Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Afghanistan, learning the wrong lessons from Bin Laden

Good story in today's Washington Post about whether the Afghanistan war is worth the cost. But even the folks who want to reduce the American footprint there don't seem to have a full grasp of the bigger picture:
Civilian officials argue that recent gains against the Taliban and al-Qaeda have largely been the result of a counterterrorism strategy implemented by Special Operations forces, not the costly, large-footprint counterinsurgency mission that aims to secure the country district by district. Reducing conventional forces, some civilians assert, will not fundamentally alter the calculus that has led to interest among Taliban leaders in exploring peace talks with the Afghan government and U.S. representatives.

“Our mission is to disrupt and dismantle al-Qaeda, and what the bin Laden killing shows us is that you can do that with a small number of highly skilled guys,” the second senior official said. “You don’t need Army and Marine battalions in dozens of districts.”
I think you ought to go a step further and say this: What the bin Laden killing shows us is that you don't need to tie yourself down in Afghanistan if your focus is on Al Qaeda. Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan! Maybe, at this point, America's bases in Afghanistan are designed to prosecute anti-terror operations in Pakistan. But the mission—destroy a small, nimble, stateless group—and the strategy—tie down tens of thousands of troops in a single country—don't fit each other. Per the WaPo story, we probably can't afford to sustain our Afghanistan commitment. But even if we could, that doesn't make it the smart play.

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