Media Conference Call: Stephen Biddle Discusses U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan (Audio)

Media Conference Call: Stephen Biddle Discusses U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan (Audio)

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Council on Foreign Relations Conference Call

OPERATOR:  Excuse me, everyone.  We now have our speakers in conference.  Please be aware that each of your lines is in a listen-only mode.

At the conclusion of the presentation we will open the floor for questions.  At that time, instructions will be given if you'd like to ask a question.  I would now like to turn the conference over to Kim Barker.

Ma'am, please begin.

KIM BARKER:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for joining us today.  We are here today to talk about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, and specifically General McChrystal's new 66-page assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

Stephen Biddle, the CFR senior fellow for defense policy, served as a member of the International Security Assistance Force "strategic assessment group" that General McChrystal assembled to produce the assessment in Kabul, and contributed to the final report.  He will talk about the report's findings and the future of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, with one exception.  He's not in a position to talk about resource needs or specific troop requirements as McChrystal has not yet made those requests public, so don't place your question.

My job here is to start the discussion.  After 20 minutes or so, we'll open up the floor to you.  For your background, I was based in the region for more than five years, most of the time as the South Asia bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune, and am now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Stephen, thanks very much for joining us today.  Can you start by briefly talking about your role in the assessment, and how it was done, and whether the final assessment matched the strategic assessment group's recommendations?

STEPHEN BIDDLE:  Well, when General McChrystal was appointed, Secretary Gates tasked him with providing, within 60 days of taking command, an assessment of the situation; the way forward, strategically; whether U.S. objectives can be met.  General McChrystal went about conducting that assessment, in part, by tasking elements of his staff to deal with particular sub-issues, like, for example, strategic communications or collateral damage minimization.

But for the overall assessment of the situation and the way forward, he asked a group of 12 outside -- about a dozen outside analysts to come to Kabul for about a month -- spend a fair amount of time traveling around the country, and a great deal of time being briefed up by the staff, to provide perspective and assist in writing the draft of the document.  That's what I was involved with.

I had not seen the final document until, actually, The Washington Post printed it.  The draft that we were working with -- as of the time I left Kabul, which was late July, for whatever it's worth, is substantially similar to the version that I saw, albeit redacted, in The Post.

BARKER:  Okay.

I know you can't talk about the exact number of any proposed troop increase, but can you talk about why more troops are necessary, and whether you think they can actually make a difference in the war there?

BIDDLE:  Well, most counterinsurgency theorists believe that it's an unusually labor-intensive form of warfare, relative to conventional combat.  It's very hard to substitute capital, or firepower, or technology for troops on the ground in counterinsurgency.  Largely because in counterinsurgency, unlike conventional warfare, the enemy is concealed, and their identity is known primarily to the civilians who live in the area and know -- unlike the military operating there, who's who, in spite of the fact that the insurgents aren't wearing uniforms.

To succeed in counterinsurgency you have to be able to counter the effects of concealed, civilian-clothing-wearing guerillas.  That requires that the civilians tell you who and where they are.  And that means, among other things, they have to be able to survive the act of telling you who the insurgents are, given that the insurgents are living among them in their communities.  And that, in turn, means there has to be a persistent, visible, long-term presence of government security forces who can protect the civilians against retaliation by the guerillas if they tip the government off as to their identities and locations.

And it's very hard to do that with an F-15 flying at 30,000 feet.  That doesn't provide the confidence to the civilian on the ground that there's going to be somebody there to protect them when the Taliban come back at 2:00 a.m. to try and wreak vengeance on the family of someone who may have given the government information.  That requires proximate, visible, available soldiers on the ground, living in and among the population to be defended.  And that's potentially a very labor-intensive undertaking.

BARKER:  So you started going toward the whole idea of talking about counterinsurgency.  And one of the things I've noticed in the last few days is a lot of folks saying:  Well, maybe we don't need a counterinsurgency strategy there; maybe the answer is we need to do strictly counterterrorism.  We need to do more of these strikes, these drone strikes in Pakistan.  We need to be focused more on al Qaeda leadership.

Can we talk about the difference between those two strategies, and why you think one is a better way to go than the other?

BIDDLE:  You know, sometimes people -- people sometimes talk about the difference between "CT" and "COIN" strategies, where CT is short for "counterterrorists," and COIN is short for "counterinsurgency."

Counterterrorist strategies focus on killing specific hostile individuals -- members of terrorist organizations or their leadership.  Counterinsurgency focuses not so much on killing the enemy but on protecting the civilians.  They're very different undertakings.

And whereas counterinsurgency is classically very labor-intensive, counterterrorism is normally done with very small groups of highly-specialized Special Forces; or these days, very often drones, or other remote sources of pinpoint firepower, to kill identified individuals in potential safe havens.

Because counterterrorism is so much less labor intensive, it is, at least superficially, attractive to many in the public debate, where a large increase in American forces to do counterinsurgency in a place like Afghanistan is clearly unpopular because of the sacrifices and the demands that it makes on the nation.

A counterterrorist strategy, on the other hand, can be prosecuted with much less sacrifice, much less resource allocation, and especially for those who are uncomfortable with the idea of a large reinforcement, but just as uncomfortable with the idea of simply liquidating our position and sacrificing our interests in the region.

Counterterrorism, via standoff drone attack, is an attractive way to get the payoff and not pay the price.  The trouble is, there are a variety of serious shortcomings with counterterrorism strategies if they're stripped out of the context of a larger counterinsurgency effort.  Which is the way we're doing it right now -- it's part of counterinsurgency as we're conducting it in Afghanistan, and as the Pakistani government is conducting it in Pakistan.

There are at least three preconditions for success in a drone-based counterterrorist strategy that are hard to meet without doing counterinsurgency at the same time.  The first of them -- and perhaps the most important, is the availability of intelligence on where the targets are located.

A critical component of the targeting information you need to tell the drones where to go and who to hit, comes from human intelligence provided by a penetration of terrorist groups on the ground.  Right now, a very sizeable fraction of the human intelligence we get on the locations of al Qaeda, or other terrorist operatives within Pakistan, comes from the Pakistani government.

Counterinsurgency is all about sustaining a government.  It's all about who's going to rule the country and whether the insurgents or the incumbent government is going to be in charge.  If you decide you're not going to do counterinsurgency anymore, you're creating a risk that the government will then, in turn, fall and be replaced by insurgents, whether in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, or both.

If you lose control of the government and it's replaced by a hostile entity, the information sources about where the targets are drop off dramatically in availability; and that, in turn, is likely to lead to a substantial drop in the effectiveness of counterterrorist drone strategies.

Secondly, the drones need benign airspace in which to operate.  Drones are not wonder weapons.  They're relatively large, very slow, unpiloted airplanes that spend -- tend to spend lots and lots of time flying racetrack patterns over particular pieces of ground.  The Pakistani air force is not a juggernaut, but it is more than adequate to clear the skies of American drones.

