Rand study casts doubt on victory in Afghanistan

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The 10-year-old war in Afghanistan could end in a U.S. defeat because of a lack of crucial factors historically necessary to counterinsurgency victories, a new Rand Corp. study said.

The Rand National Defense Institute released a paper on Monday that compared the military efforts in Afghanistan to other international struggles against rebels in the last 30 years.

From 1978 to 2008, only eight countries successfully fought national rebels, including Croatia, Turkey, Uganda, Peru and El Salvador. The Rand paper said that factors that all of them held in common are missing in Afghanistan, which casts doubt on the U.S. likelihood of success.

“While every insurgency may be unique, … the things that a government needed to do to defeat an insurgency were the same. What was different was how difficult doing those things was,” said Christopher Paul, a Rand expert who wrote the report.

Last year, Mr. Paul conducted a Pentagon-funded study of insurgency conflicts over the last three decades, entitled “Victory Has a Thousand Fathers,” and applied the findings to his new paper on Afghanistan.

Every victorious government strategy in the past 30 years accomplished most of 15 “factors,” such as cutting off rebels’ ability to raise money, recruit fighters and maintain supply lines.

The Rand paper found that U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan have failed in many of those goals.

Additionally, governments in countries that successfully fought rebels were more or less democratic. They held free elections, and their citizens considered them more honest than their opponents. The Rand paper expressed doubts about the Afghan government meeting those standards, as well.

Mr. Paul said the finding is significant, but does not mean the fight in Afghanistan is over. Most of the countries in the study were losing their wars at some point before eventually defeating their rebel enemies.

“Poor beginnings don’t necessitate poor ends,” Mr. Paul said. “That’s a source of optimism. If things don’t go well initially, there’s the possibility of turning it around.”

The paper’s conclusions were drawn from a panel of 11 experts on Afghanistan, including professors, public-policy analysts and current and retired military officers.

“The takeaway is: If you’re fighting an insurgency, do as many of the right things as you can, and do as few of the wrong things as you can, and do it as long as you can,” he said.

“If you do that, history is on your side.”

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