Six months after Barack Obama announced his new Afghan strategy in a speech at West Point, the policy seems stymied. There are some areas of brilliant success, especially in the counterterrorism efforts of the special-operations forces, where increased human-intelligence capabilities have yielded a bumper crop of midlevel Taliban leaders killed or captured — 121 in recent months, according to McChrystal. But the larger purpose of the mission — the stabilization of Afghanistan and the eradication of the Taliban rebellion — has not gone so well.
Joe Klein is a columnist that many on the internet are not very fond of. Conservative see him as a whiny liberal, Liberals as a hawkish moderate. Either way, he’s a very learned man on military affairs and has been on the ground to do his research, and when he writes Afghanistan is not going well. I believe him. The main reason the mission is not working is simple: Karzai. Klein explains:
Counterinsurgency and counterterrorism sound a lot alike, but they are diametric opposites. Counterterrorism means going after the bad guys. Counterinsurgency means protecting the good guys. The latter requires patience and extensive resources, especially the presence of a reliable partner — a “host nation,” in the words of the Army’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual, that will “uphold the rule of law, and provide a basic level of essential services and security for the populace.” It is now clear that Hamid Karzai’s government is incapable of doing that
Jeff and I mentioned this explicitly in two previous podcasts on the surge in Afghanistan (part 1 here, follow-up here). That’s not to say Jeff and I are military geniuses who saw this coming. We simply did research and concluded that the success in Afghanistan will be on the shoulders of its own government. NOT our troops. We were not alone in this hypothesis, as Klein also mentions.
As the situation in Afghanistan has festered, an increasingly common reaction in the Obama White House has been: Joe Biden was right. Biden opposed the more elaborate military plan. He favored a stripped-down emphasis on counterterrorism — the special-ops and Predator raids that have turned out to be the most successful aspect of the Afghan battle plan.