Two Washington Post reports from Afghanistan, one suggesting success and the other suggesting failure, may together provide some insight into the war effort. The first report chronicles our success in driving the Taliban out of key parts of Kandahar.
An important element in that success is the work of a corrupt Afghan police colonel. His militiamen, who possess local knowledge that regular national forces lack, have assisted U.S. forces in taking territory that was previously out of reach. With that assistance, says the Post, “all of the areas central to the American campaign here” have been “cleared” and hundreds of Taliban fighters have been captured. It’s good to see that we’re not standing on ceremony, but rather collaborating with a local leader who is described as “a dog on a leash” whom “the Taliban fear.”
But “clearing” is only the beginning of the task. The key stage is “holding.” To this end, according to the Post, Afghan security forces have become more assertive and more numerous in the area. In fact, they now outnumber U.S. forces in many places. However, as long as the Taliban remains viable, there is the prospect that they will retake lost territory.
The second Post article shows how real this prospect is. The Post reports that, according to U.S. intelligence and military assessments, the military campaign against the Taliban has not succeeded in dealing it a lasting setback. Escalated air strikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But the Taliban is able to reestablish and rejuvenate itself. And it is buoyed by the belief that the U.S. won’t be around all that much longer.
Taking these two stories together, the sense is that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won on a timetable. The Taliban can be pushed back, but cannot be crushed. Therefore, ground will have to be held, and that takes a patient and sustained effort. If we aren’t prepared to put forth such an effort, we should think about pulling out now, before more American lives are lost.
My preference, though, is for staying and seeing the job through. The Post’s report from Kandahar suggests that we can “clear” and, as Afghan forces continue to grow and become more effective, potentially “hold.” Furthermore, if the Taliban were convinced that the substantial presence of the U.S. is ongoing, the willingness of its rank and file to return to the field would likely be diminished.
But it’s President Obama’s preference tgoogoU.S operations in Kandahar push out tal counts, and I doubt he has the stomach to pull up his “exit ramps” and persevere.
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