Thursday, June 19, 2008

Insurgents Routed in Afghanistan

There are a couple of very noteworthy items in the news about Afghanistan. Last week Taliban fighters launched a major attack at prison in Kandahar, freeing over a thousand prisoners in the process, hundreds of whom were fighters for the Taliban. Security forces for Afghanistan attempted to locate most of the prisoners, to no avail. This week, the Taliban staged a major operation to seize villages in the Arghandab district, apparently intending or appearing to intend to launch a major assault on Kandahar itself. NATO and Afghan officials responded by reinforcing the area with hundreds of troops, and are reporting today that they have largely driven the Taliban out of the villages that they've seized in a day of fighting. So it would appear, at least initially, that the Taliban have been thwarted once again and that NATO and Afghan security forces remain largely in control of the country. Of course the problem is that the Taliban, which in 2001 was sent scurrying on its heels into Pakistan, is now capable of launching major attacks to free its fighters, seizing dozens of villages at a time, and threatening Afghanistan's major urban areas. None of this would have been even imaginable in 2002 or 2003, though it was evident even then that without a greater commitment to Afghanistan's security it was only a matter of time until the Taliban reconstituted themselves and rebuilt their fighting ability to one extent or the other. Thanks to the mostly-sanctuary provided to them in Pakistan over the last five years, they are now capable of operating almost with impunity in Afghanistan, and NATO and Afghan forces are forced to play a game of whack-a-mole with the Taliban, responding in force only to watch Taliban fighters melt away to attack somewhere else another day. So what's to be done? There are precious few options at this point, and Fred Kaplan at Slate explains them to us:

We can keep fighting the Taliban—and probably keep them from retaking strategic positions—but it will remain at best a stalemate; we simply cannot amass enough troops to defeat them or stabilize the country.

A solution has to involve Pakistan. The Pakistani leaders, whoever they are, will not tackle the Taliban on the border unless they think that the mission is feasible and in their security interests. This is Political Science 101. So, we (or NATO or some group or groups of nations) have to help train and supply the Pakistani military to go after Taliban insurgents. We have to help relax tensions between Pakistan and India so that building up troops to the Afghan border won't seem to be a diversion. (Helping settle the two countries' dispute over Kashmir might be a start.) And we—in this case, the new American leaders—have to move away from Musharraf, whose future seems dim, and back the parliamentary leaders.

Finally, the security of Pakistan and Afghanistan—a subject that involves not just global terrorism, but nuclear weapons—is a regional issue. It was always a bit of a delusion, a post-Cold War dream, to think that NATO could handle this. The nations of the region have to be brought in—including Iran. The very phrase induces nightmares, but a "grand bargain" of some sort has to be struck. The nations involved in this bargain have so many disputes, so many conflicting interests, it is hard to imagine what the outlines of such a deal would look like. But it's very easy to imagine what kind of nightmare the alternative might look like. So there's no choice here; we have to try.

In other words, there is no military solution (and rarely is there, when dealing with insurgencies.) The solution must be political and diplomatic. The first step in a political solution is of course to change the political climate here, removing a President who has at best been disinterested in Afghanistan and replacing him with one who acknowledges that the future of Afghanistan is as critical to us-if not moreso-than the future of Iraq. Kaplan doesn't outline what a "grand bargain" would entail, because there is no way to know at this point. Only after talks with Iran, Pakitan, India and so on could we even begin hammer out details of what sort of regional cooperation it would require to settle Afghanistan. In the past it's been easy to ignore Afghanistan, as the Afghans largely warred with themselves. Long before 9/11 however, Afghanistan became the home of violent Islamic terrorists who regard it as a holy mission to kill Americans, and isn't likely to change anytime soon. The potential cost of ignoring Afghanistan is simply too high for us to accept the status quo any longer.

1 comment:

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

Folks aint even paying attention to Afghanistan because of what I call the blinded by the Obamafication of America