October 2, 2009

October 2, 2009 | Factsheet on Afghanistan War

AFGHANISTAN: A War Worth Winning

Confusion at the White House

  • A Campaign Promise Worth Keeping: Campaigning in 2008, Barack Obama understood the necessity of a strategy for success in Afghanistan. On March 27, 2009, as President, he announced his intention to keep this promise, saying that "the safety of the world is at stake." Now, it appears his focus is shifting, and Vice President Biden, who opposed the successful surge in Iraq, is also opposing a surge in Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan Should Be a Priority: General Stanley McChrystal, Obama's handpicked commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, recently revealed he had only one meeting with the President in almost three months. They met again briefly on Air Force One while the President was in Copehagen since that comment. SEIU President Andy Stern brags of weekly visits to the White House.
  • AfghanistanGates Flip-Flopping: It appears Defense Secretary Gates is backtracking on supporting General McChrystal's promising strategy for the war, rather embracing a minimalist "small footprint" strategy that would greatly increase the prospects for defeat. This strategy is sure to demoralize our Afghan allies, prompt Afghans on the fence to side with insurgents, and further energize the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other anti-American forces in the region.
  • That '80s Show: This is not similar to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, as some have argued. This mission is supported by over 40 NATO allies and troop-contributing nations. The Soviets had no international backing. The Afghan people support the presence of coalition forces and want them to prevail, while the Soviets were seen as occupiers. The Soviets did not face the specter of a heightened terror threat in the case of their withdrawal, as the U.S. does.

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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