The benign airspace that drones are designed to operate in is currently provided courtesy of a friendly government in Pakistan.  If the government in Kabul fell, and if that in turn led to the destabilization the government in Islamabad and we were to lose secular governance in Pakistan, the result could be the loss of the benign airspace that the drones require for access to the targets.

Last but not least, drones are airplanes, and airplanes require bases.  If you're going to spend long amounts of time dwelling over specific areas in order to find concealed targets underneath, you have to be able to put the runways and the support infrastructure on the bases close enough to the target area that they don't spend all their fuel getting there and back.  It's been widely reported that the government of Pakistan currently provides those bases for the drone strikes that we're doing now in the Northwest territories.

What all that means is that if you take a piece of an orthodox counterinsurgency strategy, which includes lots of dimensions and component parts, including, of course, counterrorist drone attacks, pull it out of context and try and do it alone, you run the risk of losing the enabling pre-conditions that the rest of the strategy is designed to provide --

BARKER:  Mm hmm.

BIDDLE:  -- and that, I think, is the biggest drawback with these kinds of partial middle-way counterterrorist alternatives to a broader-scale orthodox counterinsurgency campaign.

BARKER:  Mm hmm.  You mention working with the government and what might happen with the government in Afghanistan in particular.  And it seems like much of the media attention is focused on any troop increase in numbers since the McChrystal report came out.  But I was really struck by the -- this passage of the assessment.  "Progress is hindered by the dual threat of a resilient insurgency and a crisis of confidence in the government and the international coalition.  To win their support, we must protect the people from both of these threats."

The assessment then goes onto to talk about partnering with the government and building up local governance, minimizing corruption, et cetera.  Given the recent election, which the assessment seemed to kind of gloss over, the allegations of fraud and Karzi's attitude towards ISAF and the U.S., how good of a partner can Karzai and his government be?  And also, what are the risks ISAF faces if the population is so alienated from the government and ISAF is seen as backing this corrupt government?

BIDDLE:  Well, let me take this point to emphasize -- and I'm speaking for myself throughout, I'm not speaking for General McChrystal or for the command or the team that produced the assessment.  So in my own view, speaking as a Council fellow, part of the business of creating tolerable governance in Afghanistan is the benign process of providing technical assistance to allow government officials who have not been sufficiently trained to do their jobs better.  There's a big gap in the sheer administrative capacity of this government.  So part of the problem is trying to remedy that.

Arguably, the much bigger part of the problem, however, is politics and not proficiency.  It's the self-interested behavior of key individuals within the government.  And to deal with that will require more than benign technical assistance.  I think it will require the use of leverage, sticks and carrots, to change the interest calculus of key actors in ways that will bring about a change in behavior.

Now, what the election did, for me, is to crystallize the broader and long-preexisting problem of corruption and misgovernance in the government of Afghanistan.  I think, certainly I did not believe, prior to the election, that this government was corruption free, and discover with the election that there was corruption in Afghanistan.  (Laughs.)  I think that that's surely naive, phrased that way.

Given that, I think the underlying problem of the need by the West to employ leverage to change interest calculi, and therefore bring about behavioral change, existed before the election just as much as it exists after the election.  Even before the election the apolitical, benign provision of technical assistance would not have been sufficient to bring about the degree of governance change we need.  And I don't know that a corrupt election had radically changed that situation.

I think if the West is unwilling or unable to bring enough leverage to bear, the campaign will fail.  That was true before the election, it's true after the election.  A degree of systematic, concerted, strategic use of the leverage at the West's disposal is, I think, necessary if we're going to bring about any improvement.  And, again, I think that was true before and it's true now.

The election clearly didn't help, but I don't think it represents a seachange transition of some kind between a benign government before and a maligned government after.  I think what we've got, in both case, are a serious problem of government corruption that can only be rectified by concerted action.

BARKER:  But is ISAF at risk if it's seen as working with and backing this government, if it's seen as having won the election fraudulently?

BIDDLE:  That was true before the election too.  I mean, one of the central problems that ISAF has had in the past is when the public -- in a province, or a district, or a village understands the local power brokers to be corrupt and sees Western troops cooperating with them, that implicates Western troops.

When the population sees the local government as corrupt, and Western, non-governmental charitable organizations cooperate with corrupt power brokers -- in order to get schools built or clinics constructed, that implicates the non-governmental organization in the eyes of the public.  Again, this was true before the election too.  The election makes things worse at the margin, but I don't think it fundamentally transforms the situation.  These problems existed before the election as well.

BARKER:  It seems, though, that some of our NATO partners are using the election as another, sort of, "chip to play" in that game of getting out, or getting out early.  You've got Italy who wants out; Canada plans to get out by 2011, the last I saw; and the British seem to be increasingly debating the war.

You know, one of the things that this assessment makes very clear is that you've got to get out of your armed turrets; you've got to get out of your humvees; you've got to get out of your bases and actually get out more with the people, and risk more casualties than anybody from ISAF has been willing to do in the past.

So how do you sell NATO on this new mission at a time where it seems like everybody's increasingly talking about pulling back from Afghanistan?

BIDDLE:  Well, counterinsurgency is hard to sell to anybody.  (Laughter.)  One of the biggest debates within the U.S. military, when the new U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine was unveiled, was whether anybody would ever be willing to do it --

BARKER:  Right.

BIDDLE:  -- given that it's tremendously expensive to do; and it has this very unhelpful property that it involves a deliberate acceptance of risks, costs and casualties early, in order to bring them down late.  And that just makes counterinsurgency, necessarily, a very difficult political management problem for democracies.

Now, doing it in an alliance context makes it that much harder still, because you've got a wide range of nations participating, using a wide range of logics that they've used to justify their involvement to their publics, and with a wide variation in the scale of interests they have at stake -- or at least perceive to be at stake in Afghanistan.

The question of whether or not democratic governance, whether -- governments, whether in Europe or in the United States, can bring their publics along in support of the campaign, is inherently a major challenge in the conduct of state-of-the-art counterinsurgency.  And I suspect that, in any government, it will probably require a very systematic, very careful, very deliberate attempt by the executive branch to make a case to their public, and to their legislatures that, on balance, the costs are worth paying, because the costs, in order to have any reasonable chance of success, are going to be high.

When you look at the various ways of trying to secure the interests without the costs, I think, again, what you see is substantial difficulties, and shortcomings, and limitations and problems in all of them.  So I think the political management of counterinsurgency is a very tall order in any of these capitals.

BARKER:  So do we stay -- does the U.S. stay if all of our partners start pulling out?  Can the U.S. go this alone -- or should they?

BIDDLE:  Well, of course, the U.S. wouldn't be going it alone in any event because, in all likelihood, within a few years the primary contributor of troops will be the Afghan government.

And when you look at the troop fielding potential of the different actors involved here, the Afghan government swamps all the others.  I mean, they have the potential to field a much larger security force in their country than we do, than the British do, than the Dutch or the Canadians or the Germans do.

