Time to Face the Facts in Afghanistan

General David Rodriguez, recent commander of international forces in Afghanistan, claims in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that American troops have achieved “indisputable gains everywhere we have focused our efforts.”  There are clear signs, the General writes, that U.S. and Afghan forces have
“regained the initiative” and that the current counterinsurgency strategy is working.

Contrast that Panglossian assessment with the report from Kabul two days ago of the most direct and sustained insurgent attack on the U.S. embassy in 10 years of war, and the news a few days before of a truck bomb attack in Wardak that wounded 77 U.S. troops (the largest number of injuries in a single day since the war began), and the shooting down in early August of a Chinook helicopter that killed 8 Afghan and 30 U.S. troops (the largest single day loss of American life in the war).

Insurgent forces are stronger than ever. They control much of the Afghan countryside and benefit from a vast network of support in neighboring Pakistan. The government of Afghanistan remains one of the most corrupt in the world and is incapable of providing the viable political alternative that is necessary for counterinsurgency success.

Blinded by their false optimism, Rodriguez and other U.S. commanders plan to continue fighting the war for years to come. President Obama has started a necessary drawdown of troops, but there is no recognition of the need for a fundamental change of direction.

Here are the outlines of an alternative peacebuilding strategy:

  • Pledge to withdraw all foreign troops if insurgents cooperate in suppressing Al Qaida and respect basic political rights for the Afghan people.
  • Begin immediate direct negotiations with the insurgents for a ceasefire and a political power sharing arrangement within Afghanistan.
  • Negotiate a diplomatic compact among neighboring states to stabilize the region, and deploy a Muslim-led interim peacekeeping force under UN authority to protect civilians.
  • Maintain large-scale economic assistance to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild from decades of war.

It is long past time to end the delusions and face facts. The war cannot be won and must be ended as soon as possible.

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