Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Afghanistan - To surge or not to surge

To surge or not to surge, that is the question. News reporting has it that President Karzai will agree to a run-off election. Details are somewhat hazy. Will it occur this year before the major winter snows make it impossible to deliver/retrieve ballot boxes from the remote villages? Will the president insist on delaying the run-off election until next year? Given the late date, even if the election occurred within the next 30 days, it might be impossible to ensure all eligible voters would have their ballots counted because of weather. Yet, to continue with a fraudulently elected president at the helm is unlikely to provide the legitimacy of a partner our foreign policy experts were hoping for in our pursuit of a viable Afghanistan policy.

And this brings us to the question of the surge. There was little doubt that this question was hostage to an answer to the larger issue of what to do about the fraudulent presidential election. Having (partially) come to grips with that issue, what do we do now? The military is supportive of General McChrystal’s request for additional troops. But do we want to go ahead with a major surge when we still have no exit policy? How will we know if/when we’re successful in our Afghan campaign? When our military forces have neutralized every Taliban follower? When we’ve captured Usama bin-Laden and his principal cohorts? When the Pakistani Taliban no longer threatens our Pakistani partner? What is our definition of success in Afghanistan?

It would appear there are “good” Taliban and “bad” Taliban. It all depends on the willingness of the particular Taliban group to accept a deal with the Pakistani military. To date, two major Taliban organizations have come to terms with the Pakistani military incursion into Waziristan. The quid-pro-quo is, “You don’t bomb or shoot at us and we don’t shoot at you.” And maybe, just maybe, this will wind up being the best deal possible. To the best of our knowledge, al Qaeda was not a participant in this arrangement.

What about the training and arming of Afghan military and police units to the degree they are able to deal with the insurgency. Would that constitute success? There is always the attraction of finding parallels with our Vietnam experience. How many thousands upon thousands of South Vietnamese military, police and paramilitary members had we trained? And they lasted how long against the NVA incursion into the South after we pulled back our combat elements? What reason do we have to believe the picture would be any different in Afghanistan?

Let’s get back to the original question, to surge or not to surge. My take on this is as follows. We dare not leave U.S. and coalition forces in such a predicament that we are endangering their safety. We must ensure they have what they require by way of support to protect themselves. However, we might best delay the full complement of the surge, up to 40,000 additional troops, until we’ve decided on the definition of success. When will we be able to state, “Job well done; bring the troops back home.”



At April 24, 2010 at 5:48 PM , Blogger Katya Cohen said...

My office mate, who has a lot of friends in the military, is of the same opinion as you are--- though he stated it with a little more cynicism in his voice (-;


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