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Fall Back in Afghanistan
The Obama Administration should put Vice President Biden in charge of changing its strategy in Afghanistan. Biden has shown a much better understanding than the generals of the facts on the ground and what might be done. Biden predicted that the combination of the military surge with a civilian one - trying to win over the population with 'reconstruction' projects and oodles of handouts - would not work, and that casualties would continue to mount. He called for the removal of US troops from the area and suppression of the remaining terrorists by use of drones, bombers, and Special Forces. It is not too late to follow this disengagement strategy, as long as the administration combines it with a status-of-forces agreement that would allow some US troops to remain in Afghanistan in bases outside the main population centers, as we do in Iraq.

The recent peace jirga suggests that the Taliban are willing to break their ties with Al Qaeda, as long as the US and its allies remove their troops and allow the establishment of a government based on Sharia, quite possibly a somewhat more moderate one than the regime they instituted when they were in power. They also understand that if they broke their commitment not to host Al Qaeda terrorists, heavy bombing would follow. Al Qaeda itself in Afghanistan is down to a hundred members or so, not much of a threat to anyone.

In a theoretical world, one might argue that the US should continue to fight for a democratic regime. However, the government the American troops are now supporting is in place only because it engaged in massive fraud, is corrupt to the core, and is seeking a deal with Talban all on its own. 

Moreover, the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy is failing miserably. It called for Clear, Hold, and Build. However, despite the large number of American troops committed to the small province of Marja, the US has had a hard time clearing it. And the great expenditures on civilian projects and handouts did little to win over the population. This, in turn, has forced the US - after boasting for months that Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold, was next to be COINed - to announce that it will reverse the order: it will first Build, then Clear and Hold. I failed to find any place where such an approach to counterinsurgency succeeded. In other words, the main reason to disengage is that the military engagement, even combined with a civilian one, is failing, and failing miserably.

Why keep some forces in Afghanistan? To help ensure that the Taliban will live up to the agreement not to host Al Qaeda; to support the independence of Afghanistan against attempts to divide it among Pakistan, India and Iran; and to service the Special Forces and drone strikes.

There are no good options left in Afghanistan. Maybe there never were any. However, disengagement is vastly superior to staying the course. Biden deserves to lead the change in strategy. He was the one who had it right to begin with.

Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and professor of International Relations at The George Washington University. He is the author of Security First (Yale 2007). 

Comments (1)

I have to agree. This was a left over policy from the last administration. A punishment and reaction to 9-11 and useful at the time 2001-2001. One that was supported by the international community and is curenty staffed by 30,000 or so allied troops.
I think that if NATO wants to keep 130,000 combat troops there, they have the forces to make it happen and perhaps claim credit for any further success they may gain there going forward. We have Iraq to manage and I keep hearing about our losses and overstretched budget and fatigued troops on their 6th deployment in like 8 years??

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