How to win in Afghanistan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

OKABUL, Afghanistan — ur Fox News “War Sto­ries” team is clean­ing our gear and pack­ing up to go home. The spe­cial-op­er­a­tions teams that “hosted” us for a half­dozen care­fully planned and ex­e­cuted raids against the Tal­iban have show­ered us with patches, “chal­lenge coins” and me­men­tos ac­cu­mu­lated since we ar­rived last month. We even got to take show­ers. While on op­er­a­tions, we’ve shot hours of video­tape of their backs and legs and on their bases; we’ve taken hun­dreds of pho­tos — with their cam­eras be­cause we’re not al­lowed to show most of their faces.

On our last night “in coun­try,” we sat down with them in their op­er­a­tions cen­ter to re­view the footage we had shot to en­sure that what­ever we put on the air in the days ahead would nei­ther jeop­ar­dize al­lied lives nor di­vulge forth­com­ing op­er­a­tions.

While we were scan­ning through the tapes, one of our hosts in­formed us that The Wash­ing­ton Post had pub­lished a slightly redacted ver­sion of Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal’s 66-page classified as­sess­ment on where we are headed in Afghanistan.

The Post’s breath­less head- line: “McChrys­tal: More Forces or Mis­sion Fail­ure; Top U.S. Com­man­der for Afghan War Calls Next 12 Months Decisive.” The ar­ti­cle con­tin­ues, “The top U.S. and NATO com­man­der in Afghanistan warns in an ur­gent, con­fi­den­tial as­sess­ment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eightyear con­flict ‘will likely re­sult in fail­ure.’ “

Within hours of pub­li­ca­tion of the “as­sess­ment,” the camp was buzzing with spec­u­la­tion that if Gen. McChrys­tal did not re­ceive the troops and re­sources he needed, he would re­sign. It was a ru­mor the pop­u­lar gen­eral quickly quashed, but the very fact that it spread so quickly in­di­cates how un­cer­tain things are here in the shad­ows of the Hindu Kush.

Much of the grow­ing am­biva­lence here in Afghanistan is the con­se­quence of the deeply flawed pres­i­den­tial elec­tions — and a sig­nif­i­cant spike in U.S. ca­su­al­ties. No­body here seems to be­lieve that the Aug. 20 bal­lot was a fair con­test — and most ob­servers ap­pear to view the gov­ern­ment of Hamid Karzai as hope­lessly cor­rupt.

The jump in U.S. ca­su­al­ties — mostly caused by send­ing coali­tion forces into ar­eas that have been Tal­iban safe havens — is ir­refutable. Un­for­tu­nately, the White House is broad­cast­ing mixed sig­nals that aid and abet the Tal­iban hope that the U.S. and our al­lies will sim­ply go away and leave the coun­try to them.

In a March 27 speech — his last un­equiv­o­cal state­ment on the war — Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced that the United States and NATO were in­tent on pur­su­ing a “coun­terin­sur­gency strat­egy” that is “fully re­sourced.” He also ap­proved the de­ploy­ment of an ad­di­tional 21,000 U.S. troops by the end of this year — bring­ing to­tal U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan to 68,000.

Now, all that ap­par­ently is up for re­con­sid­er­a­tion within the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion — in­clud­ing Gen. McChrys­tal’s re­quest for more “ur­gently needed com­bat power” to pur­sue the pre­vi­ously en­dorsed “coun­terin­sur­gency strat­egy.”

That ad­di­tional com­bat power is un­likely to come from NATO. This week, Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni — re­act­ing to the mur­der of six Ital­ian sol­diers by a sui­cide bomber in Kabul — an­nounced that it was “time for all of us to get out of Afghanistan.”

Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton am­pli­fied the dis­cord by sug­gest­ing that more U.S. troops are not the an­swer. In a PBS in­ter­view, she claimed, “There are other as­sess­ments from very ex­pert mil­i­tary an­a­lysts who have worked coun­terin­sur­gen­cies that are the ex­act op­po­site” of Gen. McChrys­tal’s. That has to make the Tal­iban lead­er­ship, hid­ing out in caves along the Afghanistan-Pak­istan, bor­der feel all warm and fuzzy.

Here’s the bot­tom line, based on months in the field with U.S. and NATO troops and Afghanistan’s fledg­ling se­cu­rity forces: This is a fight we can — and must — win. It is a clas­si­cal coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign — not rocket sci­ence. Suc­cess re­quires U.S., NATO and coali­tion forces to pro­tect the Afghan peo­ple from the Tal­iban while we train and equip suf­fi­cient num­bers of Afghan sol­diers and po­lice to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own se­cu­rity.

To ac­com­plish that mis­sion, more U.S. and coali­tion com­bat troops and train­ers — and the air­lift to move them around and re­sup­ply them — will have to be sent to Afghanistan.

We also des­per­ately need bet­ter hu­man in­tel­li­gence on the Tal­iban and their sup­port­ers. From what we have seen on this trip, that last re­quire­ment is be­ing met — not by the al­lied mil­i­tary or in­tel­li­gence agen­cies but by spe­cial agents and in­tel­li­gence spe­cial­ists of the U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

DEA op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan are an un­told suc­cess story. In the year since we were last here, the tiny agency has be­gun de­liv­er­ing su­pe­rior hu­man in­tel­li­gence, anal­y­sis, mo­bil­ity and fire­power to the fight. Its abil­ity to use lo­cal in­for­mants to ver­ify other in­tel­li­gence is un­par­al­leled — and brings “value added” to ev­ery op­er­a­tion it leads. Be­cause the Tal­iban are heav­ily de­pen­dent on opium for fi­nanc­ing their in­sur­gency, the DEA has be­come a “force mul­ti­plier” for Gen. McChrys­tal. Be­fore pulling the plug on our mis­sion in Afghanistan, the White House ought to lis­ten to the “other coun­terin­sur­gency ex­perts” — at the DEA.

Oliver North is the host of War Sto­ries on the Fox News Chan­nel, the au­thor of Amer­i­can He­roes, and the founder and honorary chair­man of Free­dom Al­liance.

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