Monday, November 30, 2009

Help The Afghans Defeat The Taliban

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Kabul for the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday after an August election that was riddled with fraud. Clinton has said Karzai must "do better" in battling corruption and government mismanagement if he wants the U.S. to continue its support of an increasingly unpopular war. The visit comes at a crucial time, as President Obama is expected to announce a new strategy for Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

Obama has reportedly rejected four strategies for Afghanistan put forward by his staff. And rightly so. A surge carries the risk of vastly elevated American casualties and no guarantee of success, pulling our overstretched military deeper into the quagmire of an asymmetric conflict. A "focused mini-surge" concentrating only on securing major urban centers will almost certainly lead to internal chaos as tens of thousands of internal refugees flood into the supposed safe zones.
A withdrawal amounts to exactly what we have sworn for the last eight years not to do: abandon the Afghans and lose all that was invested in blood and money. And talking with the Taliban, at least under the present circumstances, is not a negotiation but a sell-out. These are not attractive choices, and it is not surprising that the president has not rushed to embrace any one of them.

There is, however, a fifth option. It won't necessarily be easy, but it does enable us to remain true to our principles, minimize our casualties and keep our promise to the Afghan people. It is also the most likely to succeed.

That option is to get behind the Afghans, rather than in front of them--to help them fight their own battle. This requires us to identify, mobilize, fortify and build up those (many) forces within Afghanistan that oppose renewed Taliban rule and that desire progress, practice clean governance and are intent on moving forward into the global community.

Not at all incidentally, this is the method that has worked for us before. It was the Afghan mujahedeen, a rag-tag band of local foot soldiers who, fortified by our training, tactical guidance and weaponry, drove out the vastly superior troops of the Soviet superpower. In 2001 it was the Afghan Northern Alliance, a nearly defeated army huddled at the outermost margins of their country, who with our help and weapons rallied to march in triumph across Afghanistan, overthrowing the then ruling Taliban.

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