By Steve Hynd
The United States� plan to wind down its combat role in Afghanistan a year earlier than expected relies on shifting responsibility to Special Operations forces that hunt insurgent leaders and train local troops, according to senior Pentagon officials and military officers. These forces could remain in the country well after the NATO mission ends in late 2014.
...Under the emerging plan, American conventional forces, focused on policing large parts of Afghanistan, will be the first to leave, while thousands of American Special Operations forces remain, making up an increasing percentage of the troops on the ground; their number may even grow.
1) You just knew this whole new "combat mission ends in 2013, troops out by 2014" was election-year spin, didn't you?
2) This is yet another example of how special forces are becoming the mover-and-shaker of the military, with consequently rising budgetary and bureaucratic clout (as well as ever closer ties to the CIA, now run by SOF-fan General Petraeus.)
3) The Green Beret's real mission, no matter what is being said now, is going to turn into refereeing the next Afghan civil war.
With Afghanistan's three major political blocs and three major insurgent groups moving in opposite directions, the country is facing the prospect of total fragmentation. Here's the worst-case scenario: The U.S. military reaches a settlement with the Afghan Taliban that does not address the country's political future, Karzai holds on to power illegitimately while pressing for his own peace deal with the Taliban, non-Pashtuns rise in opposition to both Karzai and the Taliban, and the national security forces fracture along ethnic lines. At the same time, the three insurgent factions turn against one another as the Haqqani network exploits the chaos and maintains a rear defensive position in Pakistani safe havens. Meanwhile, Pakistan's own domestic Taliban resurges and Islamabad faces yet another wave of terrorism and Afghan refugees.
Arif Rafiq's plan to avoid this catastrophic scenario for Afghanistan involves "improving the quality, not the quantity, of the Afghan national army and police" and "the army professionalized to serve as a bulwark against fragmentation". He doesn't explicitly say so in his piece, but it's pretty obvious from there who could form the most stable government. Rafiq's course for Afghanistan most likely leads to a military junta running a U.S.-friendly dictatorship. We've plenty of experience at dealing with those.