In principle, because the troop-fielding potential of the Afghan population is so much higher than the contributing nations, you could imagine compensating for the withdrawal of any given participant nation by an increase in the projected scale of Afghanistan national security forces.

All that having been said, one of the key realities of counterinsurgency is it's labor-intensive and expensive, and that's going to strain anybody -- to do it right.  So getting contributions of troops and resources is very important to success.

And although, in theory, you can always compensate for any one contributor -- especially a relatively small one leaving, I doubt very much that anybody in ISAF headquarters is relishing the prospect of any reduction, in any number of troops, by anybody (laughs).  They're looking for troops everywhere they can find them, I suspect, because the undertaking is so labor-intensive.

BARKER:  Sure.

I'm going to ask you one last question, and then open up the floor to other journalists.

If you could talk about, why is Afghanistan so important?  I mean, you've got al Qaeda in Somalia, Yemen; you've got, you know, most of the bases -- al Qaeda bases are in Pakistan.  So why is Afghanistan so important?

BIDDLE:  Well, I think there are two fundamental, hard security interests of the United States and of the West in Afghanistan.  There are many things we would like for Afghanistan, like we would for anybody in the international system:  We would like them to be ruled in accordance with the will of governed.  We would like them to be prosperous.  We would like women's and minority rights to be respected.  We would like their children to be educated.

But when it comes down to interests that are normally thought worth waging war to secure, as opposed to things you would like to see but would limit the means to nonviolent ones, I think there are two hard security interests here:  One is that Afghanistan not become a base for striking the West; and the second is that Afghanistan not become a base for destabilizing its neighbors, and especially Pakistan.  And those are the two key interests that the administration has articulated in the conflicts.

Now, of the two, the one that's talked about the most is the first one -- that Afghanistan not become a base for striking the West in general, the U.S. in particular.  It seems to me that the more important of the two, however, is the second one -- that Afghanistan not become a base for destabilizing Pakistan.

Clearly, Afghanistan can become a base for striking the West.  It was 2001.  It could be again.  But so could lots of other places -- so could Yemen, so could Somalia, so could Djibouti, so could potentially dozens of ill-governed spaces around the world.  You could argue that Afghanistan is either, at the margin, better or worse than these alternatives as bases.  But there are many others, and simply shutting down Afghanistan would not deny the potential for a base to al Qaeda.

If we were going to deal with this problem generally, the strategy of committing multiple U.S. combat brigades to any place that is in danger of becoming a base, even if it isn't now, we're going to run out of brigades a long time before al Qaeda runs out of potential havens.

But whereas there's nothing unique about Afghanistan as a potential base for striking the West, Afghanistan is geographically unique as a base for destabilizing Pakistan.  It's right across the Durand Line.  It's an adjoining neighbor.

And Pakistan is a country with powerful security interests engaged across the West.  It is an enormous country, with a large population; a sizeable economy, many times that of Afghanistan; an active, ongoing insurgency within its borders; and a large existing useable nuclear arsenal.

It is also a serious security challenge that we have very few direct means to deal with.  Because the United States is politically "radioactive" in Pakistan, we are not going to be able to deploy 60 (thousand) to 90,000 American troops to assist them in conducting their counterinsurgency.  That's just not in the cards.

Our aid might, in principle, be used to help them conduct counterinsurgency, but it's routinely diverted to other purposes that the Pakistanis prefer -- like preparing for a military conflict with India, or simply graft and patronage.

In an environment in which our ability to deal with the most serious threat -- Pakistan, directly is very limited, arguably, the most appropriate response is to invoke the Hippocratic Oath and at least "do no harm" -- don't make it any worse than it is otherwise.  And were Afghanistan to collapse into either chaos, or worse, a Taliban version 2.0 regime, that would substantially worsen the security prospects across the border in Pakistan.

That, it seems to me, is the more important of the U.S. and Western vital security interests at stake in Afghanistan.  And to the extent that one wants to make a case for waging counterinsurgency there, I think the strongest argument is vis-a-vis its indirect effect on the stability of Pakistan, and, thereby, the control of its nuclear arsenal.

BARKER:  Okay.  Thanks a lot.

We're now going to open up the floor to other reporters questions, so go ahead.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.

At this time, we will open the floor for questions.  If you'd like to ask a question, you may press the pound key, followed by the 1 key -- that is, "star, 1" on your touchtone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order which they are received.  If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, press "star, 2."  Again, that is "star, 1" for questions.

Our first question is from Bryan Bender, with Boston Globe.

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  Thanks for setting this up.

My question is sort of a little bit -- just about mechanics.  I was hoping Stephen could talk a little bit about -- at least from his point of view, how the assessment team, that advised General McChrystal, went about its work.  Or at least maybe you could give me your own personal recollections of, sort of, how that process worked.  I'm curious about the mechanics of it, and the role that you and some other think-tank scholars played.

BIDDLE:  Sure.

Well, let me start, and if I'm not speaking to the aspects of it that you're interested in, stop me and I'll redirect.

We were there for roughly a month.  The first 10 days or so of that was largely spent traveling around the country.  We went to each of the regional commands and spent some time with the command groups there, and assessing the situation in the different parts of the country.

We then spent a great deal of time getting briefed by key staff elements -- within the ISAF command, within UNAMA and the international community, and meeting with Afghan government officials.  So we spent the initial part of the time on "receive" -- taking input and gathering information to conduct an assessment.

We then spent much of the next week or so in deliberation with one another -- I mean, trying to converge on our sense of what that all meant.  And then we spent a lot of time working through draft text.

I had done a previous, similar assessment.  Petraeus put together a joint strategic assessment team, with a mission not unlike this, in Baghdad in the spring of 2007.  I served there as well.  Unlike the JSAT exercise in Baghdad -- where we were producing recommendations that were going to go General Petraeus, the key decisionmaker, and he could sign them, disagree with them, ignore them, do whatever -- General McChrystal asked us to actively produce text for his report to Secretary Gates.

Now, we were dealing with the overview part of the thing, as you've probably seen in the version that was made available to The Post.  There was an overall assessment and a series of appendices.  We were writing an initial draft of the text for the overall assessment.  And then there were an extensive series of in-progress reviews, where the work was vetted before General McChrystal, General Rodriguez, and the Staff (sp), and the command, and a substantial amount of interaction with the General over the course of developing it.

Now, at the end of the day, it's the General's signature underneath it, and it's his statement.  So obviously anything we said that he didn't agree with, his view would prevail.  But that's kind of "a picture" anyway, of how the thing came together.

QUESTIONER:  That's helpful.

So it seems to me, from what you're describing -- if you would compare the Iraq experience with this one, is it fair to say that there was a sort of a larger role in actually crafting the ultimate document than there was when you just simply gave recommendations to General Petraeus, who then either folded them in or didn't.  You actually were writing a draft of the assessment, that was then vetted, changed, fixed --

BIDDLE:  Well, in terms of the intent, yes.

