Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 9:06 AM ET, 03/10/2011

Is it really that bleak in Afghanistan?

By Jennifer Rubin

Yesterday, I attended a lively briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD president Cliff May moderated a discussion with military blogger Bill Roggio and Gilles Dorronsoro from the Carnegie Institute. If you relied purely on these two speakers, you would be mighty depressed about the Afghanistan war.

They agreed that Pakistan is not being any more helpful than it has been in denying Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters refuge and that the availability of a sanctuary is severely undermining our war efforts. They agreed our strategy now looks more like an exit strategy than one aiming to stabilize Afghanistan and ensure it doesn't become a refuge for terrorists. Dorronsoro, however, is convinced all is lost because, despite success in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, the Taliban is flourishing elsewhere. But this need not be a really bad defeat. Oh, well, yes, he does concede that the outcome will either be a Taliban-run Afghanistan or a failed state overrun by terrorists. (Sounds pretty bad to me.) Roggio thinks the problem is the self-imposed timelines and that if we have the staying power, we may succeed.

An impressive array of audience members chimed in, some with more helpful observations than others. Jeffrey Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War reminded the group that his boss, Kim Kagan, and her husband, Fred, have a far more optimistic view of the progress being made.

But the discussion was most helpful in clarifying one key point: Some are convinced we will lose and have set about to concoct rationalizations for why this need not be so bad. One audience member from a reputable think tank suggested we should just "change the narrative" and declare victory since secular uprisings are now making al-Qaeda obsolete. (It was one of those moments when everyone in a room wonders, "Is she serious or is this dry wit?" Serious, I am afraid.) And others like Dorronsoro imagine that a defeat in a war declared to be critical by two presidents wouldn't be so terrible.

That, however, is not the view of this White House or of a great many Americans who recognize that a defeat in Afghanistan would embolden al-Qaeda, render Afghanistan a haven for terrorists and destabilize a very shaky Pakistan, which happens to be a nuclear power. So is there any solace for those who are not ready to declare defeat?

A colleague pointed to a very different picture painted by the longtime Afghanistan reporter for the New York Times, Carlotta Gall. Gall has been in Pakistan since 2001 and recently interviewed not only Gen. David Petraeus but also Taliban fighters. Petraeus had this take on Tuesday:

Under General Petraeus, the tempo of operations has been stepped up enormously. American Special Operations forces and coalition commandos have mounted more than 1,600 missions in the 90 days before March 4 -- an average of 18 a night -- and the troops have captured and killed close to 3,000 insurgents, according to information provided by the general.

"The momentum of the Taliban has been halted in much of the country and reversed in some important areas," he said.

"The Taliban have never been under the pressure that they were put under over the course of the last 8 to 10 months," he added.

Other aspects of the war remain difficult, and progress is patchy and slow, General Petraeus conceded. There has been only modest momentum on efforts to persuade Taliban fighters to give up the fight and join a reintegration program, and a plan to train and install thousands of local police officers in rural communities to mobilize resistance to the Taliban has proved to be a painstaking business constrained by concerns that it will create militias loyal to warlords.

This confirmed what Gall had reported in February:

Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban's top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews. . . .

"I have talked to some commanders, and they are reluctant to fight," one 45-year-old commander who has been with the Taliban since its founding in 1994 said in an interview in this southern city. He spoke on condition he not be identified because he was in hiding from American and government forces. "Definitely there is disagreement between the field commanders and the leaders over their demands to go and fight."

Progress was evident as far back as December:

The stepped-up operations in Kandahar Province have left many in the Taliban demoralized, reluctant to fight and struggling to recruit, a Taliban commander said in an interview this week. Afghans with contacts in the Taliban confirmed his description. They pointed out that this was the first time in four years that the Taliban had given up their hold of all the districts around the city of Kandahar, an important staging ground for the insurgency and the focus of the 30,000 American troops whom President Obama ordered to be sent to Afghanistan last December.

"To tell you the truth, the government has the upper hand now" in and around Kandahar, the Taliban member said. A midlevel commander who has been with the movement since its founding in 1994 and knows it well, he was interviewed by telephone on the condition that his name not be used.

So while we have not yet stabilized the entire country and brought Jeffersonian democracy to Afghanistan, the progress is real in areas in which the U.S. forces surged. The conclusion is not that this is easy or that we don't face a real dilemma with Pakistan. Surely we do. But the lesson, rather, is that if we apply American forces, develop a coherent strategy and have the staying power to see it through, a disastrous defeat is not inevitable. The question remains, as it has for two presidents, whether America has the will to do what is necessary to win a major battle in the war against jihadism. On that, the jury is out.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 10, 2011; 9:06 AM ET
Categories:  National Security  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Witnesses up to the task of studying jihad recruitment
Next: An arms embargo on what, exactly?


