The Man With the Plan for Bananastan

The Bananastans, the banana republic-style tar pits in Central Asia that we’ve stumbled into, have rapidly become a bigger cluster bomb than Iraq ever was.

At his Senate confirmation hearing, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the "measure of effectiveness" in Afghanistan "will not be enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence."

Shortly after his confirmation, the New York Times reported that McChrystal had been given "carte blanche to handpick a dream team of subordinates" as he carries out "an ambitious new strategy" of "stepped-up attacks on Taliban fighters and narcotics networks."

McChrystal then re-reversed himself and announced that he would restrict the use of air strikes in Afghanistan in order to avoid civilian casualties. He said that if an air strike was intended "just to defeat the enemy, then we are not going to do it." Throughout my decades as an air operations planner and in all my studies of air power history, I never heard of such a thing as an air strike that wasn’t intended to defeat the enemy.

Days after his announcement, an air strike in Kandahar killed four civilians. Since then, air strikes have killed and wounded civilians time and time and time and time again. Over in Pakistan, U.S. officials think a drone air strike"probably" killed Baitullah Mehsud, a senior Taliban leader. That’s according to the best intelligence the U.S. officials have, which in that part of the world amounts to bribing or beating people into telling us what we want to hear or believing the lies that Pakistani intelligence tells us.

Even if it’s true that Mehsud is dead, so what? We’ve killed senior evildoers before, and evil still exists and the global war on it continues. For every senior evildoer we kill, 10 junior evil doers scramble to take his place and 20 new evildoers rise up to avenge the deaths of their mothers and sisters and brothers that we caused in the course of killing the senior evildoer.

Soon after assuming command, McChrystal ordered the Marines to conduct a major offensive to clear Taliban havens in south Afghanistan. The Marines met less resistance than expected, but the Taliban executed effective strikes in other parts of the country. McChrystal said he was surprised by that turn of events.

The signature warfare style of guerilla insurgents is to refuse battle with superior forces and to strike weaker forces unexpectedly. During McChrystal’s confirmation period, the Pentagon hyped him as a "counterinsurgency expert." It’s funny how a counterinsurgency expert could be surprised when the insurgents he’s fighting behave the way they’re supposed to.

Why am I finding it easier and easier to believe that McChrystal just eats one meal a day and only sleeps a few hours a night?

The latest member of the dream team McChrystal has been given carte blanche to handpick is counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen, a former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, who is now head of U.S. Central Command and McChrystal’s boss. In a recent appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Kilcullen predicted that the U.S. will see about two more years of heavy fighting then either turn things over to Afghan forces or “lose and go home.” He outlined a “best-case scenario” for a decade of further U.S. and NATO entanglement in Afghanistan. These counterinsurgency wonks have an odd sense of time. Maybe that’s why counterinsurgencies go on forever. The people in charge of them start having so much fun that they lose track.

Kilcullen also has an odd sense of why Afghanistan is worth a 10-year commitment. We have "compelling reasons" to continue the fight, he says, but counterterrorism isn’t "at the top of my list." To the casual observer, it would seem that counterterrorism is the only reason to be in Afghanistan, but Kilcullen is a cut above "casual."

One of his main reasons for staying the course in Afghanistan is that it may be the only way to preserve the NATO alliance. See, NATO was formed to fight a different kind of war than the one in Afghanistan against a different kind of enemy than the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but that war and that enemy doesn’t exist anymore. NATO needs a new kind of war and enemy to fight, and if Afghanistan and the Taliban aren’t it, then there’s no reason for NATO to exist anymore. If maintaining NATO’s meaningless existence isn’t enough to justify a war, we revert to our double-secret fallback position, which is that the U.S. Army needs a phony baloney job to justify its existence.

In March 2009, the Washington Post said that Kilcullen’s "theories are revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West." Yeah. He’s revolutionizing military thinking the way the Hindenburg revolutionized the dirigible.

McChrystal is putting together what aides describe as a "blunt summing up" of the situation in the Bananastans. The report is due out in a couple of weeks and will probably ask for yet another troop escalation.

The Associated Press reports that in anticipation of the assessment, the Pentagon has set up a new command center in an "ultra-secure war room" where people from different services and disciplines can "sit together."

In a separate effort, the Obama administration is developing new measures of success in the Bananastans, something it promised Congress months ago. It’s bad enough that we sent additional troops over there without telling them what they needed to do to be successful. What’s worse is that in order to have accurate measures of success you need to have coherent objectives, and we have nothing of the sort. The "realistic and achievable" objectives baked up by the White House strategy team in March are certifiable. We’ll never create stable governments in the Bananastans or train reliable Afghan and Pakistani security forces, and according to Kilcullen, the only reason to have "international community" involvement is to resurrect an extinct military alliance. Disrupting terror networks in the Bananastans won’t "degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks." With handheld access to the information highway, terrorists can conduct business from the gallery of the Knesset chamber if they feel like it.

Ah! So that’s why Kilcullen doesn’t think counterterrorism is an important reason to be in the Bananastans.

It all makes sense now. For a minute there I thought we were just spinning our wheels like a battalion of Chinese fire trucks.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.