Getting Afghanistan Wrong

On October 27, the Washington Post ran an article with quotes from anonymous officials questioning the optimistic tone of General Petraeus towards the surge in Afghanistan. Major obstacles to victory undoubtedly remain, but the piece overlooks signs of progress and practically declares the surge a failure less than two months after all of the additional forces arrived.

The article, titled “U.S. Military Campaign to Topple Resilient Taliban Hasn’t Succeeded,� describes recent gains as “fleeting setbacks� for the Taliban that haven’t forced the group to the peace table. This judgment comes before the offensive into Kandahar has even been completed and far before a credible assessment can be made. It describes the military effort as falling short of forcing the Taliban to discuss a peace agreement, but that isn’t even the objective of the surge. Although the article does state that U.S. official caution that the strategy is in its beginning stages, this clarification comes on the second page and will be missed by many readers.

Measuring success by the willingness of the so-called “moderate Taliban� to embrace peace and democracy dooms the strategy to failure. Instead, any effort to reach out to the radical Islamic forces should be done with the goal of making them defect, rather than achieve their aims politically. The Afghan government and NATO forces are expanding the effort to enlist local tribes in their fight against the Taliban. No evaluation of the strategy in Afghanistan can take place until this outreach is completed.

The governor of Kandahar has just met with 350 elders in local communities under Taliban control until recently. General Petraeus has begun a new program to set up local security forces, which he calls “community watch with AK-47s,� that is being implemented in 68 districts. This closely resembles the Sons of Iraq that successfully turned that country around. U.S. forces are also moving out of large bases and into smaller outposts among the communities, as was also done in Iraq.

October 31st, 2010
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