"So while we have not yet stabilized the entire country and brought Jeffersonian democracy to Afghanistan, the progress is real in areas in which the U.S. forces surged."

That's great news. We wouldn't want to end the Kagen's liberal gravy train. Hey, wait, didn't the Kagens advocate invading Iraq? You mean we STILL consider them "experts"?

So instead of going after and killing those who attacked and murdered 3,000 Americans, we're making progress pacifying a country after only ten years and a trillion+ dollars.

Anyone finally realize these neocons have absolutely NO clue what they're doing other than just funneling our tax dollars away from us liberal style to support corrupt puppets?

Doesn't sound conservative to me. Sounds more and more like that hopey-changey stuff neocons are trying and failing to do in Iraq using the blood of our REAL American children.

Posted by: mfray | March 10, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse


Your buddy Andrew McCarthy wrote an interesting analysis today on what our position on Lybia should be,and by,I believe, by extension,our gameplan for Afghanistan. I like Andrew,he's logical

Andrew C. McCarthy
March 10, 2011 4:00 A.M.
No Intervention in Libya
In the absence of compelling national-security interests, we should stay out.
I am against intervention in Libya. In explaining why, FOUR things about the ongoing commentary and handwringing over no-fly zones and other potential U.S. intrusions seem noteworthy.
(1)First are the sudden torrents of disdain for Muammar Qaddafi by commentators who spent the Bush years saying this very same terrorist — who even then was repressing the very same opposition he is fighting now — was a great ally of the United States against terrorism. I carry no brief for Qaddafi; I thought it was reprehensible for our government to try to launder him into a statesman, much like Clinton did with Arafat. But given that this strategy only tightened Qaddafi’s grip on power, it’s a bit much for us suddenly to be told that we are now under a moral obligation to oust him. Some proponents of intervention add, “He must answer for Flight 103.” Why didn’t he need to be removed and answer for Flight 103 some time between 2003 and 2008?"
(2)"Moreover, Libya is virulently anti-Israeli
(3)"no serious person I know is saying Muslims aren’t up to democracy (and what we’re talking about here is a Muslim issue more than an Arab issue). This is not a question of ignorance or incompetence. They understand the principles of our democracy. They just don’t want them. Any democracy worth promoting is a democracy that runs afoul of key sharia-law principles"
(4)Fourth*, along related lines, one would have hoped we’d grasp by now that a big part of our problem in Iraq and Afghanistan is that much of Islam regards Western invaders as occupiers(and wouldn't we if the muslims landed here to liberate us) against whom jihad has to be waged until they are driven out of Muslim countries.
*This is the big one,Jenn.
"We should be having as little to do with Islamic countries as practicality allows, not getting ourselves ever more entangled — at least absent compelling national-security reasons. Such reasons are not evident in Libya."

Has anyone made a compelling national security case(for America,not for Israel) for being at war anywhere in the Near East?

Posted by: rcaruth | March 10, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Jennifer gives us her "light at the end of the tunnel" riff.

Where have I heard that before?

Cliff May? The Kagans? Where were Frank Gaffney and Steve Emerson? What a gang of idiots.

Posted by: Lazarus40 | March 10, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

There's always a metric to be found to tell you what you want to know. That was probably true to the Russians until they decided to 'declare victory' and go home. It was probably the same for the Saigon embassy staff until the first NVA tanks entered the city.

When you get 'warfighers' like Bil Roggio making noises about the narrative and 'holding on' until the Taliban get too tired to hit any more, you have to wonder. If this ulcer wasn't leaking a bllion dollars a day and thoroughly corrupting Afghanistan, that 'staying power' might be worth it.

As it is, I think that most sane people realise that the Taliban won't be loading the invasion barges for a long time, that the natural gas now polluting America's last supplies of potable water will make up for any related Caspian shortfall and that a nice, sanitary, evacuation could only be considered improvement. Convincing the military otherwise may be problematic for they won't want to sign on for 'losing' another war.

The apology will have to wait to later.

Posted by: keviquin | March 10, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Progress in Afghanistan, while it have been painfully slow, we are making progress. In fact we are making far more progress that I think the media likes admit.

The problem is the progress incremental it seems only bad news ever get reported in western media.

For instant when British forces completed a major new road project I could only find a hand full of reports. A single solder get killed and there are hundreds of news papers who report on it, most of it repeating the same story.

I also think the time table is doing nobody any good. I think in the end our forces will be fighting in Afghanistan a lot longer than 2014 but politicans sprouting of that deadline every minute is doing nobody anygood.

An if morale in the Taliban is as bad as some people are reporting now is the time say that we will not redraw and will continue combat operations as long as the Taliban continue to fight.

I think the Pakistan is a major problem and its only growing worst and it need to be solve how is a bigger and harder question that how we fixed Afghanistan which is pretty much keep doing what we are doing.

Posted by: davidknowles2 | March 10, 2011 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company