Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Afghan Taliban have evolved. Can the US "win"?

I link to an excellent - and very sobering - report from a top journalist who notes how the Taliban have both expanded and evolved as a political organization. She also makes the very telling point that many young men are joining the Taliban, not so much for Islamist reasons, but rather as freedom fighters who want to drive the US and NATO troops from their homeland. And the Taliban seem to have enough money and organization to give them hope that they can perhaps achieve that.

Meanwhile, Afghan president Karzai's popularity has plummeted (and his now planned meeting with Sarah Palin is not going to help him with that at all). His days are likely very numbered, and whatever days he has left, he basically has become not much more than the mayor of Kabul, who gets trotted out of his compound for the occasional command performance.

All of this, of course, begs the question: How can the US succeed in Afghanistan (or for that matter, Pakistan)? There really are very few troops available to be sent there, without a major drawdown in Iraq, the re-instituting of the draft here in the US, or other countries stepping up with more troops - none of which is going to happen. An Iraq-type "surge" is not going to work in Afghanistan (not to say that's it's really working in Iraq, in terms of achieving the ultimate goal of political reconciliation); indeed, in reading Bob Woodward's latest book, I came across a new term (one that the military brass use themselves) to describe what sending more US troops to Afghanistan would effectively be: a "troop sump." There really is no realistic path to "victory" in Afghanistan, as far as the US is concerned. Nor, for that matter, is there a simple straightforward way to define what "victory" would even be.

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