QUESTIONER:  -- by General McChrystal.

BIDDLE:  In practical terms, less than you would expect -- in as much as, oddly enough, the Joint Strategic Assessment Team's report in Baghdad ended up becoming the first draft of the Joint Campaign Plan for the conduct of the campaign.

We didn't necessarily know that when we started -- at least the members of the team didn't know that when we started.  We thought we were -- (inaudible) -- a recommendation, but which could be --  And in a sense you always are, in this kind of environment, the boss, the commander in chief -- or, I'm sorry, the commanding general is eventually going to decide to do it however he wants to do it.

But it ended up being the case that we were drafting an official plan of the command in Baghdad too.  It was just (that) it was less explicit at the beginning that that's what was going to be happening.

QUESTIONER:  Got it.  Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.

Our next question is from Eli Lake, with Washington Times.

QUESTIONER:  Thanks so much for doing this, Dr. Biddle.

Could you comment on your assessment of civil-military relations in light of what appears to be now an open disagreement on the basics of strategy:  whether or not there will be a counterinsurgency as, I think, favored by the leadership of the military; and then what we're getting the sense that I guess Obama has said on the Sunday talk shows, that they're -- that he had not yet agreed on what the strategy would be?  And what, you know, the implications are?  And maybe, if you could, put it in some kind of historical perspective?

BIDDLE:  Well, let me just start by making the obvious point that we don't know yet whether there's going to be a disagreement.


BIDDLE:  The White House is reassessing.  And, as somebody who was involved in writing the McChrystal assessment, I'm delighted that they're reassessing.

My own sense is that a central problem in U.S. national security policy for the last eight years has not been an excessive willingness to reconsider basic assumptions (laughs).  And b), as somebody involved in the analysis business, I tend to be sympathetic to people who say they want to do more analysis.

So I don't -- I would not conclude, at this point, that there is a significant difference of view on the appropriate way forward.  I don't think we know that yet.  And I also think it's entirely appropriate for the commander in chief to be aggressively challenging what he's told by anybody.  And, for that matter, I would broaden that beyond just defense policy.

As far as the civil-military relations aspects of this go, we have civilian control of the military.  The military does not make U.S. national strategy.  The military does not even make theater strategy.  The civilians are constitutionally in charge of this.

Now, what we would like is I think what Eliot Cohen has termed "an unequal dialogue," in which both sides are respectful of the other and interacting with the other in dialogue, but that dialogue is unequal because, at the end of the day, the civilians are the ones who have the legal responsibility -- not just the right, but the responsibility to make the decisions, and to be held accountable for the results as a result.

In that setting, it seems to me the appropriate role for a theater commander -- and remember that General McChrystal is commander of forces in Afghanistan.  We are engaged in conflict in multiple theaters around the world, so this is just one of them.  The responsibility of the theater commander is to produce an objective, clear-eyed, sort of, rigorous analysis of the situation, the way forward, the prognosis, and the required costs of pursing the best strategy for his theater.

That then goes up the chain, and superiors, both military and civilian above him in the chain of command, have just as much of a responsibility as he does to rigorously critique and evaluate what he said -- in light not just of checking for the internal validity of what the theater commander has said about his theater, but especially in terms of considerations that are broader than the theater commander's writ.

One of the obvious ones, in this instance, is Iraq.  We have ongoing, serious military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  I'm on record as having said in the past that I think U.S. interests engaged in Iraq are very important and require a continued presence, at least as far as the Iraqis will permit.

That is not General McChrystal's job to worry about.  It's not General Odierno's job to worry about.  It's General Petraeus's, Admiral Mullen's, the secretary of Defense, and the president's job to worry about the relationship between theaters in an environment where the same forces are in demand by more than one theater and in which the prospects in any theater would be improved by getting somebody else's forces to come and help out.  (Chuckles.)

So I see a degree of inherent tension, not just between civilian and military, given the difference of backgrounds and purview and responsibilities, but between different theater commanders at the theater level within the military chain of command.

And that tension is healthy and appropriate, as long as it's adjudicated properly by the people above them in the food chain -- both the military people above them in the food chain, Petraeus and Mullen, and by the civilians.

Now, if this produces, kind of, endless analysis without decision, it would satisfy academics like me who love that sort of thing.  But it obviously wouldn't serve the national interest.  We will eventually need a decision.

I would personally prefer that these analyses be aggressively challenged, critiqued and assessed, and that the administration take the time it thinks it needs to do that.

I think in terms of the consequences of getting the strategy wrong, which are enormous, the consequences of taking another couple of weeks to avoid that are minor -- are modest.

QUESTIONER:  But I may just follow up?

BIDDLE:  Yeah.

QUESTIONER:  What I've heard from some of the uniformed commanders is that the general notion that this is a counterinsurgency strategy, they believe, was approved in March.  And it looks like that is being revisited.

Can you comment on that?

BIDDLE:  I have no problem with its being revisited.


BIDDLE:  I don't know whether it is or not, but if it is, it wouldn't bother me.

Again, I would much prefer to see basic assumptions revisited and re-thought-through to make sure that we don't end up with a situation in which conditions have fundamentally changed in some way, but we feel anchored to assumptions that we made before in an environment that is now very different.

I think that's part of what bedeviled us in Iraq is we made a collection of decisions and assumptions in 2003 and 2004 that turned out to be radically at odds with changing conditions, and we didn't periodically challenge those and revise and update them.

Now, I'm not personally convinced that the situation in Afghanistan is fundamentally different now than it was in January or March, but again, I think, of all the ways the U.S. government can go wrong in the waging of a war, too frequent a critical evaluation of our basic assumptions is not the one I would put at the top of the list.  (Laughs.)


BIDDLE:  Now, if we  change strategy every seven hours, obviously that's going to produce chaos.  But again, I --

If you've got to err on one side or the other, too much reanalysis of your assumptions or too little, my preference would be the former to the latter.

BARKER:  Next question?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question is from Paul Starobin, with National Journal.

QUESTIONER:  Yes, thank you.

Well, in terms of revisiting basic assumptions, when you say that chaos or worse in Afghanistan is really the problem because it may affect the situation in Pakistan, I guess the question for me is what is the alchemy that produces chaos in Afghanistan?

What do you say to those who say that the presence of foreign troops and fighters in Afghanistan is itself a major producer of chaos and instability?

BIDDLE:  Yeah.  I mean, that's a widely held view among --   Interestingly, among those who have held it is Donald Rumsfeld.

One of the reasons why we had such a low -- such a light footprint in Afghanistan for so long was that the previous administration believed very strongly that large, foreign forces produce antibody responses -- hostile reaction to foreign occupation that creates insurgency and eventually forces the withdrawal of those forces.

I don't agree with that view.  I didn't agree with it when Rumsfeld articulated it, and I don't agree with it now.

I think what -- the biggest problem you can get with bringing foreign forces into a country like Afghanistan, but not limited to Afghanistan, is when you deploy just enough to be burdensome and not enough to actually accomplish anything.

