Obama’s Afghan failure
Fire up the helicopters on the U.S. Embassy roof in Kabul
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.