Afghans have been fighting wars since at least the time of Hammurabi (florebat 1792-1750 BCE) and, more recently, have been at war continuously for three decades.  --  But Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., speaking to the New York Times on Sunday, says Afghans still need time to "master the nuts-and-bolts of running a military."[1]  --  The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history, having begun some 4,314 days ago, and the United States won World War II in 1,247 days, but we still need another "three or four years" (i.e. 1,096 to 1,461 days) to make the "gains we have made to date" (i.e. those stunning successes of the past 4,314 days) "sustainable."  --  Ogden Nash once said, "Progress might have been all right once but it has gone on too long."  --  But there are still an estimated 75 members of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, so who cares that the Afghan president we are supporting is threatening to join the Taliban and has called Americans "demons," and who cares that "Some contend the Afghan government is as big a threat to the country’s stability as the Taliban, if not a greater one"?  --  Americans had better not take the "gamble" that they can leave now....


Asia Pacific


By Matthew Rosenberg

New York Times

July 30, 2013 (posted Jul. 29)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan forces are now leading the fight here.  They managed an air assault last week, for example, and they may be winning the respect of the Afghan people.  But the bottom line for Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. is simple:  Afghanistan still needs the United States and will for years to come.

The problem for General Dunford, the commander of American and allied forces here, is that most Americans no longer seem to believe that the United States needs the war in Afghanistan.

In an interview on Sunday that he had requested, General Dunford, 58, sought to counter an abundance of disheartening news recently about the war and to make a case for why American troops need to stay in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends next year.

A central theme in his pitch:  Americans will not be fighting and dying here after 2014.  Afghans are already doing most of the fighting, he said, and by the end of next year “the actual fighting on a day-to-day basis will all be done by Afghans.”

Still, “Afghan forces, at the end of 2014, won’t be completely independent,” he said.  “Our presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable.”

American forces will be critical behind the scenes for at least another three or four years, he said, to help Afghans master the nuts-and-bolts of running a military:  logistics, intelligence analysis, developing the air force.  “We’re not talking about putting people on the ground, in harm’s way,” General Dunford said.

For American generals, running the war effort in Afghanistan has always been as much a diplomatic sales job as a battlefield command.  Most often, that has meant managing President Hamid Karzai, whose occasional anti-American outbursts have included a threat to join the Taliban and calling Americans demons.

But a steady drumbeat of bad news has forced General Dunford to turn his attention to the home front in an effort to counter the spreading perception that the war is a failed enterprise.  An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found that only 28 percent of Americans think the war is worth fighting.

Among the developments from Afghanistan that are fueling the disillusionment was a botched effort by the United States to open peace talks with the Taliban, which prompted Mr. Karzai to angrily suspend negotiations on a long-term security deal that would keep Americans here after 2014.  Then there was the anti-American tirade by Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff, and an ugly spat over whether the United States should pay Afghanistan $70 million in fees to get its equipment out of the country.

The response within the Obama administration has been a renewed debate on the so-called zero option -- pulling out all American troops when the NATO combat mission here ends next year.  Congress has also jumped into the fray with a Senate measure to withhold $5 in aid for every $1 Afghanistan charges the United States to move the equipment.

The poor poll numbers “reflect the noise that’s been out there for the last 60 days,” the general said, asserting that ground realities were better than portrayed in news reports.  With the summer fighting season now almost half over, he said, Afghan forces “have proven very resilient.”

He described Al Qaeda, the reason the United States came to Afghanistan, as a shell of its former self, with only about 75 members in Afghanistan, and most of them too busy trying to stay alive to plan attacks in the West.

But keeping Al Qaeda on the margins would require American Special Operations Forces to remain after 2014 alongside regular troops focused on training, General Dunford said.

As in previous interviews, his focus was narrow, on Afghan security forces. He avoided talk of the debilitating level of corruption within the government, the weakening commitment to human rights among many Afghan officials, the faltering economy and uncertainty about next year’s presidential elections.

He did concede, however, that today “investing in Afghanistan, you could argue, was a gamble.”

But, if the elections are held and Afghan forces are able to keep the vote relatively secure, “it begins to be a risk like everywhere else,” he added.

By giving the Afghan Army and the police the tools needed to take on the Taliban, the United States “is providing the Afghan people with an opportunity to decide what kind of government they want to have.”

Other American and European officials have been far less certain that the election will be a cure.  Some contend the Afghan government is as big a threat to the country’s stability as the Taliban, if not a greater one.

But few disagree that the Afghan security forces have improved significantly, despite absorbing thousands of combat deaths this year and contending with a desertion rate so high that a quarter to a fifth of the 352,000 soldiers and police officers must be replaced each year.

To stay on track, the Afghans would need hands-on support from American forces through at least 2017, General Dunford said. He declined to specify how large a force should remain, undoubtedly aware that wading into a policy debate has proved treacherous for past commanders.

The Obama administration has indicated that it would probably leave no more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, plus a few thousand contributed by NATO allies.

General Dunford said that he asked the administration for more time to make an assessment, but added, “I don’t have reason to believe we’ll ask for more than that.”

The general has good reason to be cautious. After President Obama ordered tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009, administration officials complained the president had been pressured into the decision by commanders who publicly advocated for more troops.

Since then, the White House has at times cut the military out of its deliberations on the pace of the troop drawdown and the future shape of the mission.

In the interview, General Dunford was careful not to get ahead of the administration. When asked whether American forces would use air power to aid Afghan troops in battle after 2014, or help them evacuate the wounded, he replied, “That will be a policy decision that will be made sometime next year.”

Asked if the military could handle the eventuality of the zero option, the general replied: “Absolutely.”

--This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

--Correction: July 29, 2013:  An earlier version of this article [which appeared in print on page A7 of the national edition] misstated the amount of fees Afghanistan has said the United States should pay to get its equipment out of the country. It is $70 million, not $700 million.