The Kerry Approach

John Kerry - fresh from his trip to Afghanistan and flush from his success with Karzai - comes down between the counterinsurgency of McChrystal and the counterterrorism of Biden:

... although he leaned far closer to McChrystal than to Biden. Kerry dismissed a “narrow mission that cedes half the country to the Taliban” as flirting with the risk of “civil war,” and doubted that such a counterterrorism mission could accomplish its objectives without a robust military presence to collect intelligence in support of counterterrorism operations. “For now, we need the boots on the ground to get the information and protect our interests,” he said.

Bolstered by his credibility in delivering the biggest tangible diplomatic success for the Obama administration on Afghanistan to date, Kerry endorsed a counterinsurgency strategy in the Pashtun areas of “the southern and eastern theaters of Afghanistan,” and limited to “major population centers,” saying “we cannot and should not undertake a manpower intensive counterinsurgency operation on a national scale.” He praised McChrystal as “understand[ing] the necessity of conducting a smart counterinsurgency in a limited geographic area,” but said McChrystal’s current plan “reaches too far, too fast.”

Mark Moyar, a scholar at the Marine Corps University who focuses on counterinsurgency, said narrowing U.S. focus on south and east Afghanistan “makes a certain amount of sense,” as the Taliban-centered insurgency is based in that region. But it runs the risk of allowing insurgents to disperse and set up shop unchallenged elsewhere in the country. “There is a danger, as there has been in a number of other counterinsurgencies, to focus on area, make it a high priority, but [insurgents] eventually figure it out and go somewhere else,” said Moyar, author of a new book about counterinsurgency, “A Question of Command.” “Already, [the insurgency is] starting to get stronger in the north and west” of Afghanistan.