What to do in Afghanistan, another look

George Will argues that it’s time to get out of Afghanistan. Will says our forces there should be substantially reduced to serve “a comprehensively revised policy.” Under that policy, we would “do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, and small, potent Special Forces units concentrating on the porous 1,500 mile border with Pakistan.”
Will’s proposal isn’t very attractive. For one thing, it would mean that the U.S. accepts defeat at the hands of the Taliban in the nation where the 9/11 attacks were hatched. It would also provide the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies with something close to what enabled them to hatch 9/11 – an uncontested base of operations. For it seems fanciful to suppose that we can substantially impede the Taliban and al Qaeda with occasional strikes from offshore.
But staying in Afghanistan isn’t a very attractive option either. The Washington Post reports that an assessment by Gen. McChrystal has concluded that to defeat al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and the deny them sanctuary, requires a sweeping counterinsurgency campaign aimed at protecting the Afghan population, establishing good governance, and rebuilding the economy.
Protecting the far-flung Afghan population would require a huge troop commitment, and a commitment that these troops patrol far more aggressively than they do now. As a political matter, both here and among allies like Great Britain, such commitments are probably unsustainable.
As for establishing good governance and rebuilding the Afghan economy, I very much doubt that these goals are attainable within any reasonable time frame. This is a primitive country with no history of good governance.
What’s the answer? I don’t know. If Gen. McChrystal can persuade the administration to allocate the forces and resources necessary to carry out his counter-insurgency strategy, and to give it time to succeed, maybe it’s worth a try. I’m certainly willing to be persuaded that, against all odds, there’s a winning strategy, as I was before we embarked on the surge in Iraq about which I was initially quite skeptical.
But like John, I think the U.S. should seriously consider a less ambitious option under which we would maintain current troop levels (or even scale back some), focus on disrupting and killing bad guys, and let go of the idea of “defeating” the Taliban if that really requires a massive counter-insurgency campaign, establishing good governance, and rebuilding the Afghan economy.

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