Getting Serious about Peer Competitors: Shaping a Strategic Shift in Afghanistan


By Ed Timperlake

The Trump Administration has clearly indicated that it is working a strategic shift away from the land wars to crisis management with peer competitors.

The focus has been upon a return of great power competition.

But it this will be difficult to do in terms of resources and recrafting the US military if we continue to be mired down in Afghanistan, the endless war.

When one reads Sherlock Holmes, we learn that Dr. Watson has returned from Afghanistan.

The makers of the series Sherlock which is set in our time, had no difficulty in bringing Dr. Watson back once again from Afghanistan, but this a century apart from the original Sherlock Holmes.

It is time to move on.

In stepping up to change the engagement dynamics of how to bring peace to Afghanistan and end the current “Forever War,” Erik Prince released a very insightful video in English and also in Dari for the Afghans to see themselves.

His vision captures a bold plan that says: enough with the current 17 + years of unimaginative linear strategic planning.

He has made a very public call for dramatic change in how to engage on the ground to bring a peaceful solution to that country.

It is always true in every American war, often in partnership with our Allied fighting forces, that the troops always give their all with unselfish valor and courage.

It is up to the selection process of picking Commanding Generals and a Secretary of Defense to give the fighters engaged commanders who know how to fight, win and leave as soon as possible.

It is not about restocking the endless war with new participants.

That is not a strategy — it is a revolving door to nowhere.

The Afghanistan war has had a never-ending series of public statements and briefing charts depicting a “stay the course” with more of the same mentality.

That process of no change in strategic vision after seventeen years is especially tragic because there was a brilliant opening battlefield victory.

Last Fall, I asked if President Trump was at essentially a pre-Grant moment with Jim Mattis.

Is this a pre-General Grant moment?

General Mattis USMC (ret) and now Defense Secretary Mattis has been at the highest levels of leadership fighting the Afghan war for almost 25% of the time the war has gone on.

It turns out he was.

Now with the relieving of his Secretary of Defense, over his lack of a strategic vision for Afghanistan, the President has the opportunity in his search process to ask what his new candidates for the Secretary of Defense position what they think of Erik Prince’s innovative plan.

It is a simple test; let them watch the video and then ask “what do you think?”

In that vein, I asked two highly experienced combat fighter pilots who had extensive experience in Afghanistan the same question and to comment after watching the video. .

Col. Bob “Juice” Newton is a retired AF Fighter/ and Test Pilot who was in Afghanistan on General McChrystal’s staff.

According to “Juice’ Newton:

“Afghanistan is a place where you wonder about the humanity of man.

“Do people want to live in harmony or forever molest, maim, and murder one another?

“For generations now, pure evil has flourished there, and change is long overdue.

“Erik Prince provides a practical solution that puts the onus on the Afghans and not on the US Military.

“Yes, humanity can win in Afghanistan.”

Retired Marine Col Bill Buckey is an accomplished fighter pilot and a commander who lead the surge to turn Kandahar Airfield into the busiest single runway airfield in the world.

He observed: “The throughput of personnel and material beginning in January 2009 was incredible.

“24/7 air operations and a similar round-the-clock ground effort from the port of Karachi to KAF I called the “Green Ball Express.”

“Did we achieve near-term gains? Absolutely.

“Were they enduring? Clearly not.”

Erik Prince has just presented to his fellow American citizens and our allies a strategic plan that can change the course from us losing a war to begin a process that can bring peace to a war-torn country.

The featured photo shows a bomb dropped by an A-29 Super Tucano strikes its target during a Tactical Air Coordinators exercise near Kabul, Afghanistan. The training of Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators (ATACs) by coalition forces, including Australians, is having a significant impact on Afghanistan’s battles with insurgents.

In early December, the Afghan Air Force conducted its first night-time air strike inflicting heavy casualties on insurgents and destroying enemy munitions stores. Operation Highroad is the Australian contribution to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. Australia contributes about 300 Defence personnel to the train, advise and assist mission.

Credit Photo: Australian Department of Defence, January 2019.

For earlier articles on how to move away from the Endless War, see the following:

Endless War