November 12th, 2008
12:45 PM ET

Letter to Obama - How to rescue war in Afghanistan

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst. His most recent book is "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader." This commentary is based, in part, on an paper Bergen wrote for the New America Foundation, where he is a senior fellow, and an article he wrote for The New Republic in September, "A Man, A Plan, Afghanistan."

Peter Bergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN National Security Analyst

Sir, during the election campaign, you often said that getting Afghanistan and Pakistan right and ending the threat from al Qaeda were vital for American national interests.

In an effort to have an effective policy to do that, it is important to define the greatest challenges facing the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order of importance. They are:

  • Eliminating the safe haven al Qaeda enjoys on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
  • Providing security to the Afghan population.
  • Eliminating the growing tactical threat posed by the Taliban on both sides of the border.
  • Providing tangible reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan and in the tribal border regions of Pakistan.
  • Ending, or at least curtailing, the opium/heroin trade in Afghanistan.
  • Expanding the legitimate, largely agricultural economy in Afghanistan.
  • Holding fair and secure presidential elections in 2009 in Afghanistan.

To achieve these goals, the following eight steps must be taken within Afghanistan...


Filed under: Barack Obama • Global 360° • Peter Bergen • Raw Politics
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Joshua W. Siegel

    This song is dedicated to Barack Obama. It is called Turn Of The Century by Crimson TimeBomb. You can hear it on http://WWW.MYSPACE.COM/CRIMSONTIMEBOMB1

    November 12, 2008 at 11:11 pm |
  2. Bev

    Peter, Great post!

    jim, your negativity on all the blogs is getting to be boring. Obama has said all along what he will do with Iraq and Afghanistan. You keep talking about his "broken promises". What broken promises???? He's not even in office yet. Get over it. Blame your party not Obama. I truly think you are terrified because you Obama will do a MUCH better job than the idiot in there now.

    Bev, . . . army brat

    November 12, 2008 at 3:02 pm |
  3. commonsense

    To Jim,

    You have no idea what Obama will or will not do. You did not vote for him, you did not follow his campaign or his career. In other words you don't know Obama. So you should speak of what you know.... and the pages of your blog will be blank.

    November 12, 2008 at 2:36 pm |
  4. Zully


    I agree with Cindy, great post.


    you are exactly what hope is not, - extreme bitterness. Instead of inserting your negative comment, propose a plan. Be productive and swallow a positive pill.

    November 12, 2008 at 2:24 pm |
  5. Joshua Hamilton

    Overall I agree with Mr. Bergen's assessments, but with a few caveats:

    – The civilian casualties should be reduced and controlled, but will never be completely eliminated. This is especially true against an enemy that hides itself amongst the civilian population. Also, I would question the validity of the 34% quoted as saying that "civilians have been killed in the area in which they lived". How accurate are these polls? How many are referring to a "wedding party" we bombed, which suspiciously was attended by all adult males carrying weapons?
    Also, ground fire is not inherently more precise than air strikes. A soldier with a .50 caliber machine gun can cause quite a bit of collateral damage and civilian deaths, if it isn't controlled properly. Focus less on the type of weapon system being used and more on the need for good control and accountability.
    – Taking the control of the operation, particularly in lights of the ineffectiveness of our NATO allies, is going to be politically unpopular. It is true, though, that this has been a detrimental factor. The unspoken secret of the OIF vs. OEF comparisons of effectiveness is that unilateral as opposed to multilateral operations are simpler to control and have a much greater likelihood of success. Military operations need a clear, strong leader. Absent any other, this falls to the United States.

    Overall, though, it's a good, blunt assessment.

    MAJOR Joshua Hamilton, student, Command and General Staff College, ILE, Ft. Belvoir, VA

    The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government

    November 12, 2008 at 2:20 pm |
  6. Patrick, Belfast, Ireland.

    Surely this is the time to meet, and this will be hard to swallow, and sit down and talk with ALL THE PROTAGANISTS , involved in all the wars in the Middle East. Are we to forever beat the war drums with no end in sight? This is the time of year when we remember the tens of millions of people who died in the First World War, the Second, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and now the slaughter in the middle East. Winston Churchill, although I wouldn't have agreed with him politically, once said: " Jaw Jaw is better than war war, " and are we to endure another twenty years of mayhem and all that that brings: bankruptcy, children being slaughtered and who have no future and the Palestinian/Israeli problem, that is at the heart of this whole bloody mess? Obama was like a breath of fresh air when he was elected, hopefully he will not turn into a blinding sandstorm. You don't talk and make friends with your friends, you talk and make friends with your perceived enemies...surely worth a try?

    November 12, 2008 at 2:05 pm |
  7. Ahmad Wain

    Peter – Please stop doing this secutiry analyst work as your analysis is far from the practical realities.

    Two words for Obama to solve Afghanistan and Pakistan. GET OUT.

    But no, US will follow its agenda of imperial hegemony. Peter you seem hesitant to blame US supplies and policy in Afghanistan helping the opium cultivation. Why? You dont feel the need to clean up the crime in US by killing people as most of us are against capital punishment but bombing people innocent or guilty in a Muslim country seems right to you.

    Thanks for ruining my day. Now please stop. Please.

    November 12, 2008 at 1:59 pm |
  8. jim

    Peter: Obama will not do a thing to rescue the war in Afghanistan. He will make it worse. When he is sworn in office, you wil see that this campaign promise will not be kept along with others.

    November 12, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  9. Cindy

    Great post!! I hope that Obama seriously considers your steps to win the war in Afghanistan. You have been there and done that and are extremely knowledgeable on this subject whereas he isn't. He needs to listen to the ones who are on the ground or who have been on the ground there and not just the politician here who have no clue.

    I hope that he was serious and truthful in wanting to win this thing and not just blowing smoke. The last thing we need is someone who just wants the title but not the job of making hard decisions.


    November 12, 2008 at 1:04 pm |