Feature

Afghanistan: A war without end?

The mission in Afghanistan is “infinitely harder” than the one in Iraq, and popular support for the war is dwindling. 

The war in Afghanistan can’t be won, said Leslie Gelb in The New York Times. President Obama is sending 17,000 more U.S. troops to that fragmented country to bolster a losing fight against the Taliban and other Islamic extremists, but that mission is “infinitely harder” than achieving some stability in Iraq. There, the Islamic extremists were largely foreign fighters or disgruntled members of the minority Sunni sect; in Afghanistan, most of the Taliban are Pashtuns, the country’s majority tribe. After their raids, Taliban fighters easily evade our troops by slipping across the border to Pakistan. Every year, coalition troop deaths rise, and this year the toll jumped 27 percent. Why keep sacrificing American lives to pursue an “unattainable” goal—eliminating the Taliban? Our only realistic goal is to use airstrikes, drone attacks, and Special Forces missions to “contain and deter” the extremists there, so they can’t use the nation as a base for terrorist attacks on other nations.

You must be mad, said Max Boot, Frederick Kagan, and Kimberly Kagan in The Weekly Standard. Withdrawing our troops would hand Islamic extremism its biggest coup since Sept. 11. If you’d been in Afghanistan, as we were recently, you’d find that much of the country “remains relatively secure,” with the violence concentrated along the porous border with Pakistan. When insurgent groups attack, they almost always suffer “devastating losses” to the superior firepower of U.S. and coalition troops. Our troops can fashion a peaceful, stable regime in Afghanistan, run by the Afghans themselves—who emphatically do not want to return to Taliban rule. “But only if they have the popular support back home to finish what we started in 2001.”  

Popular support, though, is already dwindling, said Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. On the Left, you’re hearing the now-familiar cry that Afghanistan is “another Vietnam,” which is what liberal pundits also called Iraq, the Balkans, and every war since the 1970s. Afghanistan may never become a Westerner’s idea of paradise, but since the U.S. military toppled the Taliban from power shortly after 9/11, our achievement has been “in what Afghanistan has not become: a safe haven for some of the worst people on Earth.” Keeping the Taliban on the run should continue to be our mission there—unless, of course, the Left gets its way, and we pull out, as we did in Vietnam. “The sequel to this movie, by the way, is called The Killing Fields.

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