This entry was posted on Power Line on November 9. I delayed in posting it because I was waiting for permission from the writer. I am posting a small amount of what he said, please follow the above link to read the rest.
Pete Hegseth, founder of Vets For Freedom, is now posted to Afghanistan, where he is training Afghans as well as American and coalition troops. His reports on the situation there are as knowledgeable as any you can find. Here is his latest dispatch, hot off the press:
Pakistan. With haven across the border, the insurgency is literally able to regenerate itself faster than we can degrade it. Likewise, conditions have not yet been made inhospitable for insurgents in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, so insurgents flow back and forth. Insurgent leadership operates openly in many parts of Pakistan, training, equipping, and indoctrinating young fighters to join the so-called “jihad.” Insurgent safe haven in, and support from, Pakistan is the single largest inhibitor to success and stability in Afghanistan.
Afghan Government. As I noted in previous emails, few Afghans view the administration of President Karzai favorably—undermining the national government’s ability to be seen as legitimate. More damningly, the government’s ability to project positive influence to the local level remains minimal. Basic local governmental functions—such as dispute resolution, swift justice, good education, and land management—are going unmet, providing a tailor-made opportunity for the Taliban to fill the void.
Taliban. Speaking of the Taliban, they have proven to be a very resilient, adaptive, and ideologically dedicated bunch. They’re not giants, and not liked by most Afghans. But their militants—along with regional shadow governments—remain potent and influential. The way I see it, the Taliban wouldn’t kill the head of the “High Peace Council” unless they felt fairly confident they don’t need to negotiate with the Coalition or Afghan government. We’re killing lots of them, but they still believe time, history, and God is on their side.
Timeline. The perception of our pending exit looms ever larger, marginalizing our influence by the day. Afghans are already starting to look through, and past, the Coalition (e.g. Karzai saying he’d side with Pakistan if they went to war with us) and hoarding supplies, weapons, and equipment for whatever is coming next (i.e. “gettin’ while the gettin’s good).
Population Response. The people (especially non-Pashtuns) don’t like the Taliban and don’t want them to come back. But, at the same time, they’re quietly terrified that the Taliban’s return is inevitable (and arming themselves accordingly). I’ve yet to meet a single Afghan who believes the situation here will improve once we leave. My orbit is admittedly limited, but I regularly speak with Coalition and Afghan elements from across the country—mostly mid-to-low-level folks—and the answer is universally the same. Similarly, while impressive tactical gains have been made throughout the South, there is limited evidence that the population in those areas have truly shifted their longer-term allegiance to the Afghan government or security forces.
Coalition Warfare. 49 nations are involved in the Coalition—but only a handful contributes on a meaningful scale. This is not to indict the soldiers from the other 40+ countries—most would love to contribute more. Yet, national (political) caveats limit their locations, missions, and activities. These nations therefore become more of a hindrance than an asset; consuming time, energy, and resources that could be spent more effectively. This fact is the worst kept secret in Kabul.
Afghan Capabilities. The lack of education and level of ignorance in Afghanistan is staggering. Literally, only 1 in 10 men who join the Afghan National Army can write his own name, and only slightly more can count. Similarly, the origins of our effort here is an enigma to many Afghans. September 11th is burned in our brains, but is largely unknown to Afghans outside of large cities. That said, Afghans are not dumb—they are savvy, resourceful, and generous people. But they are also prone to conspiracy theories, propaganda, and rumors. It’s no wonder the Taliban are so effective in using local communications mechanisms to shape the narrative—portraying the war as imperial aggression rather than self-defense and support for democratic governance.
Afghan Security Force Viability. In previous emails I’ve discussed this topic in the context of funding and force size. Those critiques remain. However, time has increased my concern about the long-term viability of the force. At a recent press conference, Afghan security forces acknowledged that “their goal is to no longer defeat the insurgency, but to create capable security forces.” Similarly, there is a great deal of doubt—especially at the soldier level where new Afghan combat outposts are being established—whether Afghans will maintain the initiative or just abandon contentious postings when we leave.
Similarly, the lack of Afghan urgency is readily on display at our center. At the end of a recent partnered class (meaning both Coalition and Afghan), and following a robust and engaging discussion on insurgent groups, the hand of an Afghan student shot up. I called on him. He spoke and the interpreter translated—looking very embarrassed. Sheepishly the interpreter said, “he [the Afghan soldier] wants to know when he can go home [for the day].” It was 2:00pm.