US Presence in Afghanistan

Academy Securities Geopolitical Research Series: Today we are providing analysis by Major General James A. “Spider” Marks (Ret.) on President Obama’s strategy in the middle east. Major General Marks is a member of the advisory board at Academy Securities and a CNN national security and military analyst.

President Obama announced yesterday that the US troop presence in Afghanistan will remain the same through the “end of his term.” This is a solid decision by our President, who has decided to listen to his national security advisors and senior military leadership.

Of interest, within our national security team, many of the military leaders over the past year are new to their positions. There are new chiefs of staff in all the services; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has been in the job for about a year and the commander of all forces in Afghanistan, Army General Mick Nicholson, arrived in-country just a few months ago. General Nicholson’s first mission was to provide a security assessment to the Secretary of Defense and the President, which was just completed.

Although President Obama wanted to end both wars in the middle east, Iraq and Afghanistan, he wisely accepted the recommendation from his ground commander and senior national security advisors that now is decidedly not the time to drop our strength and begin a slow withdrawal.

By comparison, our President no doubt saw the potential parallels between the chaos unleashed in 2011 by abandoning Iraq before the Iraqis were fully prepared to ensure their own security and the real possibility for a similarly disastrous outcome in Afghanistan today.

So he decided not again…not now. Well done, Mr. President.

Albeit, much progress has been made in Afghanistan after our almost 15 years in-country; however, the security situation remains shaky. The Taliban controls more territory today then they did before 9/11, the government is not not relevant to the governed and metastatic terrorism flourishes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. The US simply cannot afford a diminished role in Afghanistan.

With US support, Afghanistan now has a security force numbering about 320,000. This is about half the size Afghanistan requires to provide a reasonable level of security, but what has been accomplished in terms of size and training is commendable.

However, as we see almost every day in media coverage, the security problem in Afghanistan is unsolved. There are essentially two challenges: quality and capabilities.

Afghan security forces are not a mature force. There has never been a prominent or identifying Afghan culture or national identity. Afghanistan has always been defined by its neighbor’s borders. Over the course of a century, its geography has become a derivative of decisions made by others. There has never been a functioning central government and “service to nation” is a concept without precedent. Serving in the military is no more than a job; a paycheck. Much more training and maturation is required over the next five years in order to meet the basic standards of professionalism. Afghan security remains ours to guarantee…if not to continue to deliver.

The US and our coalition partners bring unique capabilities, such as aviation, intelligence, and command and control, to the fight against the Taliban and ISIS that Afghanistan does not and will not have for many years. We must stay the course and “enable” the Afghan security forces.

There is simply no scenario in the next five years in which Afghanistan will be prepared to provide security for itself. The US must be there “at the request and invitation” of the Afghan government to help guide it toward a secure future.

The chaos in Iraq, the vibrancy of ISIS, the existential nature of the threat in the Levant have taught powerful lessons about Afghanistan. Albeit not the same, they are not dissimilar. The US has an obligation to see our efforts through in Afghanistan; something that was not done in Iraq.