And that's exactly where we've been in Afghanistan ever since 2001.  Our presence has been just enough to be objectionable, but not enough to actually provide anyone with any security.

So we end up with the worst of both worlds.  We're an imposition, we're a burden, we're a symbol that the country isn't normal and isn't in full control of its destiny and, in exchange, we provide nothing -- or very little or too little.

I think we are much better off being in a situation where either we're not there at all, or -- the position that I would personally prefer -- that we be there in enough strength to actually provide security in exchange for our presence.

I think when you look at our experience in Iraq, for example, what that suggests is that where our presence ultimately provided security in exchange, it was not welcomed with rose petals, but it was tolerated.

In Anbar Province, for example -- which famously went from the most violent province in Iraq to the least violent province in Iraq in a remarkably short period of time -- I was able to walk around marketplaces in November of 2007 and hand out candy to schoolchildren, not because Anbaris loved the idea of some American academic wandering around handing out lollipops.  I'm sure they were probably quietly very put out with this.

But they tolerated it because the presence of the U.S. forces in the area was perceived by the locals to have brought security with it.

When we were there previously -- in insufficient strength and without a variety of other political changes that helped us a great deal over the course of 2007 -- but when we were present earlier in an environment that was not secure, we were all pain and no gain, and we were very unwelcome.

When we provided something in exchange for our presence that was centrally important to the people in the area, our acceptability changed dramatically.

And I think that's the challenge in Afghanistan at the moment, is if we are going to be present, to make our presence worth it by actually doing something for the people who live there.

BARKER:  Great.  Next question?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question is from James Kitfield, with National Journal Magazine.

QUESTIONER:  Sorry, Stephen, to gang up on you from National Journal, but -- (laughs).

I want to talk to you a second about time lines and get your input.  Because if you remember, in Afghanistan -- I mean, in Iraq -- I'm sure you've talked a lot about the clocks not being in sync, and the political support was going south a lot quicker than if things were happening.

I get kind of a queasy feeling the same thing's happening in Afghanistan right now.  You see the Obama administration already reconsidering their strategies, you see the Europeans getting nervous, you see the Afghan government getting nervous.  And McChrystal's saying we have maybe a year to turn this thing around, or it's going south on us.

Talk for a second about how you perceive the two time lines, the political in this country and in the alliance, as well as what you've done on the ground.

BIDDLE:  Counterinsurgency is not only famously labor-intensive, it's also famously slow.  So -- nobody I know thinks that this war can be won in a year or two years.

By contrast, you could certainly lose political support for the war in the United States if you mishandled the politics of this or if you don't have a good strategy or if some accident occurs or some disaster in Afghanistan much sooner than that.

It seems to me that -- if we're good Clausewitzians about this, if we're followers of the great Prussian military philosopher, Carl von Clausewitz, who carefully interlinked the political and the military, part of an effective military campaign is the maintenance of domestic political support for a war effort.

So one of the things that I think has to be done in the way the campaign is conducted in the theater, if we ultimately decide to conduct a -- campaign in the theater -- which, again, I would favor -- is it has to be done in a way that can persuade skeptical Americans that Afghanistan is not necessarily a graveyard of empires in which success is hopeless, but that in fact there is some reasonable chance that we could secure our interests there.  And you need to do that before political support in the United States evaporates.

Now, I -- again, I emphasize I'm speaking for myself; I'm not speaking for the command.

I think that requires a degree a triage in the near term in which some parts of the country are designated as main-effort areas and others are allowed to be economy (of force ?) sectors in which we are not going to be able to secure the population in the near term.

But I think we have to be able to take a province or two, perhaps one that is not currently considered secure, make it secure -- not win the war -- but in a couple of key places, demonstrate that the tide of battle can be turned and that security can be provided, if it's resourced correctly, as a way of demonstrating to the American people that in fact this can be done --

That contrary to the views of some, perhaps many, in the current debate that this project is impossible and that the war cannot possibly be won, that in fact we can demonstrate that with proper resources you can succeed in counterinsurgency, even in a place like Afghanistan.

I think if you cannot do that -- not win the war, but turn the tide, at least, in some key parts of the theater within the next year or two, I think there's a significant danger that the country could decide not to support the war.

The other thing that I suspect is necessary in order to get public support for the war is that when the president thinks he's ready, I suspect a direct presidential statement -- at length, systematically presented, perhaps in a public address to the people in the Congress -- on what he sees as our interests, what he sees as the way forward and what he sees as the cost will be needed in order to shore up political support on Capitol Hill and to arrest the declining public support for the war among the electorate at large.

Again, none of that requires that you get all the way to something that looks like a tolerable outcome in Afghanistan in the next year, but I think some things do have to happen in the next year in order to make public support possible.

I think, again, you need to turn the tide somewhere in some key, important part of the country, and you need a systematic exposition, by the commander in chief, of the totality of our policy for the country -- from interest, to strategy, to cost.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

BARKER:  Next question?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question is from John Barry, with Newsweek.

QUESTIONER:  Dr. Biddle, could I come back to a topic that you and a couple of previous questioners have touched on, which is, what was General McChrystal's remit in going out there?  What was he told to do, or allowed to do, by Secretary Gates?

Was it to assess the situation and then come up with any strategy that might, in his view, alleviate it, or was it to figure out a way to carry out what the administration had already laid out as being its preferred strategy in the March 27th white paper -- that is, the strategy of counterinsurgency?

BIDDLE:  Well, all I can do is I can speak for our group.  I don't know what might have been privately conveyed to General McChrystal by Secretary Gates before we arrived.

But I can say that our writ was tremendously broad.  We weren't told, assume that the following decisions have already been made and you guys are only going to work the minor tactical details.

I was quite surprised, actually, when we got there, at how broad our writ was and how few constraints and preconditions were established for our deliberations.  Now, that having been said, we only had a month -- less than that, actually, when you factor in various constraints and overhead requirements and all the rest.

And I think most of us -- certainly I'll speak for myself -- my own view going in was that in view of the administration's previous statements on this, the clear primus inter pares, if you like, was a counterinsurgency approach.  And we spent most of our time focusing on that.

Several of us have strong views on CT approaches and various other middle ways.  I've described some of mine, and I suspect that those are shared by at least some of my colleagues from the team.

But our deliberations were focused primarily on is there any reason to think that a properly resourced counterinsurgency could work in Afghanistan and, if so, what should it look like and how should it be done and what are the challenges and what are the appropriate responses to those.

We did not spend a great deal of time formally working out options other than a COIN approach.  We had our plates pretty darned full producing a thoroughgoing assessment of the COIN approach in a month.  So we did not staff out any of the other possibilities.

QUESTIONER:  What do you see as being, other than -- (inaudible) -- counterterrorism, that he's zapping bad guys from drones -- what do you see as being possible middle approaches?

BIDDLE:  Oh, there are quite a few of them, actually.  Let me just mention a couple of the more prominent ones in the debate right now.

