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How Should America Proceed in Afghanistan?

General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, issued a report to The White House on August 30, 2009 that he needs more resources and troops to win the war in Afghanistan. But President Obama has yet to make a decision on this new strategy, despite his support for a surge earlier this year. It is critical that the White House make a decision on how to move forward in Afghanistan, and that the decision be one that supports a winning strategy.

Failed Strategies

  • Drones Cannot Win a War: The war cannot be effectively waged merely with air power, predator drones, and Special Forces. President Clinton launched cruise missiles at easily replaceable al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and yet al-Qaeda remained strong enough for 9/11. President Bush’s minimalist approach in 2001 was a contributing factor to problems faced now that allowed Osama bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora in 2002.
  • Counterterrorism vs. Counterinsurgency: Washington opted to focus narrowly on counterterrorism goals in Afghanistan — rather than counterinsurgency operations — in order to free up military assets for the war in Iraq. This allowed the Taliban to regroup across the border in Pakistan and make a violent resurgence. The “small footprint” strategy also failed in Iraq before it was abandoned for General Petraeus’s successful counterinsurgency strategy (the surge) in 2007.
  • Offshore Offense? Despite these lessons from the past, some still argue that an “offshore” strategy for landlocked Afghanistan will work today. But half-measures — the hallmark of the “small footprint” strategy — will not work. Precise intelligence is needed to use smart bombs smartly. Yet few Afghans would risk their lives to provide such intelligence unless they are assured of protection against the Taliban’s ruthless retaliation.
A Winning Strategy
  • Continue the Surge: It’s too soon to write off President Obama’s well-considered surge strategy announced in March. The 21,000 new troops are still deploying to the region and have just begun offensive operations in southern Afghanistan. The March strategy should be properly resourced and given time to succeed.
  • Listen to the Generals: The Commanding Generals are reportedly asking for up to 40,000 more troops. They know the recipe for success, and Obama’s handpicked military leadership should have the trust and unequivocal support of the President.
  • Return Clarity and Focus to the War: President Obama must convince his political allies and the American public that this is a war worth winning. Send the troops and resources necessary for coalition forces to secure more regions, build up Afghan army and police forces and work closely with them to defeat the insurgents.

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