The Blog

Why COIN Is the Only Option

3:25 PM, Sep 28, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Nobody took more guff from the left for backing the surge in Iraq than Michael O'Hanlon -- though O'Hanlon, of course, turned out to be right on the money in his analysis of the war there. Today O'Hanlon co-authors an op-ed with Bruce Riedel, the man who oversaw the Obama administration's first review of Afghanistan policy, arguing in favor of a robust counterinsurgency strategy rather than the over-the-horizon counterterrorism strategy favored by some on the left. The two write:

The fundamental reason that a counterterrorism-focused strategy fails is that it cannot generate good intelligence. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban know not to use their cellphones and satellite phones today, so our spy satellites are of little use in finding extremists. We need information from unmanned low-altitude aircraft and, even more, from people on the ground who speak the language and know the comings and goings of locals. But our Afghan friends who might be inclined to help us with such information would be intimidated by insurgent and terrorist forces into silence - or killed if they cooperated - because we would lack the ability to protect them under a counterterrorism approach....

The second reason a counterterrorism-oriented strategy would fail is that, if we tried it, we would likely lose our ability to operate unmanned aircraft where the Taliban and al-Qaeda prefer to hide. Why? If we pulled out, the Afghan government would likely collapse. The secure bases near the mountains of the Afghan-Pakistan border, and thus our ability to operate aircraft from them, would be lost. Our ability to go after Afghan resistance fighters would deteriorate. And the recent momentum we have established in going after Pakistani extremists would be lost...

Third, we would likely lose our allies with this approach. A limited mission offers nothing to the Afghans, whose country is essentially abandoned to the Taliban, or to the Pakistanis, who would similarly see this as the first step toward cut and run. The NATO allies would also smell in a "reduced" mission the beginning of withdrawal; some if not most might try to beat us to the exit.

Once the Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda will not be far behind.

On the one side we have the man who chaired the administration's first Afghan policy review as well as the man Obama picked to command U.S. forces there, General Stanley McChrystal. Joining them is Michael O'Hanlon, who argued for the surge in Iraq, General David Petraeus who commanded U.S. forces during the surge in Iraq, and Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. On the other side is...who? Joe Biden? If he'd had his way would have split Iraq into three countries and allowed them to play king of the mountain in blood-soaked civil war in the heart of the Middle East.

HT: Michael Crowley