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Afghanistan — what to do?

This week was supposed to be foreign-policy week here at Where Is the Outrage. I did start off well with North Korea then I got sidetracked. Now, let’s take a look at Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a country of approximately the same size as Texas. It’s extremely mountainous and dry. There’s never really been a central government in Afghanistan, as best I can tell.

The Taliban is nothing more than a religious political movement that is made up mostly of ethnic Pashtuns (the major ethnic group in Afghanistan, making up approximate 40% of the population). They took over the central government in 1996 led by a reclusive and rarely photographed leader Mullah Omar. Exactly how they came to power is not important, in my opinion. The fact that they were embraced by many Afghans is important. They were not thought of as outsiders. They did provide basic services including law and order, which many Afghans appreciated.

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, we did not kill or capture members of the fleeing Taliban government. Instead, we pushed members of the Taliban into the Tora Bora mountains and into Pakistan. Many of the leaders were not captured. We had opportunities in 2002 and 2003 to provide basic services and help rebuild the country. Unfortunately, that was not the focus of the Bush administration. We never really dismantled or engaged the local tribal leaders/warlords. They are the ones who control the power.

By 2004, it was clear that the Taliban was regrouping. We never got adequate control in southern Afghanistan. Because the Bush administration was bogged down in Iraq, we didn’t have adequate troops in Afghanistan to push back against the Taliban surge. One of the biggest mistakes that the Bush administration made was to try to turn over security of Afghanistan to NATO. NATO is no better (and no worse) than UN security forces. Each member country sets up its own rules of engagement. All countries were risk-averse, which was perfect for the Taliban. They were able to engage in the heroin trade in order make money for weapons and food knowing that NATO was not really all that interested in a head-on confrontation.

Without spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the multiple failures of the Bush administration, let’s fast forward to where we are now. We now have a re-energized Taliban organization that is as strong now as it has ever been the last six or seven years. They are embedded in Western Pakistan, the Tora Bora mountains and southern Afghanistan. It is clear that they are making a big push to take over most of the altar country. It is also clear that they will be a safe haven for Al Qaeda. So, here’s what I think I know —

  • Al Qaeda and the Taliban are two peas from the same pod
  • the Taliban are skilled warriors they have been fighting nearly continuously for almost 20 years
  • defeating the Taliban will require a much greater effort than the “Surge” did in Iraq
  • we’re going to have to win over the population, not on a city by city basis but instead on a tribe to tribe basis
  • we’re going to have to provide basic services — new roads, better agriculture, including irrigation systems
  • in order to defeat the Taliban, we’re going to have to be in Afghanistan for some time
  • finally, in strengthening Afghanistan, we are strengthening the Pakistani government (remember… they have nuclear weapons)
By |2010-02-19T00:32:58-04:00February 19th, 2010|Afghanistan, Obama administration, Pakistan|Comments Off on Afghanistan — what to do?

Top Taliban commander captured

I’m sorry. I can’t get all whipped up about this. We have heard about top commanders captured before. We have heard about high value targets and the like. Hey, let me know when Mullah Omar is captured. Then I’ll pay more attention.

From NYT:

The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.

The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials. (more…)

By |2010-02-16T03:29:13-04:00February 16th, 2010|Afghanistan, War on Terror|Comments Off on Top Taliban commander captured

Obama on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

Once again, Tom Brokaw leads with a negative question for Senator Barack Obama: Why haven’t you been to Afghanistan, if you really think that it is the central front on the war on terrorism, before now? (That’s not quite as bad as “Have you stopped beating your wife?”– but close.) Again, Obama does a very good job getting out of this negative frame. He explains that he hasn’t been down at the corner barbershop playing dominoes. He states what he has been doing.

I would urge Obama to step back from phrases like “We must win in Afghanistan.” This type of phrase echoes of discourse on Iraq. All sorts of questions arise. What does “winning” mean? Will defeating the Taliban lead to a formal surrender with Mullah Omar (who is still on the loose) handing over his sword or AK-47 to our General on the ground?

Instead, Obama needs to talk about our goals. Afghanistan needs to develop a viable economy which exports something other than heroin. Farmers must have a reason to plant something other than poppy. We need to help the Afghans build roads, schools, and a real economy. I have no idea how to deal with the local tribal leaders who are used to having an enormous amount of power over their own regions, but these leaders must be made to work within the framework of their constitution.

Obama shows a national audience that he has command of foreign policy. His plan isn’t wimpy. Instead, it is aggressive and thoughtful.

If Obama made a mistake during this discussion it might have been with the phrase, “We know where they are.” However, he did qualify it by saying that military commanders have told him that they are… I don’t know. We’ll see if Senator John McCain and his gang will make something out of this.

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