Jed Babbit gives a very good description, IMO, of why we failed in Afghanistan, and why we will continuously fail, until we understand how to win a counterinsurgency war.
The person who best understood modern insurgency warfare was David Galula, a French officer who learned it while serving in China, Algeria, Greece, and Indochina. As Galula wrote in his seminal Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, for a counterinsurgency to succeed the counterinsurgent forces have to be able to offer the population two things: security and a cause that the insurgent cannot and which is more attractive to the population than the insurgent’s cause.
Galula didn’t live to see us ignore his theory and strategy in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, a huge nation with tribally divided population, there was never the prospect of having enough U.S. troops there to provide local security. Hundreds of thousands could be sent and wouldn’t be enough.
The neocon commitment to their nation-building con job seeks an endless commitment of American troops and funding. They argue that if we withdraw now, the Afghan forces would be “immobilized on its bases and unwilling to patrol.” As Bing West proves in his book,The Wrong War, that is the case now even with American troops joining the Afghans in too many fruitless missions. When we leave, the Afghan forces will melt back into the population, fading quickly at the first sign of a Taliban offensive. Those who don’t abandon the fight altogether will join with the Taliban and fight for their return to power.
The neocons say that Pakistan doesn’t govern its tribal areas to their liking. But Pakistan’s view of success in Afghanistan is very different from theirs, and in it Pakistan is succeeding. Pakistan’s support for al Qaeda and the Taliban is notorious and dedicated. To expect Pakistan to do otherwise is ignorant and other-worldly. If we wanted to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban, and prevent their return to Afghanistan, we would have had to compel Pakistan to change its Islamist view of the world. That is beyond our power to do, so the neocons have just ignored that fact.
We have been defeated in Afghanistan by Islamism, by our misapprehension of the theory of counterinsurgency warfare, and by Pakistan’s Islamist commitment to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Winning a war is not difficult, as long as one has a goal, and understands what is necessary to achieve that goal. We had neither, in Afghanistan; we had neither in Vietnam…and we humliated ourselves in both wars. George Bush had both when he invaded Iraq, and he succeeded. Therein lies the difference.