US military expert: War in Afghanistan could be lost by summer

The war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan will be lost by the end of the summer without dramatic changes in counter-insurgency strategy, according to a leading US military expert.

The Taliban's 'fighting season' ends the autumn
The Taliban’s ‘fighting season’ ends the autumn Photo: REUTERS

The assessment of Col John Nagl, who is consulting the US government as it conducts four separate policy reviews on Afghanistan, comes amid fears that unless the insurgents’ advance is halted, Afghanistan will become the new president’s Vietnam.

Adm Mullen has said he expected to announce the deployment of a further 30,000 US troops soon, even though the Obama administration is waiting to evaluate the reviews.

“The commander on the ground has asked for additional forces and meeting those requirements against the overall strategy is something that I have an expectation to get directed to do,” he said.

The anticipation in military circles is that the president will agree not only to the extra troops but to the adoption of the approach that worked well in Iraq, whereby US forces concentrate less seeking out and killing insurgents. Instead they followed a “clear, hold, build” strategy designed to consolidate gains and prevent captured towns falling back into enemy hands.

Col Nagl, an Iraq veteran who helped devise the successful strategy there under the aegis of Gen David Petraeus, told The Daily Telegraph that the gains made by the Taliban over the past two years need to be reversed by the end of the traditional fighting season in Afghanistan, around late September or early October, or else the Taliban will establish a durable base that would make a sustained Western military presence futile.

“Counter-insurgency campaigns have momentum. Like a football game when the crowd senses something before it happens. Right now the Taliban has that momentum,” said Col Nagl, who co-authored the recently published US Government Counterinsurgency Guide.

Like other military thinkers, he believes that a change in military tactics also urgently needs to be accompanied by a “civilian surge”, which will clarify the roles and goals of international agencies and governments trying to steer the impoverished country’s development.

In his campaign Mr Obama committed to sending extra resources to Afghanistan and was sometimes bullish about the chances of success. But at a press conference this week he echoed his defence chiefs by downscaling expectations from ushering in a Western-style democracy to preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists to “act with impunity, planning attacks on the US homeland”.

Col Nagl does not expect the “clear, hold, build” strategy to produce the same rapid results in Afghanistan as in Iraq. Afghanistan has never been modernised, has a weaker tribal structure that was crucial in supporting the surge in Iraq and has a booming opium trade. Militants have a safe haven across the border in Pakistan.

Like other experts and Pentagon officials, he believes the current Afghan army size of 70,000 – just a quarter of the Iraqi army – will need to double if not triple to establish itself as a convincing security force.

By Alex Spillius in Washington
Last Updated: 12:56AM GMT 11 Feb 2009

Source: The Telegraph

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