Former CIA officials feel that America should pursue a counter-insurgency policy in Afghanistan that would secure populated areas, build up the Afghan government and acquire the support of the powerful warlords. They do not agree with Vice President Biden, who proposed only a narrow anti-terrorism policy. A former high ranking official explained the difference: Counter-insurgency is all about nation building, providing security and protecting the population. The Biden anti-terrorism policy is “just to go after the bad guys.”
Why is a comprehensive counter insurgency policy important? Former officials have noted that anti-terrorism is important, but that it's impossible to kill every last terrorist. The goal must be to create an Afghan infrastructure and security system.
“Counter-terrorism will allow us to either kill or capture the bad guys. If we kill off all the bad guys it’s a good thing but if we don’t have a counter insurgency program new bad guys get trained and then will come back in. We have to make Afghanistan completely inhospitable to Al Qaeda and its friends,” a former operative explains. This security strategy would help to establish that supporting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is in the locals' best interest.
The only way to successfully neutralize the Taliban is to have a counter insurgency commitment for a minimum of ten years. A former operative explained that it will take many years to achieve this goal “because it is a not a reconstruction program but a construction program.” Robert Grenier, a former station chief, wants Americans to understand that this will not be “a clean war where you defeat the enemy and go home. Over time the Taliban can be marginalized and the Afghans can control them but that will take a very long time, years.”
These former CIA employees felt the Obama administration needs to get Americans to support a full throttle counter insurgency policy. Kent Clizbe, a former operative, felt that “if we want to win, there is no room for half measures or for Joe Biden’s policy of ‘walk softly and carry a small UAV' strategy.” Another high ranking former CIA official sarcastically stated that it is a matter of leadership. “If the policy is explained to the American people, they will understand that [Afghanistan] is a place that can’t be abandoned. It’s common sense that we can’t walk away from it.”
The counter-insurgency policy needs to be three-tiered. A current operative expressed the consensus opinion of all those interviewed when he stated what must be done first is to provide security “by inserting enough troops and placing them in the town somewhere. Put them in the middle of the population. Have a lot of patrols and have them show their faces. Similar to what we did in Western Iraq.” He went on to explain that since there are currently not enough troops, a patrol goes into an area only once every two to three weeks and “the population says we can’t depend on you guys to protect us.”
Majority opinion is that we must once again convince the warlords and Afghan leaders that we are going to stay there as long as it takes to train the Afghanistan army and local militias to provide security. Grenier noted that “we need the support of the Afghanistan people. The provincial leaders are very wary to resist the Taliban unless they are sure they will get the necessary support. They don’t know how long we will be there.”
The second tier would be to provide the provincial leaders with developmental aid to motivate the Afghans to become self-reliant. This tier would focus on a developed government to provide jobs, education, secutiry and services in more of a nation-building effort. A former operative agreed and said that a counter terrorism policy has the CIA “working clandestinely and secretly. We are not trying to influence people... [but] with a counter insurgency the military is trained to help and convince the Afghans that we are their friends.”
The third tier would be to support the government and not tie the corruption issue to a counter insurgency policy. A former operative noted that “troops that are non-dependent on the Karzai government must be provided or we risk allowing the Taliban to make further inroads in the population centers and that will be our demise.” By Western standards, it's a corrupt country. But there are different varieties of corruption. Observers have said that the disputed Afghan elections aren't perfect, but they are light years ahead of election standards in the developing world.
Policies similar to the Biden anti-terrorism policy have not worked in the past. An unwillingness to commit the proper resources and strategy to Afghanistan has created the current situation in which the Taliban is stronger than ever. We shy away from the label "nation-building," but according to many inside observers, this is exactly the kind of strategy that America must pursue in Afghanistan to win the hearts and minds of the locals. An anti-terrorism policy will be a fundamental part of the counter-insurgency strategy on the whole, but it cannot be the sole purpose. Working with the Afghans to create a sustainable and governable country should be the ultimate goal, but it will take time. As a former high-ranking official said, "We can't take our hands off the bicycle too soon. They have to be able to ride by themselves."