January 31, 2003
America’s novel use of special forces, precision weapons, and indigenous allies has attracted widespread attention since its debut in Northern Afghanistan last fall. It has proven both influential and controversial. Many think it caused the Taliban’s sudden collapse. For them, this “Afghan Model” represents warfare’s future, and should become the new template for US defense planning. Critics, however, see Afghanistan as an anomaly – a non-repeatable product of local conditions. This briefing examines the Afghan Model’s actual role in the fall of the Taliban using evidence collected from a combination of 45 participant interviews, terrain inspection in Afghanistan, and written documentation from both official and unofficial sources. The results suggest that neither of the main current interpretations is sound: Afghanistan offers important clues to warfare’s future, but not the ones most people think. A different set of policies need to be established for the Army and the Nation than many of those now prominent in the public debate on the war.
Dr. Stephen Biddle is Associate Research Professor of National Security Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute (SSI). He holds AB (1981), MPP (1985), and Ph.D. (Public Policy, 1992) degrees, all from Harvard University. Before joining SSI in June 2001 he was a member of the political science faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has held research positions at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) in Alexandria, Virginia; the Harvard University Center for Science and International Affairs (CSIA); and the Kennedy School of Government's Office of National Security Programs. Dr. Biddle has presented testimony before congressional committees on matters of conventional net assessment and arms control, served as U.S. Representative to the NATO Defense Research Group study on Stable Defense, and is co-director of the Columbia University Summer Workshop on the Analysis of Military Operations and Strategy (SWAMOS). His research has won Barchi, Rist, and Impact Prizes from the Military Operations Research Society; most recently, his paper “The Interaction of Skill and Technology in Combat” (with Michael Fischerkeller and Wade Hinkle) won the Society’s 2000 Rist Prize. His publications include articles in International Security, Survival, Security Studies, The Journal of Strategic Studies, The Journal of Politics, Contemporary Security Policy, Defense Analysis, and Military Operations Research; shorter pieces on military topics in Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Orbis, Defense News, and Joint Force Quarterly; various chapters in edited volumes; and 24 IDA and NATO reports. His book manuscript, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle, has recently been accepted for publication with Princeton University Press.