At the best of times, the U.S. tends to rush out heavily politicized studies of the lessons of war that are more political ammunition than serious analyses, and while these are followed by long formal studies that are often quite good, they then are often ignored as the flow of events moves on. These are scarcely the best of times. The collapse of the Afghan government and forces has occurred during one of the most partisan periods in American politics, followed by a totally different kind of conflict in Ukraine, all while the U.S. focus on terrorism and regional conflicts that began with 9/11 has been replaced by a focus on competition with nuclear superpowers like Russia and China.
The very fact that the war stretched out over two decades has meant that much of the focus on lessons has ignored the first half or more of the war, and the almost inevitable chaos following the U.S. decision to withdraw has led to the focus on the collapse of the Afghan forces and the central government rather than on the actual conduct of the war – and few within the U.S. government now want to rake over the list of past mistakes that turned an initial tactical victory into a massive grand strategic defeat.
1.The United States will need to honestly answer ten challenging questions about the conduct of the war:
To what extent did the U.S. actually understand that it had lost much of the countryside to the Taliban, that its efforts to create an effective Afghan government and economy had failed, that SIGAR is correct in stating that it was years away from creating effective Afghan forces (if ever), and that the entire structure of the Afghan government civil and military effort had become a façade indefinitely dependent on outside foreign aid – aid that financed most of the modern urban development and economic activity in the country?
2. To what extent did the State Department and USAID realize how corrupt, divided, and ineffective the civil government had become, and the degree to which the limited “islands” of success in governance and development had little or no prospect of becoming self-financed?
Why did the Executive Branch and the Congress fail to create effective financial controls, measures of effectiveness, and limits to waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption over a 20 year period?
3.To what extent had the U.S. government engaged in peace negotiations with the Taliban because it saw no credible prospect that the Ghani or some alternative Afghan national government could survive in a country where it increasing only governed and secured “Kabulstan,” and a few other urban islands, rather than the nation?
4. To what extent did the U.S. military and NATO recognize the crippling issues and shortfalls in the military and police training and development issues raise by SIGAR in its lessons reporting?
5. To what extent did the U.S. recognize by forcing the Ghani government to negotiate with the Taliban with a deadline for U.S. withdrawal that it created a situation where there was virtually no practical chance of a either functional peace settlement or the survival of the Afghan government?
6. To what extent did either Administration consult on a realistic and honest basis with the Congress and America’s allies in the war?
7. To what extent did the U.S. policy apparatus, command structure, and the Administrations of the time fail to understand the growing problems in the Afghan effort from 2010 onwards, and to what extent did they deliberate conceal and understate the problems involved?
8. To what extent did a reliance on “spin” and favorable public affairs reporting contribute to the failure of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan by understating real world needs and allocate resources to wrong objectives?
9 At what point, if any, did the U.S. recognize at the classified level that the sudden collapse of the Afghan government and military was all too real as prospect?
10. To what extent did publicly denying the real world progress of the Taliban, the growing reliance on protecting urban areas rather than creating an effective national government, and announcing and enforcing a deadline for withdrawal regardless of the lack of progress in the peace process ensure that when the collapse came, the impact would be an unmanageable mess?
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