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October 14, 2009

Slate's Fred Kaplan Discovers "Least Bad Option" We're Already Adopting

During the 2004 election the Editorial Staff often lampooned the exploits of the Junior Senator from Massachusetts, whose stock response to just about any question was always, "I have a plan for that!"

On further examination, M. Kerry's "plan" more often than not proved to be exactly what George Bush had been proposing for months. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose:

An alternative approach, then, is to protect not all of Afghanistan but just a few of its largest cities—say, Kabul, Kandahar, and Ghazni—and to throw at them all the resources they can absorb: military, civilian, financial, the works.

The purpose of this would be twofold.

The first would be to prevent the Taliban from taking over the central government, which is the main reason for having Western troops there at all.

The second would be to create "demonstration zones" for the eyes of Afghans all over the country. If these zones really can be secured and supplied, if they are seen as enclaves of relative peace and prosperity, then Afghans everywhere will want the same thing and reject the Taliban (whose strength today stems less from their fundamentalist ideology than from their ability to provide order and services).

Meanwhile, under this alternative approach, U.S. and NATO forces would keep training Afghan soldiers and police, while special-ops troops and air power would continue to take out "high-value targets" such as top Taliban fighters (even pure counterinsurgency advocates don't think counterterrorist tactics should be cut off completely).

It's hard to say how many more U.S. troops would be needed for this alternative approach—but almost certainly far fewer than 40,000.

Now why can't our military learn to think outside the box like the smart, smart folks at SlateMag?

The U.S. military is starting to pull its troops from some of the more remote areas of Afghanistan. The decision is part of a counterinsurgency strategy by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, but there are concerns that the Taliban could capitalize on the move.

The U.S. military prefers to call McChrystal's decision to move troops from some of the more remote parts of Afghanistan a "repositioning" of forces. Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for coalition forces in Afghanistan, says McChrystal's strategy places a premium on protecting the population, especially in towns and cities where the Taliban has made inroads.

"Gen. McChrystal has been discussing with his commanders how better to protect the population, not just necessarily hold pieces of land," says Shanks. "We're more concerned with repositioning forces across the country in order to better isolate the insurgents from the population."

Of course, every plan has its downside:

...Nuristan has rarely been controlled by any Afghan government.

"It's a very, very rugged terrain. You have elevations above 10,000 feet. You have very sparsely populated remote valley regions," he says. "In some of those valleys, the inhabitants ... speak a separate language from the rest of their neighbors."

Fussell says there are no paved road networks in many parts of Nuristan. The U.S. military has built roads in some of the neighboring provinces, but faced resistance in Nuristan, where many communities want to remain isolated as part of a defense strategy: They don't want strangers coming into their area.

Foreign troops probably could have stayed out of the area altogether except that Nuristan shares a porous border with Pakistan — and there is a vast trail network heavily used by insurgents.

What Kaplan never bothers to explain is how withdrawing to the 3 cities and allowing the Taliban and insurgency free run of the rest of Afghanistan serves the President's stated objective of denying al Qaeda safe harbor in Afghanistan?

Hint: it doesn't. Last time I checked, Osama bin Laden didn't plan and execute the 9/11 attacks from Kabul, Kandahar, or Ghazni. But hey - if Osama's accommodating enough to plan and launch his next attack from an undisclosed location deep in the heart of ISAP HQ, we'll have him right where we want him.

Posted by Cassandra at October 14, 2009 10:29 AM

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Comments

An alternative approach, then, is to protect not all of Afghanistan but just a few of its largest cities—say, Kabul, Kandahar, and Ghazni—and to throw at them all the resources they can absorb: military, civilian, financial, the works.

Gee, that's *exactly* what the Soviets did in November of 1987 -- and, if you recall (which you *won't* if you're a Slate pundit), they pulled up stakes entirely in February of 1989...

Posted by: BillT at October 14, 2009 12:20 PM

The first would be to prevent the Taliban from taking over the central government, which is the main reason for having Western troops there at all.

Wrong. The main reason we have Western troops there is to root out al-Qaeda and kill it -- but in order to accomplish that end, we first need to keep the Taliban from regaining power.

Posted by: BillT at October 14, 2009 12:40 PM

I pick my brawls
And as many as I've licked, I've lost
But unless there's honor or a woman involved
Then to hell with you.
But if you're abused, or outnumbered
Then I'll throw in my hat
And let the devil pay the hindmost.

Posted by: Himself at October 14, 2009 12:42 PM

This is a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan. We retire to the big cities, declare success (whether true or not), then have a ceremony where we hand the keys to the city back to the local grandees. Obama can claim he made good on his promise to win the "Good war" for the right and ended the war for the left.

Meanwhile, in a cave far far away...

Posted by: vet66 at October 14, 2009 12:53 PM

I tend to agree with vet66 - we're effectively withdrawing now.

I honestly don't care much what we do at this point. I don't, however, think it's too much to ask to have our "strategy" align with our stated objectives.

When you ask men and women to put their lives on the line to prosecute your foreign policy, you shouldn't hamstring them or put them into a fight they can't win. If you're not serious, pull out.

It does our much vaunted "credibility" no good to publicly say one thing while privately making it impossible to succeed at that one thing.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 14, 2009 01:26 PM

I'm afraid I have to agree with vet66; I can't hear about this plan without thinking of the last helicopter leaving Saigon. And we all know what happened after we left Southeast Asia, especially in Cambodia. I realize McChrystal is trying to come up with some kind of a plan that he can execute with the resources he has, since it looks like he isn't getting any more, but I'm sure the enemy will not see this as anything but retreat.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at October 14, 2009 01:29 PM

"I realize McChrystal is trying to come up with some kind of a plan that he can execute with the resources he has, since it looks like he isn't getting any more, but I'm sure the enemy will not see this as anything but retreat."

They sure as hell will and we'll be subjected to (God forbid) another attack.

Posted by: Carrie at October 14, 2009 03:14 PM

"...I'm sure the enemy will not see this as anything but retreat."

The entire *world*, with the exception of the millionth-of-a-percent that views Obama as a deity, will see it as a retreat. Al-Q will flood the media with statements that it proves OBL was correct in his assessment of us, and then the next big attack *will* be set in motion.

Obie had better start mending fences with the CIA *now*...

Posted by: BillT at October 14, 2009 03:36 PM

"I honestly don't care much what we do at this point. I don't, however, think it's too much to ask to have our "strategy" align with our stated objectives.

When you ask men and women to put their lives on the line to prosecute your foreign policy, you shouldn't hamstring them or put them into a fight they can't win. If you're not serious, pull out."

Amen.
"Obie had better start...
Too late!

Shame we can't switch the channel. Many of us have seen this farce before and know the results which will come from a Dem controlled Congress and Whitehouse as surely as legislative sessions precede tax increases.

Posted by: bthun at October 14, 2009 03:50 PM

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