Vanda Felbab-Brown: “It’s All or Nothing in Afghanistan”

Vanda Felbab-Brown has written an excellent piece on the situation as it stands in Afghanistan.

She is less in favor of the “golden path” in the middle between war-hawking and peace-doving than I myself am but I see well the point she has made in this article and where it conflicts with my own views on the situation.

We should not delude ourselves that the middle is the golden path. Instead, we need to decide how much we care about the stakes and whether we are willing to resource the mission properly to achieve them.

In the Afghanistan strategy debate, two basic options have crystallized: a militarily beefed-up counterinsurgency or limited counterterrorism through selective strikes, many from the air and offshore. Public support seems limited for the former. Given the importance of the on-ground human intelligence, the effectiveness of the latter is questionable and, anyway, narrow counterterrorism was essentially the U.S. policy in Afghanistan until 2005 while the Taliban grew and al Qaeda regrouped. Hence strategists are proposing options that lie seductively “in the middle.” But these are unlikely to reverse the deteriorating security and produce a self-sufficient Afghan government.

My point here is simply that counterterrorism strategies need time in order to work, if they are going to have any positive effect at all, and that the true measuring bars of success in the region being brought into a more realistic framework is a step in the right direction. What remains to be seen is if these recent strategic changes will impact the situation for the better, so we might exit the region sometime before I have grandchildren, or if these new solutions have only further aggravated the situation in Afghanistan.

Should all our efforts prove fruitless and our options only include massive counterinsurgency troop build-ups with no clear exit in sight that we should then consider the complete withdrawal as the only reasonable option and to dismiss or diminish the need to seek a workable solution in Afghanistan or start realistically considering complete withdrawal. Just as Vanda put it: “we need to decide how much we care about the stakes and whether we are willing to resource the mission properly to achieve them.”

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