Eating Counterinsurgency Soup With a Knife

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Military.com Editor Ward Carroll had a great interview last Friday with president of the Center for a New American Security and former Army Lt. Col. John Nagl on counterinsurgency, Iraq mistakes and a look ahead at Obama's new Afghanistan strategy.

Here's an excerpt of an article I wrote to accompany Ward's podcast.

One of the intellectual godfathers of President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy and a noted expert on counterinsurgency strategy is warning that the White House is dangerously short changing efforts to create a viable Afghan army to help defeat a Taliban insurgency.

Though he attended Obamas unveiling of the new strategy March 27 and applauds the presidents new, more aggressive Afghan push, retired Army Lt. Col. John Nagl says he is worried that the U.S. commitment to building local forces to secure the country wasnt given enough emphasis.

The long-term answer has to be an expanded Afghan national army, and this is the policy I hoped to hear [at the speech] but did not, Nagl said during a March 31 seminar sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative think tank in Washington. The Afghan national army is the most respected institution in that country and must be expanded to 250,000 ... to prevent Taliban re-infiltration of the population.

The current U.S. plan is to build the Afghan army to 135,000 troops.

During his March 27 White House speech, Obama pledged 17,000 more U.S. combat troops for Afghanistan this year and an additional 4,000 troops to act as trainers for Afghan national army units. The president also claimed his administration would emphasize civilian mentoring for Afghan governance and development, using diplomats, agricultural experts and government legal officials to help rebuild Afghan civil society.

Nagl, now president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for a New American Security think tank, is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife thought among most military strategists to be the intellectual impetus for the services current shift to counterinsurgency training and strategy. The former president of CNAS, Michelle Flournoy, was appointed by Obama to be the Pentagons top policy official.

Nagl called Obamas troop increase and trainer push a down payment on whats needed to defeat a resurgent Taliban and keep extremists from taking over Afghanistan once more.

Building Afghan security forces will be a long-term effort that will require American assistance and advisors for many years, Nagl added. But there is simply no viable alternative.

-- Christian

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