The consensus is that the Taliban is strengthening, 48 US soldiers were killed in August 2009, and that no end to the war is in sight as fighting has spilled into Pakistan. President Obama has called for a "soup-to-nuts" evaluation of the Afghanistan strategy. Congress wants Generals McChrystal and David Petraeus, the US commander in the Middle East and Central Asia to testify publicly about their strategy. McChrystal says, "While the situation is serious, success is still achievable."
Key Question: Is a Surge the Right Call?
With the Afghan War at all-time low approval ratings in the US, Osama Bin Laden nowhere in sight, the Afghan Armed Forces not ready to defend the country and fraudulent elections, is an Iraq-like "troop surge" in Afghanistan the right call?
The strategy reevaluation may need to be more radical than raising troop levels. US leaders have repeatedly stated we cannot "kill our way to victory" in Afghanistan. The rationale for invading Afghanistan in 2001 was to punish Al-Qaeda and those responsible for the events of 9/11, and to preclude further attacks on American soil. Most of Al-Qaeda has fled Afghanistan and is stationed in Pakistan, a more geopolitically important country because of its nuclear weapons. To the point, does the current US strategy get the real bad guys?
So, the US remains in Afghanistan battling a hardened enemy that has repelled the Russians previously and had no previous quarrel with the United States prior to America's military intervention. While the Taliban represents fundamental Islam and is anti-democratic, there is no evidence that they support international terrorism. Yet America's attention has turned to the Taliban as the main enemy in Afghanistan.
Now, the Government finds itself trying not to fail by supporting a fledgling democracy by military force against zealous opposition. Meanwhile Al-Qaeda has by and large moved on. Maybe the new strategy should go "out of the box" and forget about nation-building in Afghanistan and focus on eliminating terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vice President Biden is among those calling for a "counter-terror" strategy focused on fighting Al-Qaeda.
In other words, the US would focus its efforts on destroying terrorist bases and training camps and eliminating known terrorists instead of protecting the existing Afghan Government and capturing territory from Taliban control. Winning the hearts and minds of Afghans would come through decreased violence, development aid and support for groups supporting pluralism and democracy.
This strategy could result in the fall of the Karzai government and greater gains by the Taliban but it could also result in a more directed fight against Al-Qaeda, additional resources for contingencies in Pakistan and welcome relief for the American military. When Generals McChrystal and Petraeus come to Washington, maybe they should contemplate a different definition of success.