Afghanistan continues to be a quagmire. Did you ever wonder why? Do you think it might be because we have never, ever heard as one of our objectives, the words “victory” or “win?”
Several weeks ago the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, came to Washington to meet with President Obama. As usual, if the foreign leader is in good stead with the current administration, a joint press conference was held. As pointed out by Karl Rove in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, the two leaders “declared their solidarity on the Afghan war and reaffirmed their commitment to the overall strategy. Mr Obama specifically said the approach is aimed to ‘build Afghan capacity so Afghans can take responsibility for their future’ which Mr Cameron called a ‘key part’ of the coalition strategy.”
Unfortunately during this press conference, neither leader said anything about “victory,” “win,” “defeat the Taliban,” “prevent their return to power,” etc. In short, whatever we are doing now is the track we are on for ending this nine year war.
But unfortunately recent and past history shows this simply won’t cut it. Our current strategy is based upon protecting the civilians and building them up so they can organize and govern themselves. Most of this focus is at the local level. While this is ongoing, we will continue to train the Afghan security forces, both police and military, so they can protect the civilians in their villages. At the same time, we will strengthen the national governmental structure so it can function when the coalition forces are gone.
We changed to this strategy during the summer of last year from a strategy that was based upon killing the Taliban forces rather than protecting the people. The killing strategy didn’t work, so we changed our top combat leadership (twice), brought in more US troops, put very restrictive “Rules of Engagement” in place to lessen the chance of killing “innocent civilians,” tried to convince our allies to stick it out a little longer, and then announced we would start pulling our troops out next summer! You figure.
At the same time, we refused to allow the reelected leader, President Hamid Karzai, a known corrupt official heavily involved in the national export product, drugs, from selecting his own cabinet members because of their corrupt reputations. Karzi continues to criticize the American forces and clearly there is no unity of views between the national leadership of Afghanistan and the US.
And we still have not heard the words “victory” or “win.”
So if you are a Taliban leader, what would you do especially after you fought the Russians for nine years and drove them out of your country with their tails between their legs?
Personally, I would continue to make a nuisance of myself with my troops hitting and harassing the coalition forces. I would protect the areas I now control, but not to the extent of going into a major battle to retain ground. I would continue to move my forces across the border into Pakistan for sanctuary when threatened, and I would wait for next summer when the Americans have said they are going to leave.
And I bet we will see over the next twelve months actions from the Taliban that very closely parallel this strategy.
Now you can see why Afghanistan is such a quagmire and what happens when “victory” and “win” are not in the vocabulary of our national leaders.