Probably number two on the hit parade is Senator Levin's proposal that we shift from an emphasis on combat to an emphasis on training and advising.

There's also been a lot of interest in accepting some kind of a negotiated settlement.  Rather than insisting that we get the ideal form of government that we would prefer, perhaps we could do some power-sharing deal in which the Taliban are brought into the government in exchange for provisos like not allowing al Qaeda to operate in the country.

And there are a variety of others.  I'm not persuaded that any of them are particularly meritorious.  I'm writing a piece now, actually, that goes through them one-by-one, serially, and assesses them.

Rather than dictating the text of my paper, which would be entertaining to all, I'm sure -- (laughter) -- maybe I'll just say a word or two about training and advising, since I've already said something about drone-based CT.

And interestingly, there are lots of parallels with the Iraq debate in a lot of this, especially including the overwhelming interest in middle ways.  I'm struck by how few war opponents actually want to liquidate our position in the theater.

The tone of a lot of the criticism of Obama's position or of the McChrystal report often implies a kind of stridently anti-war stance.  But in fact, very, very few opponents of that policy actually advocate total withdrawal.

They almost all advocate, in fact, some middle way that involves less effort and, especially, less combat activity by Americans in the theater, but does not, it is hoped, yield the interests or sacrificing interests that are at stake in the conflict.

And that's exactly where the Iraq debate was in 2006, where nobody liked -- and early 2007.  Nobody liked the surge, but nobody really wanted a complete withdrawal, either.  They all wanted something, but less, like, for example, the Baker Hamilton Commission, which recommended a shift towards training and advising and away from combat.  (Chuckles.)  Lo and behold.

So one could change a few of the nouns and apply the Baker Hamilton analysis to Afghanistan, and relatively little else would change.

The problems here are several-fold.  One is training and advising a military that you're creating ab nihilo is not like teaching arithmetic in a high school.  This isn't a situation where you've got a teacher with a piece of chalk and a blackboard, standing up in some safe classroom and talking to students at desks who write it all down and then memorize it.

If you're going to succeed in this environment, creating a military from scratch in the middle of a war, it's going to require an overwhelming emphasis on on-the-job training in which the -- in which large numbers of Westerners have to live with, sleep with, eat with, train with, and fight alongside the troops that they are trying to mentor and partner with and turn into an army.

This kind of advising activity is tremendously labor-intensive, A.  It requires lots and lots of people to provide this.  And B, it involves ongoing combat activity.

And this was also the way it worked in developing the Iraqi security forces in Iraq.  Our trainers and advisers are out on patrol with the indigenous troops that they're trying to train and advise.  They are fighting with them -- fighting alongside them, I guess, to be more precise.

And if you're not going to have a military that's being created from whole cloth evaporate the first time it takes fire because you're creating it and throwing it right into battle in the midst of an ongoing war, the indigenous forces are going to have to be stiffened with and supported by allied combat forces that are going to operate with and partner with and mentor them and train and advise them.

So the idea that this is an alternative to a large combat presence, I think, is mistaken.  A large combat presence is a requirement of successfully training and advising a huge expansion in an indigenous military from a very low base in the middle of an ongoing war.

Secondly, this process takes time.  The more elaborately you train, mentor, partner, and advise the units you're creating, the faster you can do it.  But you can't do it instantly, no matter what.

And there is an ongoing war going on.  So it's going to take some period of time, even if we go as fast as we can possibly go, to get capable Afghan units into the field and operating.

In the meantime, somebody's got to be providing security to a much greater degree than will be necessary as the Afghan military begins to mature, partly to protect population centers in the meantime, and partly just to protect the mobilization base that's necessary to keep creating Afghan units.

Green collections of new recruits do not self-defend very well.  Nor are they in a position to defend their training ranges and their barracks and their recruitment centers and their supply bases and all the rest of the infrastructure that's required to get this institution up and running.

So when you look at the training and advising -- instead of combat -- middle option, again I think you discover a variety of limitations and shortcomings associated with it that, again, to return to my earlier theme, make it difficult to take pieces of what would normally be an integrated counterinsurgency approach that includes counterterrorist drone strikes, but also training and building up an indigenous military and also providing direct population security and also improving governance, and take bits of that, strip them out of context and try and stand them up on their own without the rest.

I think that often encounters problems that have not been talked about enough in the public debate.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question is from Philip Sherwell, with Sunday Telegraph.

QUESTIONER:  Yes, hi there.  Thanks for doing this.  Could I just ask you a couple of questions from a British and European perspective?

What role did the contribution of the NATO and particularly British forces in Afghanistan play in your assessment?  How did you sort of figure that in?

And as Kim mentioned, there is this discussion in several European countries, including Britain now as well, on possibly sort of ending that sort of commitment.  How damaging would that be to America's strategy there?

BIDDLE:  Because counterinsurgency is so labor-intensive, it's damaging to lose any of the contribution.  I think we discussed this, to some extent, a little earlier in the call, if I remember correctly.  Though to be honest, I've done so many interviews on this -- (laughs) -- I don't always remember which conversation raised which issue.

QUESTIONER:  (Inaudible.)

BIDDLE:  So stop me if the following starts sounding familiar.

In principle, any member, with the possible exception of the United States, if removed from the theater, you could compensate for by amping up the creation of indigenous military forces, given their troop potential.

But in an environment where labor is hard to come by and where troop count is a critical limiter on what you can do, I don't -- I'd be shocked if anybody in ISAF were interested in losing anybody's contribution, to any degree.

So clearly it's important that we retain as much as we can of the current allied contribution to the effort, and even increase it where it's possible to increase it, because troops are so hard to come by and so important to success.

Now, in many ways, it's much easier to do with a single actor, rather than a diverse alliance.  Coordinating multiple nations to make sure that everybody is pulling in the same direction at the same time in the same way is much, much harder than doing it for one nation alone.

And it's hard enough for one nation alone, given that counterinsurgency is such a complex, multi-dimensional undertaking.  You have economic development activity, governance improvement, security, and counterterrorism all being combined.

Those usually get done by different entities and institutions, and if not done carefully, they get in each other's way and cancel one another out.  So it's hard to get unity of effort, even within one nation, given that you've got so many institutions involved.

When you multiply the number of nations, it gets even harder still.

So one of the great challenges that NATO faces in Afghanistan -- and this goes for Britain's involvement, but it goes for everyone else's too -- is it makes unity of effort that much harder to attain.

But in an environment in which troops are so dear and so needed and so hard to come by, I strongly suspect that everyone in the command would welcome the opportunity to cope with the difficulty of attaining unity of effort in exchange for troop contributions by, especially, major contributors who make their troops available with a minimum of caveats, like the U.K.

QUESTIONER:  And, sorry -- (inaudible).  We'll see if I could just follow up.

You spoke earlier of the merits of reassessing policy in Afghanistan.  But is a possible downside to this the concern that at a time when people in Europe are wavering, that it could send a message over there that will -- if even America's not sure, with their numbers and their strength and their commitment, that they're up for this, then why should we be?

