Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another Misreported War

Like I've said, I don't see the evidence that we are losing in Afghanistan. The argument that we are seems mostly to be about providing an acceptable excuse to abandon Iraq in order to provide more forces for Afghanistan.

This writer doesn't see the evidence for losing, either, after visiting Afghanistan:

But after a week spent shuttling between Kabul, Kandahar and Nangarhar province (in sight of Tora Bora), I found the notion of "losing Afghanistan" to be, at a minimum, overblown. Afghanistan has 34 provinces. Twenty-nine of them are more or less at peace, more or less better off than they were six years ago, and more or less governed by someone their own people can live with.

That leaves five provinces that are the country's belt of real insecurity. Together with the adjacent provinces in Pakistan, these form what is sometimes called Pashtunistan, in reference to the ethnic group from which the Taliban sprang. In many ways it's another country. But even here the evidence that it is being "lost" is slight.

But what about that change in tactics we've read about that portends imminent disaster for us?

"It used to be a Taliban trademark that they wanted to stand and fight," says Maj. Gen. Robert Cone. "Now we're seeing more asymmetric attacks." In other words, the increase in terrorism is a sign of the insurgency's weakness, not its strength. Last year's killing of Mullah Dadullah, sometimes described as "the backbone of the Taliban," has also had its effect, including what one Western official describes as "the promotion of mid-level leaders at odds with al Qaeda."

This isn't to say that the insurgency is close to being defeated, especially not when its safe havens across the border have been all but blessed by the new, less confrontational Pakistani government. But it does mean the insurgency can be tamed, a thought that ought to comfort Gen. David Petraeus as he assumes command of both the Iraqi and Afghan theaters. Not only that, it can be tamed in roughly the same way.

I agree. Any notion that the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan relies on lumping in their gains in Pakistan. Likewise, any al Qaeda gains come from their decision to redirect resources from Iraq where they are losing to Pakistan which still provides them with a sanctuary. And the Taliban's change in tactics represents getting the snot kicked out of them, as I've noted.

Ten thousand splintered Taliban and assorted jihadis motivated by drug profits or dreams of the caliphate fight 70,000 US and Coalition troops plus 70,000 Afghan troops. Add in Afghan police and tribes that resist the Taliban and al Qaeda, and there is no reason to panic over our position.

We must learn to cope with the regional war that straddles the Afghan-Pakistan border, but we shouldn't put too many troops into landlocked Afghanistan where an interruption of the land supply lines would spell a disaster for our forces.

Our press has gotten Iraq wrong, including the bizarre efforts to portray Sadr as the victor of Knight's Charge. So don't put too much confidence in the conventional wisdom about Afghanistan.