In this post I am advocating a strategy to protect the Afghan civilian population from the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, as far as we can. Population protection will no longer be a mission for the Coalition forces. However, we still have the moral imperative to protect Afghan civilians. Therefore, the Coalition forces need to construct, staff, and protect refugee/resettlement camps to shelter the "Internally Displaced Persons" in Afghanistan. We need to give Afghan civilians a place to get away from the fighting.
The American government appears to be changing our policy direction in Afghanistan. Our stated policy has remained the establishment of a civil, democratic society in Afghanistan. The US Army is planning a "surge" of forces into Afghanistan to drive out the Taliban. However, COL(ret) Lang believes that President Obama is revising our policy aim in Afghanistan away from Nation-Building(tm). Obama's ideological faction is generally opposed to a Big Military solution, more congenial to surgical strikes and commando raids. With the appointment of LTG McChrystal as ISAF Commander, we may be giving up on building a Western society in Afghanistan as a policy goal. Instead, our Afghanistan policy is focusing on destroying the Al-Qaeda leadership.
With this change in policy focus, the special operation forces become our strategic main effort in Operation Enduring Freedom. Our conventional forces and the Afghan National Army/Police become the strategic supporting effort. As the supporting effort, their mission is not to establish central government control in the provinces or other population-centric COIN goals. [Although they may conduct population-centric COIN operations to gather intelligence to support the SOF, for example.]
The Afghan people may lose out under our policy change. Under the original policy, securing the Afghan population was a strategic goal, whereas under the new policy, we may cede the Afghan countryside to the Taliban. Some Afghan tribes and families have risked Taliban retaliation to cooperate with the Coalition forces. Under the new policy, we will reduce our operational support, and maybe logistical as well, to our local allies. The reduced support leaves our local allies vulnerable to Taliban attack. As the Taliban has murdered entire families to make an example of "traitors", our strategic retreat from the country side makes us culpable, to a degree, for their deaths as well.
The families of the ANA and ANP are vulnerable to Taliban reprisal as well. If the Afghan soldiers and policemen worry about their far away families, they are less combat effective. We need to secure the families of the ANA and ANP.
In addition, our new policy means that we will start favoring certain warlords over others. Currently, we are officially supporting some warlords who covertly sponsor the Taliban. Instead, we will starting playing one warlord against another to disrupt Taliban safe heavens. In the renewed Afghan Civil War, civilians will get caught in the crossfire.
We need to do something to protect the Afghan civilians from the coming violence; that is the moral thing to do. We will not station basecamps throughout the country to protect the population, because the resulting cost in blood and treasure outweighs our strategic gain. However, we will have enough spare resources to protect refugees and internally displaced persons. We need to include refugee camps in our campaign plan, to minimize our impact on civilians' lives and livelihood. In addition, the unsupervised refugee population is destabilizing the region and further stressing Pakistan.
Therefore, I am proposing that we set up refugee camps near Kabul, for any civilian that needs a place to go. We should organize these camps on the model of John Robb's Resilient Communities, where the residents will work for a living. Idle refugees are susceptible to extremist propaganda of all stripes. Make it a place where the people can stay and make a new life, or catch their breath then go home, whichever they choose. Keep the place safe from insurgent violence so that the people can get on with their lives.
Such a place is a low cost endeavor. It is centrally located with Kabul, so it is close to military bases. The Afghan National Army can train and protect the settlement at the same time. They can practice patrolling and checkpoint operations at the settlement. The Afghan soldiers and policemen can keep their families at the settlements, where they know they'll be kept safe from reprisals. We will involve the refugees in constructing and operating the settlement. These tasks keep them occupied, and give them a stake in the resulting city. By utilizing refugee labor, we reduce the need of expatriate labor, which is expensive and adds to camp life support needs. By having the refugees organize and govern themselves, we give them the opportunity to practice clean government. We will have a centralized place to teach them advanced agricultural techniques, machine repair skills, and other training that can make their lives back home easier, should they ever leave.
The current Afghan refugee population is impeding our policy goals by stressing the social welfare systems of surrounding countries and providing a fertile recruitment ground to Al-Qaeda. We need to at least try to sway them to our side. The ANA and ANP need a sanctuary where their families will be safe from reprisals. We have a moral obligation to give the civilian an alternative from the Taliban-controlled towns and Pakistani slums. These factor argue for Coalition support to refugee camps near Kabul. Moreover, this is an endeavor in which money is more important than American boots on the ground, and for which donor countries are sympathetic.
Edited to add: This post builds on my earlier statement of policy paradigm change. We cannot depend on the host nation bureaucracy to implement our policy for us. Instead, the US military may have to take on the job of city manager/administrator from time to time. Refugee camp is a prime example of the capability the US military needs in the post-Nation-State World we live in.