June 28, 2010


Reasons to be hopeful about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan (Michael O'Hanlon, June 26, 2010, Washington Post)

Several recent critiques paint only part of the picture, and they are often more wrong than right unless they are presented with greater nuance. Consider:

-- The "Kandahar offensive" is delayed. This complaint is strange: The U.S. troop buildup remains slightly ahead of schedule (95,000 soldiers are in Afghanistan, an increase of nearly 30,000 this year), and a major offensive in the classic sense was never promised in Kandahar. Some tactical operations there may be rescheduled this summer as U.S. reinforcements arrive -- but there is no fundamental deviation from the plan, which is to create a "rising tide of security" in Gen. Stanley McChrystal's still-relevant words.

-- Marja is a mess. The U.S. military erred in raising expectations about its big February operation in Marja, a midsize town in Helmand province where violence remains too high and Afghan governance too weak. But the trend in Helmand, where we have added a number of forces since 2009, is encouraging. Even Marja is slowly progressing. The military needs to do a better job documenting this progress. The province is in better shape than a year ago in terms of the return of commerce and agriculture and the reduction in violence against citizens.

-- There aren't enough trainers for Afghan security forces. Our allies have not quite met their promises, or our expectations, for additional trainers. But allies have deployed more than 5,000 additional combat troops this year, exceeding the pace expected. The number of U.S. trainers has risen, and the number of Afghan officers graduating from training has more than doubled since last year. Growth trajectories for the Afghan army and police remain on schedule. Perhaps most important, nearly 85 percent of Afghan army units are "partnered" with coalition units -- meaning that they plan, patrol, train and fight together. This is one of Gen. McChrystal's many positive legacies. In southern and eastern Afghanistan last month I saw many signs of the Afghan army's willingness to fight. The number of key districts where security conditions are at least tolerable, if not yet good, is up modestly. [...]

There are indeed weaknesses in U.S. strategy, including problems with the Afghan police and an inadequate plan to fight corruption. Gen. David Petraeus and military and civilian leaders should focus on these and other matters. But on balance, we have many assets and strengths in Afghanistan -- and better-than-even odds of leaving behind a reasonably stable place if we persevere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 28, 2010 4:13 PM
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