Obama’s Afghan fail­ure

Fire up the he­li­copters on the U.S. Em­bassy roof in Kabul

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy in Afghanistan is col­laps­ing and can­not be saved. A new strat­egy is nec­es­sary to cope with the com­ing Afghan civil war.

Re­cent events have shaken the Afghan peo­ple’s con­fi­dence in the coali­tion. Rev­e­la­tions about im­prop­erly dis­posed-of Ko­rans and other re­li­gious writ­ings caused a week of ri­ot­ing last month. This week, the White House faced fall­out from an al­leged week­end ram­page by a sol­dier that left 16 Afghan civil­ians dead. These events by them­selves shouldn’t be game-chang­ing, but they come at a time when lack of suc­cess on the ground and the pres­sure of do­mes­tic pol­i­tics have prompted Pres­i­dent Obama to seek a quick exit from what he once called a “war of ne­ces­sity.”

On Wed­nes­day, Mr. Obama con­firmed ru­mors of an ac­cel­er­ated Afghanistan with­drawal. The orig­i­nal time­line set the han­dover for ma­jor combat op­er­a­tions to the Afghan lead at the end of 2014, but now the trans­fer will take place in 2013, with 2014 set for com­plet­ing the NATO ma­jor force with­drawal. Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai upped the ante by call­ing on coali­tion forces to leave Afghan vil­lages and re­turn to their heav­ily for­ti­fied bases. This move, even more than the hurry-up with­drawal timetable, sig­nals the fail­ure of coali­tion strat­egy.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s surge plan for Afghanistan was based on the suc­cess­ful Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion coun­terin­sur­gency model used in Iraq, which Mr. Obama op­posed. Plac­ing troops out among the pop­u­lace to guar­an­tee safety and build re­la­tion­ships was in­te­gral to the strat­egy. Afghan lead­er­ship no longer sup­ports that.

The Tal­iban, mean­while, sus­pended U.s.-bro­kered talks be­cause of “the shaky, er­ratic and vague stand­point” of the Amer­i­can ne­go­tia­tors. Lit­tle has been re­vealed about the se­cre­tive meet­ings, but the Tal­iban said it would be will­ing to re­turn to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble once the U.S. envoys clar­ify Washington’s po­si­tion and agree to meet prom­ises re­gard­ing ne­go­ti­ated prisoner ex­changes “in­stead of wast­ing time.” The Tal­iban also may sense that there is no point in talk­ing to White House rep­re­sen­ta­tives be­cause the “for­eign in­vaders” will be gone soon.

Mr. Obama won’t re­peat in Afghanistan what Mr. Bush ac­com­plished with the surge in Iraq. The Afghan strat­egy an­nounced in De­cem­ber 2009 is no longer rel­e­vant. The fu­ture in Afghanistan is not sta­bil­ity or paci­fi­ca­tion but all­out civil war. The Afghans know that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends to leave the coun­try as soon as pos­si­ble and are plan­ning ac­cord­ingly. The Karzai gov­ern­ment, pro­vin­cial lead­ers, tribal chiefs and or­di­nary vil­lagers have to make key de­ci­sions about who their friends are, who their en­e­mies are and whether it makes more sense to pre­pare to fight or seek a sep­a­rate peace with the Tal­iban.

Whether Mr. Obama re­al­izes it or not, crit­i­cal events are mov­ing ahead with­out him. Ei­ther the United States needs a re­vised strat­egy for that trou­bled coun­try that im­me­di­ately takes ac­count of the new re­al­i­ties, or we should ready the he­li­copters for the em­bassy roof.

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