its largely ungoverned border region. Mattis said there will be a united front in confronting Pakistan with spelled out expectations for changing its behavior. “What you're going to see is 39 nations all in the NATO campaign working together to lay out what it is we need Pakistan to do,” Mattis said, “and then we're going to use a whole government international effort to align the, basically, the benefits and the penalties if those things are not done.”

Does this mean the U.S. will be in Afghanistan forever? In both hearings some lawmakers lamented that after 16 years there seems to be no end in sight to the Afghan war. “The Trump administration's plan to force the Taliban to the negotiating table is to say, ‘We are willing to continue to fight the Afghan war forever.’ And that just can't be right. It can't,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Dunford said people who are frustrated with the lack of victory over 16 years are using the wrong time frame. The Afghans have been fighting essentially on their own for just over two years. Dunford said the new plan is designed to be “fiscally, militarily and politically sustainable” over time. “It will require a U.S. presence increase in the short term, but in the long term this is about leveraging the 300,000 Afghan forces that we have grown over the course of 16 years, but just inadequately supported for here over the last two.”

Will the U.S. still be in Afghanistan 10 years from now? “Certainly, we may have advisers there 10 years from now,” Mattis said. “but the Taliban will not be the enemy they are.”

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/jim-mattis-breaks-down-the-new-afghanistan-strategy-the-goal-the-plan-whats-different-and-how-it-all-ends/article/2176888 

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