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May 12th, 2009
11:38 PM ET

The strategic debate over Afghanistan

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more about the situation in Afghanistan on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

A U.S. soldier on patrol in Khost province in February 2009.

A U.S. soldier on patrol in Khost province in February 2009.

George Friedman
Global Intelligence Report

After U.S. airstrikes killed scores of civilians in western Afghanistan this past week, White House National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones said the United States would continue with the airstrikes and would not tie the hands of U.S. generals fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has cautioned against using tactics that undermine strategic U.S. goals in Afghanistan — raising the question of what exactly are the U.S. strategic goals in Afghanistan. A debate inside the U.S. camp has emerged over this very question, the outcome of which is likely to determine the future of the region.

On one side are President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a substantial amount of the U.S. Army leadership. On the other side are Petraeus — the architect of U.S. strategy in Iraq after 2006 — and his staff and supporters. An Army general — even one with four stars — is unlikely to overcome a president and a defense secretary; even the five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur couldn’t pull that off. But the Afghan debate is important, and it provides us with a sense of future U.S. strategy in the region.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Global 360° • Pakistan • Taliban
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    If Obama does not think Afghanistan is "winnable" then why waste the time to send more troops there? Before we commit more troops we ought to at least define our quantifiable goals to be achieved so we can measure our progress towards a end that will help us determine if and when we can leave. I hate the thought that the Taliban may be left in power in Afghanistan. To me, that makes the initial sacrifices the military made when we first went into Afghanistan, meaningless. The Taliban and al Queada then worked together – what is to keep that from happening again if the US accepts the Taliban in the Afghani political arena and leaves...I'm afraid that after we are gone from Afghanistan the situation there will revert back to what it was before we ever went. Obama and his folks need to meet with the military and come up with goals that we can live with in the long term and not just something to get us out quickly now so Obama can say he fulfilled his campaign promise. Fulfilling a campaign promise in the end is not worth it, if it leaves the US more vulnerable to terrorists than it was before.

    May 12, 2009 at 6:19 pm |
  2. Michael C. McHugh

    First, someone has to define winning in Afghanistan. Obviously, if the goal is to create some kind of nice, modern social democracy like Denmark, then it can't be won in 100 years–and perhaps never. If the goal is just to deny it as a base for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, using unconventional methods, low intensity war, special forces, combined with social and economic development at the grassroots level, then that probably can be done in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan–in time. Obviously, sending very large conventional forces to those countries would not be possible or desirable, for we would then be the alien invaders and outsiders, and the other side would rally the population against us in the name of religion and nationalism. I guess that leaves us with the small unit, unconventional strategy, combined with development, as the only one that at least offers a chance of winning.

    Is there another alternative, short of walking away completely? And even that should be considered, of course, and discussed seriously, as it was not with South Vietnam in say 1954-65–the last real chance to walk away before escalation made it very difficult. What would the consequences be for just walking away from Afghanistan? I'm not advocating it, since I don't want Islamic fascists o have a base, but it should be discussed now rather than later, although doing it would be as hard for Obama politically as LBJ thought it would be for him in 1965.

    May 12, 2009 at 5:56 pm |