After nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan, the United States has still not defined what it considers success. It needs to do so — and here’s how.
by DAVID AXE, MALOU INNOCENT and JASON REICH
After nearly a decade at war in Afghanistan, the United States still has not defined the terms of the conflict. Seven months after President Barack Obama’s administration released its wide-ranging strategic review of the war, basic questions remain. Who is the enemy? What are the objectives? Is counterinsurgency meant to achieve the goal of counterterrorism (beating al Qaeda), state-building (bringing stability and democracy to Afghanistan), or both? What would “victory” in Afghanistan even look like? And how will the war stay won, after the United States leaves?
Without knowing the answers to such questions, the United States has no way of determining whether it is succeeding. And as long as it continues to conflate military and state-building objectives, the United States will always appear to be losing. But by focusing on stamping out al Qaeda with a light military footprint and accepting an Islamist government in Afghanistan, the United States has an opportunity for unqualified success.
Indeed, by most military standards, the United States has already achieved numerous victories. In early October 2001, a small number of U.S. personnel working in tandem with sympathetic Afghans punished al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that harbored the terrorist group. Although it hasn’t met its goal of capturing Osama bin Laden, the United States has still seriously degraded al Qaeda’s global capabilities — a major win.
But perceptions have lagged behind reality. Many U.S. policymakers, defense officials, and prominent opinion leaders still tend to lump al Qaeda (a loose, transnational jihadist network responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks) together with the Taliban (an indigenous Pashtun-dominated movement with no shadowy global mission). Because of this conflation, the suppression of al Qaeda is not seen as the victory it is — and disproportionate focus is placed on suppressing the Taliban.
(Photo: via FP.com)