The US is planning to send extra troops to Afghanistan's Helmand Province to assist the local security forces. But analyst Jason Campbell says the line between advising and getting involved in combat is becoming blurred.
DW: According to Afghan officials, several hundred more US troops are on their way to the southern Helmand Province to assist local security forces that have struggled in the face of a sustained Taliban insurgency. Do you think US troops are increasingly getting drawn into another combat mission in Afghanistan?
Jason Campbell: There is an important distinction between US Special Operations Forces and US conventional forces. I think that special operation forces do have in place separate authorities that do permit them to play a more tactical role in advising their Afghan counterparts. The conventional forces - which make up the bulk of the reinforcement for Helmand - are still obligated not to become involved in a combat mission.
However; the fact that they are going to Helmand Province, to an environment which is still very much unstable, they could find themselves in harms way. So, there is a greater risk of being subject to an insurgent attack - during which they can defend themselves, but they will not be a part of a combat operation which will plan in an operation room and execute it. They will rather provide security and other support to the Afghan security forces.
The bigger issue here is the amount of risk under which you put your conventional troops under, which certainly goes up when you send them to a province like Helmand.
When the US send troops to a conflict-marred province like Helmand, where the insurgents are attacking Afghan security forces on a daily basis, how can you draw the line between advising the Afghan security forces and getting involved in the war?
You bring up a very good point. The closer you get to where the instability is, the line becomes pretty sharp, but sometimes more difficult to consider. The main difference here is that you will not have a group of marines or soldiers sitting in a room and planning an offensive operation against the insurgency and going out to execute it either on their own or with their Afghan counterparts. Instead, you will have them sitting in a room with their Afghan counterparts helping them prepare for a mission, which will be executed by the Afghans only.
There are on-going clashes between Afghan security forces and the Taliban in Baghlan and Helmand provinces as we speak. Looking at the current security situation in Afghanistan, do you think the Afghans are capable of completely taking over their country's security?
The Afghan security forces are certainly not capable of acting completely independently. Part of that is due to the rate at which the coalition trained some of the vital support elements of the Afghan security forces.
Early on, I think in the training of the Afghan army especially, too much emphasis was placed on the people getting trained through basic trainings and creating an infantry. We have been slow to come around only in recent years the need for other elements such as intelligence, close air support, and medical evacuation. These are the things that are still under development stages.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently warned that Afghanistan could see more violence unless a peace deal with the insurgents is not reached by April. What are your views on that?
I think any comprehensive peace deal is a long way off in Afghanistan. I think for all of the interested sides, there remains to be seen a coherent list of topics for debate. We don't know where the red lines are - either for the Afghan government, the Taliban, or other groups.
Having said that, I think the Afghan president is right in saying that there will be insurgency in Afghanistan at least for one more year. But there are still many questions to be answered that can show which direction the country is headed to.
Jason H. Campbell is an associate policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where he focuses on issues of international security, counterinsurgency, intelligence, and measuring progress in post-conflict reconstruction. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonHCampbell.