Unwinnable war in Afghanistan?

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A poll commissioned by The Independent found 52 percent of Britons wanting to pull out and 58 percent believing the war is "unwinnable."

“Taliban Are Winning: U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Warns of Rising
Casualties.” Thus ran the startling headline on the front page of the
Wall Street Journal. The lead paragraph ran thus:

“The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top
American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy
in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in
heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar,
the insurgency’s spiritual home.”

Source for the story: Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself.

The general’s spokesman in Kabul was swift to separate him from
that headline and lead. They “go too far,” he said: The general does
not believe the Taliban are winning or “gaining the upper hand.”

Nevertheless, in the eighth year of America’s war, the newly
arrived field commander concedes that U.S. casualties, now at record
levels, will continue to be high or go higher, and that our primary
mission is no longer to run down and kill Taliban but to defend the
Afghan population.

What went wrong?

Though U.S. force levels are higher than ever, the U.S. military
situation is worse than ever. Though President Karzai is expected to
win re-election, he is regarded as the ineffectual head of a corrupt
regime. Though we have trained an Afghan army and police force of
220,000, twice that number are now needed. The Taliban are operating
not only in the east, but in the north and west, and are taking control
of the capital of the south, Kandahar.

NATO’s response to Obama’s request for more troops has been pathetic.

Europeans want to draw down the troops already sent. And Western opinion has soured on the war.

A poll commissioned by The Independent found 52 percent of
Britons wanting to pull out and 58 percent believing the war is

U.S. polls, too, have turned upside down.

A CBS-New York Times survey in late July found 33 percent saying
the war was going well and 57 percent saying it was going badly or very
badly. In a CNN poll in early August, Americans, by 54 percent to 41
percent, said they oppose the Afghan war that almost all Americans
favored after 9/11 and Obama said in 2008 was the right war for America
to fight.

The president is now approaching a decision that may prove as
fateful for him and his country as was the one made by Lyndon Johnson
to send the Marines ashore at Da Nang in December 1965.

Obama confronts a two-part question:

If, after eight years of fighting, the Taliban is stronger, more
capable and closer to victory than it has ever been, what will it cost
in additional U.S. troops, casualties, years and billions to turn this
around? And what is so vital to us in that wilderness land worth
another eight years of fighting, bleeding and dying, other than
averting the humiliation of another American defeat?

From Secretary Gates to Gen. Petraeus, U.S. military and
political leaders have been unanimous that the Afghan war does not lend
itself to a military victory. Unfortunately, the Taliban does seem to
believe in a military victory and triumphal return to power, and
imposing upon the United States the same kind of defeat their fathers
imposed upon the Soviet Union.

Whatever we may say of them, Taliban fighters have shown a
greater willingness to die for a country free of us Americans than our
Afghan allies have shown to die for the future we Americans envision
for them.

In days, McChrystal is to provide the president with an assessment of what will be required for America to prevail.

Almost surely, the general’s answer will be that success will
require thousands more U.S. troops, billions more dollars, many more
years of casualties. And if Obama yet believes this is a war of
necessity we cannot lose, and he must soldier on, his decision will
sunder his party and country, and put at risk his presidency.

If he refuses to deepen the U.S. commitment, it is hard to see
how the United States can avoid what is at best a bloody stalemate.

But if he chooses to cut America’s losses and get out, Obama
risks a strategic debacle that will have our enemies rejoicing and open
him up to the charge that he, the first African-American president,
lost the war that America began as retribution for 9/11 and fought to
prevent a second 9/11.

Had we gone into Afghanistan in 2001, knocked over the Taliban,
driven out al-Qaida and departed, we would not be facing what we do

But we were seduced by the prospect of converting a backward
tribal nation of 25 million, which has resisted every empire to set
foot on its inhospitable soil, into a shining new democracy that would
be a model for the Islamic world.

Now, whatever Obama decides, we shall pay a hellish price for the hubris of the nation-builders.


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