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February 9th, 2009
01:33 PM ET

We won in Afghanistan, so what's the problem?

Program Note: Tune in to hear more from Peter Bergen tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

President Obama says he is sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

President Obama says he is sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Peter Bergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN National Security Analyst

When President Bush left office the Taliban were stronger than at any point since they had lost Kabul seven years earlier. The Taliban, which in 2002 had barely been more than a nuisance, now controlled large sections of Afghanistan’s most important road, the Kabul to Kandahar highway. And the southern part of the country was not only the source of the vast majority of the world’s heroin, but it was also quite dangerous for those the Taliban deemed an enemy, which, in practice, meant pretty much anyone who wasn’t part of their movement.

By mid-2008 more Americans soldiers were dying in Afghanistan every month than in Iraq. And, by one estimate, by the end of 2008 Taliban had a permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan, up from 54 percent the year before. Indicative of their increased ability to operate more or less freely anywhere in the country, on August 18, 2008 some 100 Taliban fighters ambushed a French-Afghan patrol about 25 miles east of Kabul and in a 12-hour battle killed ten French soldiers. Similarly, in Wanat in the eastern province of Nuristan a few weeks earlier, on July 13, 2008, approximately 200 Taliban guerrillas attacked a NATO base killing nine American soldiers and wounding 27 more.

On January 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration, President Obama made a speech at the State Department declaring that Afghanistan and Pakistan were the “central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.” This, of course, was true, but few commented at the time how strange an statement this was. After all, hadn’t the Taliban been defeated in the winter of 2001? And wasn’t Pakistan a close American ally in the ‘war on terror’?

At the State Department that day the President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that they were creating a new diplomatic job, appointing a US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That Special Representative was Richard Holbrooke, the veteran diplomat who had cajoled, charmed and bullied the warring parties in the Balkans to make peace at Dayton in 1995. His appointment was a recognition by the Obama administration that stability could not come to Afghanistan without a stable Pakistan, and vice versa, and also of how much work needed to be done in the region to end its status as the “central front” for al Qaeda and its allies.

Holbrooke arrived in Pakistan Monday, for several days of talks in the region, his first trip there in his new capacity.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. jim Fallbrook CA

    Our Socialist president Barack Hussein Obama will just cut and run, Afghanistan as he wants to do in Iraq. He is a left wing liberal and won't have the courage to conduct actions in Afghanistan as a war. The void will leave Afghanistan for the Taliban/Al Queda take over the country. With Obama's liberal thinking we will be vulnerable to another 9/11 attack Since the days of Alexander the Great, no outside force has ever been able to control Afghanistan. The only way to win there is to fight the war with brute force not a police action. They didn't rob a bank. Obama will probably want to give them their Miranda rights. I guess we’ll see if Obama’s foreign policy credentials are up to the challenge. We know where Taliban and Al Qaeda are hiding in Pakistan. All you have to do is wipe out the towns they are hiding including so called innocent civilians. That may sound cruel but will save many lives in the long run.

    February 10, 2009 at 12:21 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    @Mike in Syracuse – interesting comments. I am curious as to what objectives you would consider must be completed for us to "win" in Afghanistan. I haven't seen a good summary of goals and what it takes to reach those goals yet. Thanks.

    February 9, 2009 at 6:45 pm |
  3. Dan Stewart

    Mike
    "Cut and run" ? Seriously, given the absolutely massive issues facing this country do you not think its time to leave Iraq and stop flushing American blood and money down the drain? This was a war of choice that had nothing to do with national security and everything to do with a failed ideology. Thank God we have a Commander in Chief who has morals and intelligence to try and get us out of the worst US foreign policy decision in the nations history.

    February 9, 2009 at 5:57 pm |
  4. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Unlike Iraq where Obama will just cut and run, Afghanistan has to be won. If he leaves and the Taliban/Al Queda regain power, we are looking at a staging center for the next 9/11. Since the days of Alexander the Great, no outside force has ever been able to control afghanistan. I guess we'll see if Obama's foreign policy credentials are up to the challenge.

    February 9, 2009 at 5:08 pm |
  5. Julie San Diego, CA

    Holbrooke needs to talk to Greg Mortenson, director of the Central Asia Institute and author of "Three Cups of Tea". The people of that region don't want more US troops – they need stability. Taliban money is building infrastructure out there so the people are accepting the Taiban's presence.

    Until we can quell the heroin trade (poppy farms) and the money flowing into the Taliban from Saudi oil interests who share their same hardline Islamic doctrine, no amount of US military force is going to make a difference in that area. Musharraf may have been a bad guy, but at least he understood the situation.

    Doesn't the CIA have some crack plant geneticist who can devise a strain of poppies that produce sterile seeds?

    Sterile seeds means no poppy crop next year. Most of the hybrid tomatoes we eat have sterile seeds. It can't be that hard to do.

    February 9, 2009 at 3:03 pm |
  6. Maria

    President Obama need to think on what alternative measures need to be applied beside the military forces. Pakistanian tribes strongly supported Osama bin Laden.

    February 9, 2009 at 2:48 pm |
  7. Pati Mc

    Hello Peter,

    I willl be interested to hear what more you have to share regarding this issue on tonight's program. It is endlessly fascinating to me. Do you feel that the Obama admisnistration is on the correct path here?

    Yesterday I read two interesting articles in The Times pertaining to this issue. Namely the the Obama administration no longer holding Afghan President Karzai in the same esteem as the Bush Administration had and also a lengthy piece on Hilbrooke – his new appopintment and job description. I find it interesting that his job description has been especially created for him. He is a complex personality. Could he be what is needed to get the job done? Suppose we will find out. Apparently he has Hillary Clinton as a mentor.

    Thank you Peter, always appreciate your perspective.

    February 9, 2009 at 2:04 pm |
  8. Pati Mc

    Hello Peter,

    I willl be interested to hear what more you have to share regarding this issue on tonight's program. It is endlessly fascinating to me. Do you feel that the Obama admisnistration is on the correct path here?

    Yesterday I read two interesting articles in The Times pertaining to this issue. Namely the the Obama administration no longer holding Afghan President Karzai in the same esteem as the Bush Administration had and also a lengthy piece on Hilbrooke – his new appopintment and job description. I find it interesting that his job description has been especially created for him. He is a complex personality. Could he be what is needed to get the job done? Suppose we will find out. Apparently he has Hillary Clinton as a mentor.

    Thank you Peter, always appreciate your perspective.

    February 9, 2009 at 2:03 pm |