BIDDLE:  Well, one of the other challenges in counterinsurgency is that you've got a bunch of inherent dilemmas involved, and managing those politically is hard.

So, for example, you want to improve governance in the country by using leverage to change the interest calculus of individuals in the government.  One of the -- you also want to convince the Afghans that you're not going to run out on them and that you're going to stay in the country long enough to bringing about success.

Any time you start threatening to withhold any part of what you do, that tends to cut against the idea that you're making a credible promise to keep the things that you're promising there, if they do what you're asking them to do.

Similarly, speaking more directly to your question, ideally, every contributing nation would be thinking hard and rigorously and critically about its involvement in the mission, both in terms of whether it's worthwhile and in terms of whether it's being done well.

The more publicly you reevaluate everything, the more questions are going to be raised among your allies as to whether or not you're going to stick it out.

And so these tensions are inevitable and they're inherent.  And the only way to overcome them is to, in my view -- to overcome them in a complete sort of way is, in my view, to make a mistake.

So, for example, the Bush administration was clearly totally committed to the campaign in Iraq.  And also, in my view, for far too long left unexamined many of the basic assumptions that were underlying its involvement there.

That created relatively little doubt on the part of allies or on the part of the Iraqi host government that they were going to stick it out.  And in exchange, it bought them an unexamined strategy that very nearly drove them into a ditch and produced mission failure.

So I don't think there's any way to just kind of wave a wand and say I'm going to get both a very thoroughly examined, very regularly reexamined, rigorous strategy, and convey to all of my allies and the host government and the Taliban that we have it exactly right right now, thank you -- we are totally committed to exactly every last thing we're currently doing, and we could never change any of that.

You can't have both of these things simultaneously.  You're stuck trying to cast some sort of balance in which you realize neither of these objectives perfectly, but you try and avoid falling too grossly off the fence in one direction or the other.

And again, part of the occupational hazard here in holding this conversation with a professional analyst, I suspect my inclinations are probably too far in the direction of when in doubt, analyze.

But all that having been said, again, I think you're dealing with tensions and trade-offs here.  You're not dealing with situations that you can solve in some simple, straightforward way with one or the other absolute alternative.

QUESTIONER:  Okay.  Thanks.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question is from Sandra Erwin, with National Defense Magazine.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you, Steve.  I wanted to go back to your comments about the human intelligence.

You said that a lot of the intelligence now is coming from the Pakistani government.  And then you also said the intelligence has to come from the civilians in the area.

Can you clarify what you meant by that?

BIDDLE:  Well, there's a distinction here between CT and COIN.

In CT, we often won't have anybody, Americans, on the ground in the area to collect the intelligence from.  So it has to come from some entity that has enough of a presence in the area that they can penetrate a terrorist organization and develop informant networks.

In Pakistan, that's the Pakistani government.  And they do it imperfectly; if they did it perfectly, we wouldn't have a terrorist problem in Pakistan.  (Chuckles.)  But they do it a lot better than we would do, if the current government in Islamabad were replaced with an Islamist alternative.

In Afghanistan, we're doing counterinsurgency.  We have U.S. troops among the population in some important areas of the country and, hopefully, in more areas of the country soon.  And there, our military is directly interacting with civilians in a persistent, close, interactive way.

In that sort of setting, we get lots of tips, historically.  In Iraq, for example, once we increased the troop level and adopted this mode of operation, we would get a very high volume of tips from civilians in the area about where al Qaeda or where a Sunni insurgent or a Shi'ite militia cell was located.

You can only do that kind of thing where you've got a sizeable physical presence.  It has to be sizeable enough to make the population believe they'll survive the act of tipping you off, and it's got to be persistent for the same reason.

If you're doing stand-off counterterror from a great distance, you're not going to have that kind of persistent, visible security presence to enable you to interact with the civilian population in the area.

And moreover, you'll have a difficult time, other things being equal, infiltrating covert terror organizations from that kind of distance and remove, if there's a hostile government setting up counterintelligence systems designed to keep foreign spies out.

So again, there's a big difference in the way intelligence is done in remote CT operations in a place like Pakistan and the way COIN is done in places like Afghanistan.

QUESTIONER:  Would you say that the ability to get HUMINT is, right now, is a weakness in trying to implement a counterinsurgency strategy?

BIDDLE:  The purpose of a counterinsurgency is to develop HUMINT.  When you --

One of the cliches that sometimes people in the field throw around about counterinsurgency is that counterinsurgency is all about intelligence.  The purpose of operations is to produce intelligence, rather than in conventional warfare, where often the purpose of intelligence is to produce operations.

So the way you get human intelligence in counterinsurgency is by deploying among the population, living among them, operating visibly, creating an incentive structure that makes it likelier that they will give you this kind of information which you can then use to act upon to round up the insurgent network in the area.

But the whole thrust of COIN is you use military forces in order to generate HUMINT -- in order to enable it, in order to produce it, in order to use it.

QUESTIONER:  So is that happening right now in a successful way?

BIDDLE:  Well, where we've done COIN successfully in Afghanistan and Iraq, yes.  The trouble is Afghanistan in particular has been seriously under-resourced for a long time.

And it's very hard to generate a lot of high-quality HUMINT when you have insufficient troops to actually secure the population.  You're asking people to commit suicide by tipping you off in that kind of an environment.

QUESTIONER:  Okay.  Thank you very much.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Tejinder Singh, with

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  This is -- (inaudible).  I have just relocated to U.S. from Brussels.

And I was wondering that Afghanistan and, to a large extent, Pakistan, has hundreds of local radio stations airing propaganda and indulging in rumor mongering.  What do you recommend to counter this?

And my second question is during many of these VTCs, video teleconference with NATO generals in Afghanistan from the NATO headquarters in Brussels, it was pointed out that a lot of building infrastructure is being done.

So how about highlighting that?  And because -- what you just said in the beginning, mentioned about that there should be more security for the local people, and the people should feel that they are --

BARKER:  Try to keep it to one question or two related questions, because it's going all over the place.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

BIDDLE:  Okay.  Well, I'll speak to the radios issue.

There's been a lot of interest at various times in either changing the way we broadcast or in doing things like distributing transistor radios or hand-cranked radios that can operate without an electricity source.

It's widely believe that radio is one of the more important media for transmitting messages in Afghanistan.  TV is relatively less available, especially in rural areas, and the illiteracy rate makes printed communication less effective as a form of mass dissemination of the command's message on different issues.

And I'm quite sympathetic to that.  I think that basic analysis is right.

And I think some way of both increasing the availability of receivers and improving the quality of the messaging and the speed with which the command responds to news and events on the ground, things like the air strike in Kunduz, for example, are all important.

Having said that, I tend to be among those who believe that actions speak louder than words in strategic communications.  And that at the end of the day, the issue is less one of message-framing and packaging and spinning and more one of making sure that the physical realities that we create on the ground favor our position, rather than undermine our position.

