Cordesman's Verdict: Afghanistan Needs New Strategy, Lots of Money

One of the nation's most esteemed independent national security researchers, Anthony Cordesman, says today in a new paper that the United States is losing the war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and is "failing to consolidate its victory" in Iraq.   He locates the blame in the intersection between funding and priorities. In Iraq, he says, the U.S. threw a lot of money at the wrong places. In Afghanistan, the U.S. simply did not fund the war "it had to fight."   The imbalances may have crippled the Obama administration's policy-making, too. Thanks to its own skittishness, a volatile public and Congress's anger, the U.S. is on the verge of failure.

These years of underfunding have created a dilemma for the Obama Administration where it must now pay far more to compensate for a past Administration's grand strategic failures or risk losing the war in Afghanistan. Moreover, neither DOD nor the State Department budgets now fund an adequate or well-defined plan for the civil side of either war, and it is unclear that the Department of Defense plans to sustain the US military advisory effort in Iraq at anything like the level required.

The paper, written with Cordesman's colleague Erin K. Fitzgerald, recognizes the enormous political pressure the Obama administration is under. While it treats Afghanistan as a major -- perhaps THE major strategic priority for the military, the political support for funding this priority properly is gone. Troop increases are spoken about in increments of several thousand - way less than what's needed; though the White House wants Congress to up its non-military spending in the region, Congress is essentially giving the White House an ultimatum; show us progress, or we won't show you the money. Cordesman estimates tht Congress has appropriated about one tenth the money that is needed to meet NATO's goals.  It's widely expected that the region's commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will ask the President for at least 5,000 more troops to train a new Afghani army,  and Obama's national security advisers are divided about whether to recommend it. Public support for Afghanistan is in a ditch; Americans don't buy the administration's "fight them there or we'll have to fight them here" rationale.  

The US also failed to provide serious funding for a force that could take on serious
counterinsurgency missions until FY2005, and then cut back in FY2006 for reasons that are remarkably hard to determine. It only began a truly major funding effort in FY2007 and that was cut by more than 50 percent in FY2008 - only to see the war worsen and the sharp increases in force goals that took place in CY2008.

"....the United States not only failed to adequately fund the [Afghan National Army], it only reacted after the Taliban-HiG-Haqqani scored major gains in the power vacuum left by inadequate forces and resources. It then reacted erratically and as if a surge in one year could somehow solve the problem. The US was strong on concept and rhetoric and dismally incompetent in planning, management and execution. The cost of failing to provide the proper resources for the Afghan Army, which has been seen as the key alternative to more US troops, is that an effective force has not been created as quickly as possible, and US and NATO/ISAF goals remain unmet.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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