Dec 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 15 • By MAX BOOT
In any case, sending additional troops to Afghanistan would not necessarily fix the biggest vulnerabilities of our strategy—corruption and bad governance in Afghanistan, and terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. U.S. forces are beginning to address the former issue with steps such as barring Watan Risk Management, a firm affiliated with the Karzais, from bidding on American contracts. The issue of sanctuaries is more intractable; attempts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to cajole Pakistan into abandoning its proxies in the Taliban and the Haqqani network have clearly failed. Drone strikes have been more successful, but have been directed primarily at al Qaeda because that is all Islamabad will support. But we can make significant progress in Afghanistan nonetheless. After all, we are doing so now.
The biggest need is for more “enablers,” such as heavy-lift helicopters to move troops around this vast and mountainous country. The problem is that the administration has imposed a cap of 98,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan (plus another 3,000 that can be approved by the secretary of defense if the need is dire). So, if extra aviation units are sent, someone else has to leave. But there is little slack in a mission that has been chronically underresourced for years. The administration would do well to relax this cap, in line with the president’s promise on Thursday “to give our brave troops and civilians the strategy and resources they need to succeed.” The president, moreover, would be well-advised to spend more time explaining and defending the war to the American people.
But on the whole Obama is doing more than most conservatives expected he would—and certainly more than most in his party would like him to do. And Republicans, to their credit, are standing behind him. Far from disavowing this as “Obama’s war,” John Boehner released a statement last week declaring that “we must remain steadfast in our commitment to the counterinsurgency strategy our commanders on the ground have put in place.”
We are confident that our troops, notwithstanding the numerous obstacles in their path, can rout the Taliban—provided that they have support on the home front. Judging by Obama’s and Boehner’s statements, that support is there. The public at large remains skeptical but, as we saw in Iraq, their views can turn around if they see progress on the ground. And progress is starting to materialize.