Afghanistan: Weighing the war


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

No human endeavor is more complex than warfare, and the battlefield is the realm of the unexpected. Will our troop-surge chemistry lead to a stable Afghan compound, or just to more combustion?

Since President Obama chose to send at least 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and to intensify our engagement with Pakistan, all Americans should pray for our success. But what are our chances?

Here are the Big 10 pluses and minuses facing our troops and policymakers. First, on the positive side:

1) The aspect of the AfPak War that’s going extremely well is the targeting, with drones and special-operations elements, of al Qaeda’s leadership. This is the hunter-killer work at which Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our Afghanistan commander, excels. Sixteen of 20 “wanted” top terrorists have died (Allah be praised!). Al Qaeda capos live in fear — and we have no bleeding-heart court cases.

2) McChrystal has gotten the troops for which he asked (when added NATO deployments are included). This is his chance to prove that he knows what he’s doing strategically as well as he knows special ops.

3) We’ve sent the best we have in our renewed effort to build solid Afghan security forces. If Lt.-Gen. Bill Caldwell can’t make it happen, it won’t.

4) This year, the Pakistanis grew more realistic about the terror threat to their own country’s stability. Their military has taken the war to the terrorists — not comprehensively, but more extensively than in the past.

5) The international community’s willing to give Obama a decent interval to turn the situation around. If countries such as China and Russia want us to stay in Afghanistan for their own cynical reasons, at least they’re not obstructing us.

But then there are the negatives — all cause for grave concern:

1) Even if everything goes our way in Afghanistan, it’s hard to envision a worthwhile payoff for our investment of blood and treasure. At West Point, Obama stressed — correctly — that al Qaeda’s our No. 1 enemy. Yet the surge and nearly every supporting program aims at the Taliban, not al Qaeda. Faced with a globe-trotting enemy, we’re tying our forces down on remote real estate.

2) We’re propping up an immeasurably corrupt Afghan government despised by the average Afghan. For all too many Afghans, the Taliban now appear preferable to the Kabul mafiosi — despite the Taliban’s brutality. Still more Afghans are sitting on the fence, trying to judge who’s going to win. That should tell us something.

3) Afghans just don’t — and won’t — want what we want them to want. We have yet to ask ourselves honestly what Afghans do want — because we wouldn’t like much of the answer. And many Afghans do view us as occupiers.

4) While the Taliban can’t beat us militarily, neither can we decisively defeat the Taliban with passive counterinsurgency tactics focused on protecting a skeptical population. You can’t win in sports or war if you only play defense — especially if you impose far stricter rules on your own team than the enemy plays by.

5) The Pakistani military and intelligence services still believe that “their” terrorists can be controlled and used. Ties to key Taliban factions go so deep that even the fundamentalist insurgency that surged to within 60 miles of the capital failed to convince the Pakistani security apparatus that there are no good fanatics. Even The New York Times has finally recognized what this column has claimed for years — that the Pakistanis simply will not give up “their” Taliban, which they view as a strategic reserve (and no Obama magic is going to change that). Meanwhile, the Pakistanis profit from our predicament and may even be shielding top al Qaeda leaders, as well.

Many other factors are in play, from terrorist financing to third parties playing double and triple games. But the interplay of the issues raised above will be more decisive than poppy harvests or stage-managed elections.

We’re stuck in what is now President Obama’s war. For the sake of our country, we need to hope for a reasonably successful outcome. But the American people have yet to hear a convincing explanation of why Afghanistan matters pre-eminently, when our enemies are in (to name just a few spots) Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Fort Hood and Northern Virginia. Al Qaeda thinks and acts globally — while we’re obsessed with controlling donkey trails.

What would be the crucial indicator of success? Afghans turning against the Taliban and fighting, in decisive numbers, for the Kabul government.

What will be the bellwether sign of failure? Generals claiming, in the wake of the surge, that just one more increment of troops is all it would take. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters new novel, “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. He is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His most recent book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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