How's it going in Afghanistan?
So, how IS it going in Afghanistan? Are we winning or losing the war? Or the peace? I see no pat answer. No 10-second sound bite. We are winning some hearts, but losing other minds. We are bringing a sense of peace to parts of the country where we have soldiers at least, but the Taliban is still intimidating whole towns, elsewhere, with death threats posted on residential doors at night, with school burnings, ambushes and roadside bombs. We have defeated Taliban and al-Qaida militants in dozens upon dozens of battles this year, but their suicide bombers keep on coming – and exploding – from inside the Pakistan border, where they are trained and equipped.
Some have called this ‘reaching a tipping point’. Perhaps that’s the best answer: Afghanistan IS balanced between good and bad, war and peace, winning and losing. Some days, in some ways, look very positive indeed. But winning in Afghanistan still appears no better than a 50-50 bet. It could go either way. There are still too many reasons why Afghans could see a low-burn guerilla war that kills thousands of civilians – as well as several hundred American and allied soldiers - every year for years to come.
Sobering stuff, but unsurprising. As long as the tribal regions of Pakistan provide a safe haven for Taliban forces, the war will never actually end no matter how much military success we have. The best we can probably hope for is a low-level conflict that will increasingly be fought by Afghan security forces rather than NATO troops.
Many of the same descriptions could be applied to Iraq. But there is at least one key difference between Afghanistan and Iraq: There is far more political resolve to fight a long war in Afghanistan because the government -- weak and corrupt though it may be -- supports us, and we didn't invade the country under false pretenses.
We also don't have sectarian violence to deal with because there are no sects: nearly the entire country is Sunni (84%) Muslim (99%). The worst split is ethnic: majority Pashtuns and minority Tajiks, Uzbeks and others. But those splits aren't as deep or as pathological as the bloody scrimmage going on in Iraq.
It also shows how much more politically sustainable a war is when we're not doing nearly all the fighting ourselves. A justifiable war attracts meaningful international help, which spreads the burden of combat and builds reinforcing political supports.
The fighting in Afghanistan demonstrates that we have the political and military will to fight a long war when the need and justification are made apparent. And Iraq demonstrates what happens when the government fails to make such a case.
Iraq, afghanistan, politics, midtopia