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Afghanistan War: Clarity Of Purpose Is Essential For Developing A Military Strategy To Win Any War

By Hy Rothstein and John Arquilla

January 2, 2020

The recent revelation that U.S. officials knew that the war in Afghanistan was going poorly and manipulated metrics to overstate successes is hardly a bombshell. We have a history of such shenanigans. During the Vietnam War, President Johnson and Gen. William Westmoreland inflated statistics, like “body counts,” to gain support to continue the fighting.

What is particularly frustrating now, in what has become America’s longest war, is that after 18 years, 2,400 U.S. military KIA, more than 100,000 Afghan deaths and more than a trillion dollars spent, the Taliban now controls more territory and has more political clout than at any time since they were driven from power late in 2001.

“Fuzzy math” is not the gravest issue; Deteriorating civil-military relations is.

The breakdown in civil-military relations is revealed in these “Papers” by Douglas Lute, the Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations. Mr. Lute states: “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing…. What were we trying to do here?” These statements are mindboggling. Clarity of purpose is essential for developing a military strategy to win any war.

The initial lofty goal of creating a secure and democratic state proved more difficult than expected. The greatest challenge for strategists is not designing a campaign to achieve set goals, but to anticipate what is actually possible based on inevitable political changes and newfound insights about the logic of the struggle.

It appears that civilian leaders distanced themselves from the realities and limitations of the use of force in this case. Even worse, the generals seem never to have asked hard questions about how the chosen strategy would achieve their civilian masters’ policy objectives.

This disconnect is both a matter of bureaucratic preference and a by-product of broader problems in contemporary American civil-military relations. The increasing divide between the military and American society is most troubling and may explain why our current wars do not end.

Historically, soldiers fought for “the cause and their comrades.” These motivating factors were powerful. Citizen soldiers came from towns across the country, stayed for the duration, and returned home soon after. Volunteers or draftees rather than professional soldiers, they were still effective in defeating our enemies.

What about today? The American military is now a professional force comprised of all volunteers. Since 9/11, most of the men and women in this voluntary force have served repeated tours in combat zones. Most interesting, upon returning home, these volunteers want to go back and risk life and limb even after it became clear that the war objective was never properly articulated and support back home was faltering.

Why did they keep going back? To be sure, many said they would feel guilty if they did not stay with their units and comrades. Also, they did not want to be part of “the wreckage of a self-absorbed Facebook culture.” They are bothered by the fact that few Americans seem willing to fight for their country. Today’s professional soldiers feel that they no longer belong to the society that they came from.

But there is also a more insidious motivation that permeates this all-volunteer force — careerism. New commanders and young troops feel the need to show their seasoned seniors that they are worthy. They must cut their teeth in combat. Promotions are put at risk when a soldier hasn’t had a combat tour. Commanders jockey to get their units into the fight.

It appears that careerism, coupled with the increasing divide between soldiers and the society they come from, sustain this era’s “forever wars.”

Fixing this divide may be impossible. Few have seriously entertained reinstituting the draft, although doing so would go a long way toward reuniting Americans with their military.

And a return to the citizen-soldier ideal might also make for better policies and strategies. Senior military leaders should have a role in shaping policy and strategy. But they must insist on clarity regarding the purpose of a military operation and object when in their judgment the use of force, the constraints applied or the resources provided are unlikely to deliver the expressed policy goals.

Civilian leaders still have the final word; yet what they say should be greatly shaped by flinty-eyed military judgment and a public far more invested in the discourse about issues of war and peace.

The Afghan quagmire is just a symptom of the unhealthy state of American civil-military relations. Fix that and forever wars will all end.  More likely than not in victory.

 Hy Rothstein and John Arquilla are professors of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. They co-edited “Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy for America’s Longest War.”

Original Headline: What the 'Afghanistan Papers' actually reveal about 'forever wars'

Source: The Washington Times