The War in Afghanistan: Can it be Won? - The Intrepid

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The War in Afghanistan: Can it be Won?

US Troops In Afghanistan
No, or at least not in the way the U.S. wants to win it.

The War in Afghanistan is not going well. Conditions are as bad as, or worse, than they were in 2001 and as the civilian and military death tolls mount, the Taliban is growing stronger. So far this year, 154 Americans have died in Afghanistan. The most since Operation Enduring Freedom began.

Afghanistan is where Iraq was in 2004-2005. The insurgency is growing and things are about to get really bad, says one NATO commander in Kabul.

The outgoing Bush Administration and incoming Obama Administration seem to agree. Bush has added 3,500 soldiers to the Afghanistan mission, and it’s expected that Obama will add more. Obama has told the U.S. public and Afghan President Hamid Karzai that defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan is a key priority.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan cannot be won. Establishing a working democracy in Afghanistan is an impossible task. The country has a rural economy, no infrastructure, and no cultural understanding of the Western-style institutions that are being thrust upon it.

But, despite these barriers, the West cannot abandon Afghanistan. If the West leaves, the Taliban will reassert itself and the country will again become a haven for terrorists. A Taliban controlled Afghanistan would also destabilize Pakistan. The only viable solution is to create a balance of power in the country between the central government, the warlords, Pakistan, and the Taliban. While this solution is hardly optimal, a stable balance of power would keep Afghanistan from destabilizing the rest of the region.

Any kind of balance will require negotiation with the Taliban, something U.S. and NATO officials have been reluctant to consider until recently. But, talking with the Taliban is easier said than done. The trick is to find and deal with the least ideologically intransigent members of the Taliban and break them away from the Islamist core. The Taliban is not a monolithic organization. It’s a grouping of tribes held together by violence and religion. Break away the weakest links and organization’s power will dwindle.

In any eventuality, the U.S. will likely be in Afghanistan for a long time to come. The Karzai government is going to need funding and military advisers to keep its enemies at bay. A balance of power might contain the violence, but it's unlikely to end.