Let's Un-Surge in Afghanistan
The current policy is diverting scarce military resources when threats like Iran and North Korea loom. We can prevent the return of al Qaeda with far fewer troops..
Richard Haas, Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2010
The Obama administration has completed its third review in two years of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. It argues the current approach is making progress, with success defined as building up Afghan national army and police forces until they can hold their own against a Taliban that is being weakened by ongoing combat. Some officials also believe that several more years of military pressure will persuade many Taliban fighters to switch sides rather than fight.
There are good reasons to be skeptical. While the situation on the ground in Afghanistan should improve in areas where U.S. military forces are operating in strength, the gains are likely to fade in the wake of their departure. The inherent weakness of central government institutions in Afghanistan, the tenacity of the Taliban and their ties to Afghanistan's many Pashtuns, and the reality that the Taliban will continue to enjoy a sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan all work against what we seek to achieve.
It is possible that doubters will be proven wrong. But the more fundamental problem with the policy depends less on its prospects than its costs and benefits. What the United States is doing in Afghanistan is not justified even if the policy succeeds.
The costs of the policy are considerable. There are just under 100,000 U.S. troops in the country. This year alone nearly 500 American soldiers have lost their lives. Ten times that many suffered casualties. It is costing U.S. taxpayers between $100 billion and $125 billion a year. The commitment is tying down a significant portion of military and intelligence assets, and it is absorbing significant time and energy of U.S. officials in Washington and abroad.
Arrayed against these costs are the stakes. It is essential that Afghanistan not again become a staging ground for terrorist attacks against the U.S., but that goal was largely achieved before the Obama administration tripled force levels. Should the Taliban re-establish cooperation with al Qaeda and groups like it, the U.S. could respond with a counterterrorist package of drones, special forces and training of local forces, much as it is does in Yemen and Somalia.
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U.S. Military Seeks to Expand Raids in Pakistan - NYT
U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan - CFR
Midnight Moments: Exposing the Truth and Taking Full Responsibility for Afghanistan - By Rory Stewart, Huffington Post
Afghanistan guardedly backs U.S. review - Reuters
The Afghanistan Review - NYT Editorial
Foreign Policy: The Zombie War In Afghanistan by Stephen Walt - Foreign Policy
Roadmap for Peace in Afghanistan - By Khalid Aziz, Express Tribune
Time for negotiation in Afghanistan - Guardian
Afghanistan in Review - Afpak Channel, Foreign Policy
The Wayout of Afghanistan - Ahmed Rashid, New York Review of Books