I do think actions speak louder than words.

Given that, I think the higher priority is developing an appropriate strategy and resourcing it correctly.  Once that's done, improvements in strategic communications, both media and message, are valuable and important and should be undertaken.

But doing that in the absence of an ability to actually provide security on the ground is not going to get you to success.  It can be a helpful adjunct to success.  It's not something that can create it in the absence of an ability to actually secure population areas.

QUESTIONER:  Just to follow up, having been on the ground, if it is -- the propaganda from the al Qaeda and from the Taliban is bombarded to the population by these radio stations which are being run by just very simple methods.

So there should be some kind of strategy to counter that.  Don't you think so?  What --

(Cross talk.)

BIDDLE:  There is.  There has been a strategic communications program in Afghanistan for years and years and years.  Moreover, there is an annex in General McChrystal's report that deals specifically with strategic communications issues.

So I think no one disagrees with you that a systemic attention to and a systematic policy for strategic communications is important.

My only disagreement with, I think, some of the premise of the question, anyway, is over how much influence, at the end of the day, is doing a better job rather than a worse job a strategic communication's going to have over success or failure in the campaign.

Of course you should do it as well as we could possibly do it.  At the end of the day, though, I think this is a secondary, rather than a primary, contributor to success -- in part because at some level this is not a winnable undertaking, in those terms.

War -- there is no known way of conducting war, either counterinsurgency or any other form, that does not involve collateral fatalities.  We should and must do what we can to minimize them, but it will always be impossible to eliminate them.

And any time they happen, a clever insurgent is going to be able to use that against a counterinsurgent.  In fact, much of counterinsurgency practiced on the insurgents' side of the problem is specifically about inducing civilian casualties from the government through the way the guerrillas operate, because it's such a clear strategic communications winner for the guerrillas whenever that happens.

So I think you can reduce the magnitude of the disadvantage you suffer when collateral fatalities are caused, and you can reduce them along the way -- and should.  And again, there's an annex in the document that talks about collateral fatality minimization as well.

But at the end of the day, the only way you can really get ahead of that problem is by creating security.  Security reduces collateral fatalities, because it means military operations in the area aren't being conducted actively any more.

That eliminates the insurgents' opportunity to skewer you with messaging about the innocent lives that were lost.  And that gets you out of the problem altogether and creates opportunities for you to send favorable strategic communications messages about how secure places have become.

None of that's to suggest that strategic communications isn't important or shouldn't be done well.  It is a discussion, however, about the degree to which it can substitute for the more expensive, more demanding, more difficult and riskier components of an orthodox counterinsurgency strategy.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

BARKER:  We should probably -- we've already gone over, and I think it just shows how many people are interested in Afghanistan and what's happening in the region.

But we should probably just take one more question.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our last question is from Ron with Detroit Free Press.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Thanks for taking the question.  It's been interesting to listen to all the other questions.

Our senator from Michigan, Carl Levin, of course from the Armed Forces Committee in the Senate, has been among those saying that we need to shift -- if we're going to expand troop presence at all, it needs to be Afghan troops.

You mentioned the need for more boots on the ground as part of a counterinsurgency strategy.

This is sort of a two-pronged question, and you've answered some of it in part.

How long, in your view, before those additional boots on the ground could in fact be Afghan boots?  And secondly, what is your assessment of the willingness of the Afghan people to join a military force in sufficient numbers to make a difference?

You've already spoken about -- somewhat about the time involved, but I'm wondering if you can be more specific on just how long it might take to get to an Afghan-level force that would in fact be able to take over principal defense of their country.  And then, secondly, your assessment of the willingness of Afghans to become part of such a force.

Thank you.

BIDDLE:  Well, let me speak to the second part first, the recruitment issue within Afghanistan.

And there, I think that the issue turns on resource allocations.  There have been some challenges in recruitment, although none that have been decisive, so far.

But those challenges are probably related closely to things like the fact that the current scale -- the current size of the Afghan security force is so small that we can't afford to rotate them.

So as a result, they don't get a chance to leave combat and get a year to rest and refit and recover and recuperate the way, for example, we hope to do with our own troops.  That makes military service substantially more demanding for Afghans and reduces the marginal proclivity of potential recruits to sign up.

Similarly, recruitment anywhere responds to financial incentive.  The more you pay, the greater the supply of labor that's willing to sign up at that pay rate.  And that's true there, that's true here, that's true anywhere that has a volunteer military.

My sense is that if the resources were provided, the Afghans would be able to populate a substantially larger security force up to the 400,000 level that's talked about in the report, and that to some extent, these issues are mutually reinforcing.  As the force gets larger, it gets possible to begin a rotation system that makes recruitment easier, and so on.

But either way, again, I think the recruitment problem is -- at the end of the day, boils down to a resource challenge, as does much of the rest of the campaign.

And as far as the timing is concerned, there are some dates and times talked about in the report, and certainly I think those are basically right.

The one thing I would add to those is force generation in an environment like this is a gradual process.

There are Afghan National Army brigades and kandaks, as they call battalions, in the field and operating right now.  As this process moves forward, they will -- gradually, more and more will be committed to battle around the theater.

The date needs to be understood as the date at which you reach the final goal for the number of troops you're going to field, not a situation in which until then you have nothing, and then when that date arrives, all of a sudden everything appears.  These buildup rates are quite gradual.

The final related point on the buildup rate is there is an important relationship between the size of the U.S. troop requirement and the speed at which ANSF units can be fielded.

If we are going to have a massive increase in the Afghan national security forces --which would be required if we were to go up to the 400,000 level for the police and the military, for example -- that's going to require a corresponding increase in Western combat troop requirements.

Because those are the people who are going to do the training and advising, and if there are more people to be trained and advised, there are more trainers and advisers needed.

Moreover, if you're in a real hurry and you really badly want to get Afghans out in the field and providing security, you may choose to do that, for example, by fielding units before you would otherwise consider them fully trained, prepared and ready.

That, if you're going to do it, requires, again, a corresponding increase in the size of the training and -- advising and mentoring effort to stiffen Afghan units that would otherwise not be capable enough because of their lower level of experience and training.

So with a lot of this, time lines are to some degree fungible against resources.  And accelerating the time line generally requires more resources until the time line is complete, rather than less.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

BARKER:  Thanks very much, everybody, for joining us here today.  And especially you, Dr. Biddle.  Thanks very much.

BIDDLE:  My pleasure.








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Canada’s stunning allegations of an India-directed plot to kill Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar has stirred frictions between two major democracies and raised questions about India’s global actions to protect its interests.   

United States

Temporary protected status has long been used as a humanitarian solution for migrants who are unable to return home safely, but efforts to give them a path to citizenship have reignited the debate around the U.S. immigration policy.  

Women and Women's Rights

The world’s nations are lagging woefully behind in meeting targets for achieving gender equality by 2030, but a new round of initiatives has stirred hope of progress.