Monday, May 10, 2010

Is President Obama's Afghanistan strategy working?

From The Washington Post, Sunday May 9, 2010

Topic A
Sunday, May 9, 2010
With Afghan President Hamid Karzai visiting Washington this week, The Post asked experts whether the surge in Afghanistan was working. Below are contributions from Erin M. Simpson, Gilles Dorronsoro, Kurt Volker, John Nagl, Thomas H. Johnson and Andrew J. Bacevich.


Member of the Afghan International Security Assistance Force's Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team; spent the past several months in southern Afghanistan; the views expressed are her own

Any discussion of the effectiveness of the surge must begin with two observations. First, counterinsurgency is an exercise in competitive governance, meaning the troops "surged" to Afghanistan are only part of a very complex equation. Second, less than half the troops that President Obama authorized in December have arrived here. It's far too early to tell whether the so-called surge has "worked."

Most of the troops who have arrived are Marine battalions deployed to Helmand province, with many participating in coalition operations in Marja -- in many ways the hardest test-case of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy. After tough fighting, we see initial, fragile signs of progress. Marja has shifted from being under 100 percent Taliban control, with no Afghan officials, to ever-increasing government presence. Twenty Afghan officials work there and are starting to bring basic services to long-neglected Afghans. Elsewhere in Helmand, Marines have moved into the "hold" and "build" phases of their campaign -- especially in Nawa and Garmsir, where many senior government and tribal officials have returned to work after violence drove them into "exile" in the provincial capital.

For the "surge" to succeed, coalition and Afghan officials will need to capitalize on this change in momentum in Helmand. This includes maintaining government effectiveness through the critical fall planting season, providing the assistance necessary to allow farmers to plant winter wheat instead of pernicious poppy. But the Taliban won't win by outfighting the coalition; it can win only by outgoverning the Afghans. The early phase of the surge is getting Afghans back into the governance game. This is where we must focus our attention.

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