U.S. SpecOps Adviser Advocates Indirect Approach In Afghanistan

U.S. SpecOps Adviser Advocates Indirect Approach In Afghanistan
February 9th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: U.S. SpecOps Adviser Advocates Indirect Approach In Afghanistan

U.S. SpecOps Adviser Advocates Indirect Approach In Afghanistan
Defense News
February 11, 2008 By Sean D. Naylor
The U.S. defense secretary’s senior civilian adviser on special operations says the key to success in Iraq and Afghanistan is not U.S. troop surges, but rather an indirect approach working “by, with and through” host-nation forces.
“Insurgencies have to be won by local capacity,” Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, told a group of defense reporters in Washington Feb. 6.
“It typically takes a decade or more” to achieve victory in a counterinsurgency, and key to that is support from another country — in this case, the United States. The question is whether the U.S. public will support the war for so long.
“Over the longer haul, I still believe that the indirect approach … irrespective of force levels, is the way we will ultimately succeed” in Iraq, he said, in answer to a question on reports that he had initially counseled against last year’s surge of U.S. forces into Iraq.
“When you have a country coming apart at the seams as we went through in 2006, then the temporary effect that can be provided by the direct application of our forces can be very, very important in that particular circumstance,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that’s the approach you want to follow for the next 10 years.”
The American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank behind the Iraq surge, has put together an Afghanistan Planning Group that is pushing a plan to send more troops to Afghanistan over the next two years if the military presence in Iraq begins to shrink.
Without addressing the AEI plan directly, Vickers seemed to pour cold water on the idea.
“I don’t think the answer to Afghanistan is taking forces from Iraq and putting them in Afghanistan,” he said.
He acknowledged that “the insurgency has certainly picked up in Afghanistan the past couple of years and the link with narcotics is major challenge,” but added that he is “still very optimistic about the long haul in Afghanistan.”
However, Vickers appeared sympathetic to one of the AEI group’s recommendations: to increase the size of the Afghan National Army more quickly than called for under current plans.
“One of the critical issues going forward is the capacity and capability of [the] Afghan national security forces,” he said. “The size of the Afghan national security forces is something that needs to be looked at as well for longer-term success. I think that will be the decisive element in the long run.”
Vickers served as a Special Forces noncommissioned officer and officer before becoming a Central Intelligence Agency operative and one of the key players in the CIA’s covert effort to help the mujahideen drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. He said that now, as then, the Afghans are willing to fight but want the Americans to provide the means.
“The Afghans themselves will tell you, they want and expect to win this war with assistance, [but] they want to do the fighting themselves,” he said. “Substantial foreign assistance and continued engagement is critical, but I think in the long run it will be the Afghans that do it with our support.”
Therefore, Vickers said, it was essential that the United States not repeat the mistake it made in the 1990s when it turned its attention away from the Afghani-stan after Soviet forces had left the country.
He was less sanguine about Afghanistan’s southeastern neighbor. “The situation in Pakistan is very worrisome,” he said. “It’s getting worse in Pakistan.”
The Pashtun tribal belt along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has become a safe haven for al-Qaida’s senior leadership, according to Vickers.
“Al-Qaida’s goals remain to catalyze a global Islamic insurgency against the West and to carry out spectacular attacks against the West and the United States in particular,” he said. “And there really has been no diminishment in those goals. … But in the past year and a half or so there has been an improvement in their capacity to do so as they’ve enjoyed greater sanctuary in western Pakistan.”
The Pakistani government — “a vital partner in the war on terror” — has “been more effective than any other government I can think of in terms of dealing with al-Qaida in the settled areas of Pakistan,” Vickers said, alluding to the capture of the alleged planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and other al-Qaida figures. But, Vickers added, the Pakistanis “have been less effective in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, and that’s problem we face right now.”
While the United States already has a “fairly limited” special operations presence in Pakistan, Vickers said, plans call for establishing a broader training program for Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, the paramilitary force that patrols the tribal areas.
“The Frontier Corps is a very important instrument because it’s largely Pashtun-based,” he said. The U.S. program to train the corps “is just getting started with training facility selection,” he said, adding that it was a five-year effort “to expand their capabilities in a number of areas as well as the number of units they actually have.”
In a brief interview after his meeting with the reporters, Vickers said no decision has been made about which U.S. forces would train the Frontier Corps. He said it could be regular forces or special operations forces, or a mix of those, but the decision was up to leaders at U.S. Central Command.
The Frontier Corps training mission is part of a larger program that the U.S. Embassy in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad is heading up that also includes about $150 million per year from the U.S. Agency for International Development “to help develop the tribal areas,” Vickers said, adding that the Pakistan government is committing $1 billion or more to the project.
Vickers stressed that training and other forms of security assistance could include Pakistan’s regular army and other forces.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States was willing to conduct “joint operations” with Pakistani forces if the Pakistani government gave its consent. Vickers was asked whether having U.S. troops operating alongside their Pakistani counterparts in the tribal areas was advisable.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on operations, but ‘joint operations’ can mean a lot of things,” he said. Asked whether U.S. participation in such “joint operations” might consist of providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, Vickers replied: “Could be. It could be others as well.”

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