What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"The Tora Bora critique"

This here is an interesting article, and I want to briefly mention it. Peter Feaver, refuting the criticism that a non-light-footprint approach ought to have been employed in Afghanistan from the start in order not to have Osama bin Laden escape from his besieged shelter in the Tora Bora mountain range in 2001.
I wouldn't argue with this. Feaver is very right to remind readers that a more conventional approach to the invasion (of those feet with the footprint) would have demanded a robust build-up taking much more time, allowing for a start of operations only as late as 2002, possibly. (Although I have to say I think it would deserve more creative contemplation to judge what results that could have brought.)
But the sentence in the article's last paragraph, that "It may even be the case that redeploying the U.S. Rangers that were on the ground in a different fashion might have produced a different result," is rather important.
Feaver is not setting up a strawman with his counter-criticism. But there were/are critics who did not argue more than that intra-theatre redeployments might have allowed for better results at Tora Bora. I don't have Ahmed Rashid's failure-of-nation-building book here in front of me, but to my memory, he was also arguing only this.
And the light footprint was not bad because of Osama bin Laden's escape. But because it dictated a very different approach to dealing with Afghan politics, reconstruction and institution-building. (That is what Rashid's book was also about.) So it's not like those "Monday morning quarterbacks" would be debating just "one pass."
Update: Turns out Peter Bergen just recently wrote a comprehensive account of the Tora Bora battle, which can be very useful reading to anyone unaware of the details.
Key quote from the third page of the article:
"The additional forces that Crumpton and Berntsen were requesting were certainly available. There were around 2,000 U.S. troops in or near the Afghan theater at the time. At the U.S. airbase known as K2 in Uzbekistan were stationed some 1,000 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, whose specialty is fighting in harsh terrain."
And Bergen continues to touch upon other remarkable aspects of what happened, including the refocusing of attention towards Iraq which was already underway then.

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