Is the US-led NATO-ISAF War On The Way Out?

On August 1st, Dutch forces unceremoniously left the Afghan War Zone, deserting in the process around a hundred and fifty thousand ‘comrades’ of the NATO-ISAF and a war-ravaged territory infested by the Taliban-Qaeda combo.

Is this act the “entry” to the final “exit point” of the US-led NATO-ISAF from the ‘land of Abdali’? The fourth dimension will definitely tell the spatial location of the forces in about a year or so-when President Obama faces his re-election cycle and his proclamation of the July 2011 ‘commencement of the eventual withdrawal’ expires.

Will the Counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign continue undiminished? What will happen to the Clear, Hold and Build tactics in the southern province of Helmand, with Marjah and Musa Qala as ‘projects in hand?’ And what will happen to the Kandahar offensive? Will it come sooner, or be deferred for ‘later’?

In fact, one needs to push aside any knee-jerk reaction to this first official withdrawal of troops from the undulated topography. If a deeper analysis is carried out, then the fact emerges that the Dutch had a mere two thousand soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, mostly in the central province of Uruzgan. And furthermore, their role was more of diplomacy and reconstruction rather than direct combat which had mainly been left to their American and British counterparts. This, in essence, explains the low casualties that they suffered in their four years of deployment (only twenty four soldiers).

If one compares the number of Dutch troops to the total combat strength of the US-led NATO-ISAF, then it turns out to be a minimal ratio of 1:75 in favour of NATO. Hence, it is amply clear that a diminutive fraction of the total force is actually evacuating the battle field.

Thus, it may be surmised to a considerable degree of accuracy that the ongoing COIN operations would go on. The principal aim of the crusaders in the war zone would be to maintain the ‘status quo.’ This shall help their respective diplomats to tell the world community that the Taliban is well within control, if not completely subjugated–which may not be their intention anyway. The probabilistic scenario in the recent future, at least by 2014 (when reportedly a chunk of the forces are planning to leave the ‘land of the Buzkashi’) do not speak of the annihilation of the Taliban either. After all, this is a parasitic insurgency where the Obama-Petraeus-McChrystal (OPM) Doctrine can succeed, with implementation and patience being the key parameters.

The moot question is whether America has a sufficient amount of these ‘parameters’ in their arsenal apart from the technical components in the form of drones and ammunition.

Nonetheless, the departure of the Dutch is an ominous indication of the eventual capitulation of the NATO-ISAF in the long run, although in the short time frame it would matter the least. The Netherlands had to withdraw due to insurmountable political pressures that it had to undergo at the domestic front regarding its involvement in this ‘apparently intractable’ conflict.

Other NATO members might face similar political turmoil at home. Hence, it would be an onerous task for the politicians of the respective nations to gain approval of the masses in continuing this battle which is gradually being perceived as America’s fight of honour and not a real ‘global war on terror.’

Factually speaking, despite the hoopla regarding the military casualties in Afghanistan, it is about a thousand American soldiers who have lost their lives since 2001. And you can add to this another six hundred personnel from NATO. On the other hand, in Iraq alone, the Americans have lost over four thousand men since 2003. So why is public opinion turning against Operation Enduring Freedom?

It is basically due to the fact that America’s allies, especially Netherlands and Canada, are hardly appreciating the raison d’etre of continuing the war. Since the fiasco at Tora Bora, the elusive Osama is being chased like a phantom. And in which direction is the war proceeding? The OPM COIN requires more men and more time which the allies can ill-afford. After all, it was about when the ‘twin towers’ fell–whereas Amsterdam or Montreal still remain unaffected. Furthermore, ‘exhaustion’, not only on a material scale but also on a psychological scale, is also taking its toll on the allies as the ‘regime of war’ has persisted since the Gulf War. They want to experience a real “Pax Americana.”

So, what is best for the US-led NATO-ISAF to pursue under the overall commandership of General Petraeus? Will it be worthwhile to follow a ‘soft COIN’ only? Or a holistic combination of Biden’s Drone Doctrine and then the soft-COIN may serve the goal? Whatever the case, America cannot just leave the country like the Dutch have. At least a pliable government needs to be erected on a firm ground before they evacuate. And al Qaeda needs to be visibly extinguished from the land, and its leadership exterminated.

Presently, a combination of NATO-ISAF troops and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) outnumber the active Taliban condottieri by a ratio of 10:1. This may not be commensurate with the demands of a ‘successful COIN’ as even Indian experience shows that a ratio of 30:1 accentuates the progress toward the tipping point against an insurgency. However, such enormity in terms of troop surge will be next to impossible now. Thus it seems that the “Drone-cum-COIN” doctrine can act as the panacea with active Pakistani and Tribal agency support.

On the other hand, WikiLeaks has opened up a Pandora’s Box and has brought in a stream of uneasiness in diplomatic circles regarding the ongoing ‘war on terror’. The USA is facing some gruff questions from several quarters concerning the reliability of Pakistan. Accumulation near the “exit point” henceforth shall be gradually gaining momentum. America’s job at hand will be to prevent that coagulation and ensure a smooth exit.