… what is depressing about the situation in Afghanistan is not that it has suddenly gotten much worse but that it steadily fails to get better. By the time U.S. forces left Vietnam, the South Vietnamese army had at least proved itself capable of holding ground against its enemy, albeit with massive U.S. air support. In Afghanistan, by contrast, district after district in the country’s troubled south is falling, in effect, under Taliban control. Meanwhile, in the Western nations with troops here, public support for the war is waning.
Would 40,000 more troops turn this around? They would buy time, provided the time is well used. But the real currency of counterinsurgency is not military strength but durability. A person will be more eager to be friends with a neighbor who will still be around in 20 years to repay any favor or grudge. The Taliban offers this. The U.S. does not. The Afghan government might.
The struggle in Afghanistan is all about Afghans sizing each other up; foreigners are mainly just bystanders. [continued…]
In the light of several incidents or alleged plots that have been in the news in recent months — the Fort Hood shootings and the break-up of a terrorist ring in Colorado — it is appropriate to be re-examine the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland, and how the debate over troop levels in Afghanistan might affect it.
The most important patterns in international terrorism, with particular reference to threats to the U.S. homeland, in the eight years since the 9/11 attacks can be summarized in two trends pointing in different directions. The first is that the group that accomplished 9/11, al Qaeda, is — although still a threat — less capable of pulling off something of that magnitude than it was in 2001. This is possible in large part because of a variety of measures that the outrage of the American public made politically possible in a way that was not possible before 9/11. These include enhanced defensive security measures at home as well as expanded offensive efforts overseas that have eroded al Qaeda’s organizational infrastructure.
The other major pattern or trend is that the broader violent jihadist movement of which al Qaeda is a part is probably at least as large and strong as it was eight years ago. Here again, some of our own actions have been major contributors. The war in Iraq was one such action. It provided a jihadists’ training ground and networking opportunity similar to what the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan had provided two decades earlier. And in the words of the U.S. intelligence community, the war in Iraq became a cause célèbre for radical Islamists. [continued…]