A New Strategy for Afghanistan
This post originally appeared at Sen. McCain's Medium blog.
America is adrift in Afghanistan. President Obama’s ‘don’t lose’ strategy has put us on a path to achieving the opposite result. Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened. The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.
Adopting a new strategy for achieving America’s national security interests in Afghanistan is a decision of the highest importance, one that should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny and debate within our government. But we must face facts: we are losing in Afghanistan and time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide.
That is why, after consulting with some of our nation’s most experienced and respected former military and intelligence officials, I have filed an amendment to the defense authorization bill that outlines the strategy we need to achieve America’s national security interests in Afghanistan and the wider region.
The goal of this strategy is to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a sanctuary for terrorists to plot and conduct attacks against America, our allies, or our interests. To accomplish this goal, we need an integrated civil-military approach to bolster U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, strengthen the capability and capacity of the Afghan government and security forces, and intensify diplomatic efforts to facilitate a negotiated peace process in Afghanistan in cooperation with regional partners.
America’s Armed Forces in harm’s way in Afghanistan deserve leadership from Washington worthy of their service and sacrifice. Adopting a clear policy and strategy in Afghanistan, backed with the authorities and resources necessary for success, would be a critical step toward restoring that kind of leadership, which has been absent for far too long.
Chairman McCain’s Amendment Providing a New Strategy for Success in Afghanistan
- It is in the national security interest of the United States that Afghanistan never again serve as a sanctuary for international terrorists to conduct attacks against the United States, its allies, or its core interests.
- To secure the national security interest of the United States in Afghanistan, the United States should pursue an integrated civil-military strategy with the following strategic objectives:
- Deny, disrupt, degrade, and destroy the ability of terrorist groups to conduct attacks against the United States, its allies, or its core interests;
- Prevent the Taliban from using military force to overthrow the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and reduce the Taliban’s control of the Afghan population;
- Improve the capability and capacity of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the extent feasible and practicable to defeat terrorist and insurgent groups as well as sustainably and independently provide security throughout Afghanistan;
- Establish security conditions in Afghanistan necessary to encourage and facilitate a negotiated peace process that supports Afghan political reconciliation and an eventual diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan; and
- Forge a regional diplomatic consensus in support of the long-term stabilization of Afghanistan through integration into regional patterns of political, security, and economic cooperation.
- The United States should pursue an integrated civil-military strategy that would achieve U.S. strategic objectives in the following ways:
- Bolstering the United States counterterrorism effort in Afghanistan by:
- Increasing the number of U.S. counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan;
- Providing the U.S. military with status-based targeting authorities against the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other terrorist groups that threaten the United States, its allies, and its core interests; and
- Pursuing a joint agreement to secure a long-term, open-ended counterterrorism partnership between the United States and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which would include an enduring U.S. counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan;
- Improving the military capability and capacity of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF) against the Taliban and other terrorists groups by:
- In the short term, establishing U.S. military training and advisory teams at the kandak-level of each Afghan corps and significantly increasing the availability of U.S. airpower and other critical combat enablers to support ANSDF operations; and
- In the long term, providing sustained support to the ANSDF as it develops and expands its own key enabling capabilities, including intelligence, logistics, special forces, air lift, and close air support;
- Strictly conditioning further U.S. military, economic, and governance assistance programs to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan upon measurable progress in achieving joint U.S.-Afghan benchmarks for implementing necessary institutional reforms, especially those related to anti-corruption, financial transparency, and rule of law;
- Imposing graduated diplomatic, military, and economic costs on Pakistan as long as it continues to provide support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, while simultaneously outlining the potential benefits of a long-term U.S.-Pakistan strategic partnership that could result from Pakistan’s cessation of support for all terrorist and insurgent groups and constructive role in bringing about a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan; and
- Intensifying U.S. regional diplomatic efforts working through flexible frameworks for regional dialogue together with Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and other nations to promote Afghan political reconciliation as well as to advance regional cooperation on issues such as border security, intelligence sharing, counternarcotics, transportation, and trade to reduce mistrust and build confidence among regional states.
- The President should ensure that the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and U.S. military commanders have all the necessary means, based on political and security conditions on the ground in Afghanistan and unconstrained by arbitrary timelines, to carry out an integrated civil-military strategy as described above, including financial resources, civilian personnel, military forces and capabilities, and authorities.
The full text of my amendment is here.