War in Afghanistan con­tin­ues un­til enemy’s ide­ol­ogy is de­feated.

Un­til Is­lamist ide­ol­ogy is de­feated, the war will never end

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Jed Bab­bin Jed Bab­bin served as a deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense in the Ge­orge H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. He is a se­nior fel­low of the Lon­don Center for Pol­icy Re­search and the au­thor of five books in­clud­ing “In the Words of Our Ene­mies.”

About two weeks ago, Pres­i­dent Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity team fi­nally pre­sented their long-awaited strat­egy for Afghanistan. De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor H. R. McMaster and the rest of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s “prin­ci­pals com­mit­tee” briefed the pres­i­dent on their new strat­egy. Mr. Trump re­port­edly crit­i­cized them harshly and re­jected their en­tire plan be­cause it was a re­hash of the way we’ve fought the Afghanistan war, un­suc­cess­fully, for al­most 16 years. It re­port­edly in­cluded, for ex­am­ple, a pro­posal by Gen. McMaster for a troop in­crease with a four-year time­line that the pres­i­dent could pro­mote at an up­com­ing NATO sum­mit.

Months ago, Mr. Mat­tis told Congress that we aren’t win­ning in Afghanistan. In fact, we are stuck in a na­tion-build­ing quag­mire im­posed by Pres­i­dent Bush whose mis­take was com­pounded by Pres­i­dent Obama.

Mr. Trump had given Mr. Mat­tis the au­thor­ity to de­cide troop lev­els in Afghanistan. Plans were be­ing made to send sev­eral thou­sand to join the more than 8,000 al­ready there. That au­thor­ity ap­par­ently has been re­voked. The pres­i­dent was con­sid­er­ing a com­plete with­drawal from Afghanistan, send­ing the Pen­tagon and the Afghan gov­ern­ment into panic, and has since with­drawn from with­drawal.

Afghanistan seemed easy at first. We went to war in Oc­to­ber 2001, and in only a month drove the Tal­iban out of the cap­i­tal city of Kabul. But the Tal­iban have never been de­feated. Their at­tacks con­tinue al­most ev­ery­where in Afghanistan and they now re­port­edly con­trol about half the coun­try.

For 16 years we have been train­ing the Afghan gov­ern­ment how to func­tion and its army how to fight. About eight years ago we even sent thou­sands of pome­gran­ate trees along with Missouri farm­ers — na­tional guards­men — to give Afgha­nis the in­cen­tive to grow some­thing other than opium pop­pies. Noth­ing has worked.

In 16 years, we have suf­fered about 2,400 com­bat deaths in Afghanistan and spent over $1 tril­lion. Con­tin­u­ing the na­tion-build­ing charade will achieve noth­ing more than to spend more lives and trea­sure.

Mr. Trump’s idea of sim­ply with­draw­ing from Afghanistan re­flected an un­der­stand­able frus­tra­tion with fail­ure but it is mostly wrong.

If we with­draw our forces, Afghanistan would re­vert quickly to what it was be­fore 9-11. Nei­ther the Tal­iban nor al-Qaeda has been de­stroyed. ISIS has es­tab­lished large train­ing camps in Afghanistan. (The April use of the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan de­stroyed a large one.) They and other ter­ror­ist net­works will turn Afghanistan into a safe haven for ev­ery ter­ror­ist net­work that wants to com­mit at­tacks in the West.

Mr. Trump’s gen­er­als rose to high rank in the na­tion-build­ing era. With the ex­cep­tion of Gen. McMaster, who in­sists that there is no con­nec­tion be­tween Is­lam and ter­ror­ism, Mr. Trump’s teams are not ide­o­log­i­cally Mr. Obama’s gen­er­als. Nev­er­the­less, their think­ing is hob­bled by long im­mer­sion in na­tion-build­ing and by Mr. Trump’s fail­ure to set a pol­icy goal from which the gen­er­als can de­vise a strat­egy.

Mr. Trump should de­cide that goal, quickly and clearly, to in­clude both Afghanistan and neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, which has been covertly sup­port­ing a va­ri­ety of ter­ror­ist net­works in­clud­ing the Tal­iban. When he does so, he should make it clear to his team that ideas that have been re­jected be­fore are still open to adap­ta­tion.

Prin­ci­pal among them is the ide­o­log­i­cal war that the Is­lamists have waged against us since bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa pub­lished in a Lon­don news­pa­per. Messrs. Bush and Obama re­fused to fight the ide­o­log­i­cal war. Mr. Trump will have to face the fact that no mat­ter what else we do, we can­not win in Afghanistan or de­feat Is­lamist ter­ror­ism any­where else, un­less we de­feat the Is­lamist ide­ol­ogy.

In late 2009 vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den ad­vo­cated a “ter­ror over­watch” strat­egy. His plan would have re­jected the troop surge Mr. Obama au­tho­rized in fa­vor of in­creased train­ing of Afghan troops and greater use of drones and spe­cial forces to strike ter­ror­ist tar­gets. Mr. Trump is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing a ver­sion of the Bi­den idea.

Mr. Bi­den’s ap­proach had two fa­tal flaws. First, any use of drones and spe­cial forces has to rely on spe­cific, ac­tion­able in­tel­li­gence that is — or was at the time — in short sup­ply. Sec­ond, it re­lied on train­ing of Afghan forces, which had al­ready proven a fail­ure.

If our in­tel­li­gence is by now so greatly im­proved and can be sus­tained by spy satel­lites and spies on the ground, pieces of Mr. Bi­den’s ap­proach could be adapted to a new strat­egy. It would have to be ac­com­pa­nied by more Amer­i­can air­power than drones can pro­vide, and the com­mit­ment to that strat­egy would have to be ope­nended. Strik­ing tar­gets iden­ti­fied in both Afghanistan and Pak­istan would have to be done rou­tinely with­out re­stric­tive rules of en­gage­ment.

That would be the be­gin­ning of a strat­egy which could be com­pleted by a com­mit­ment to fight­ing the ide­o­log­i­cal war. The com­mit­ment would be enor­mous, pro­por­tional to the size of those na­tions.

It’s ques­tion­able whether our air and in­tel­li­gence forces have the abil­ity to sus­tain it for long. But it is the sort of risk we will have to take to pre­vent Afghanistan from be­ing the source of an­other at­tack as dev­as­tat­ing as 9-11. It’s the best we can do un­til we de­feat the enemy’s ide­ol­ogy. If we don’t, the war will never end.

If our in­tel­li­gence is by now so greatly im­proved and can be sus­tained by spy satel­lites and spies on the ground, pieces of Mr. Bi­den’s ap­proach could be adapted to a new strat­egy.

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