5 Ideas to Win Afghan War

On the eve of the eighth anniversary of the war, strategies to rebuild the country, hire the Taliban, oust Karzai, and more

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Today, on the eve of the eight year anniversary of war in Afghanistan, Obama meets with top congressional leaders to discuss long-term strategy. The meeting comes after a difficult weekend, with ten American soldiers killed in two large firefights. It also comes during an especially grueling public discussion about the war. As the White House reconsiders strategy in what began as the war on terror, experts and columnists do the same. Here, the five best ideas for how to win in Afghanistan.

  • A New, Decentralized Counterinsurgency Mark Moyar explains in the Wall Street Journal how we should design a new way of fighting. "With the insurgent environment different in every Afghan valley, command must be decentralized. So finding and implementing the right tactics is primarily the job of battalion commanders and district police chiefs, not presidents or four-star generals." Moyar says this hinges on having good mid-level American and Afghan officers. "The Pentagon must also be shaken from its bureaucratic lethargy and compelled to dispatch more suitable officers as advisers to the Afghan forces. Too often we have sent officers who lacked the personality or experience to influence their Afghan counterparts for the better. The U.S. also must press harder to get bad Afghan officers fired--else they persist in extortion, kidnapping and other crimes even with a robust American presence."
  • Embrace Afghanistan Feudalism Henry Kissinger draws from his experience with Vietnam to propose forgoing a centralized government. "Afghanistan has been governed, if at all, by a coalition of local feudal or semifeudal rulers. In the past, any attempt to endow the central government with overriding authority has been resisted by some established local rulers. That is likely to be the fate of any central government in Kabul, regardless of its ideological coloration and perhaps even its efficiency." Kissinger asks, "Can a civil society be built on a national basis in a country which is neither a nation nor a state? For the foreseeable future, the control from Kabul may be tenuous and its structure less than ideal. More emphasis needs to be given to regional efforts and regional militia. This would also enhance our political flexibility. A major effort is needed to encourage such an evolution."
  • Hire Out the Taliban Linda Robinson, understanding that the Taliban is now primarily a criminal organization and not an ideological force, suggests paying them more to fight for the Afghan government. "Mid-level insurgents and their followers should be offered a chance to join a revised version of the Afghan Public Protection Force. These local self-defense forces should be expanded and tied to legitimate local governing structures -- both official and tribal. The majority of development funds should be funneled to leaders to strengthen local governance and development and pay the militias' salaries."
  • It's All About Pakistan The New Yorker's Steve Coll emphasizes the country wedged between Afghanistan and India. Coll explains how withdrawal would destabilize Pakistan and how over-militarizing Afghanistan would drive Pakistani leadership into the arms of the Taliban. "Between withdrawal signals and blind militarization there is a more sustainable strategy, one that I hope the Obama Administration is the in the process of defining. It would make clear that the Taliban will never be permitted to take power in Kabul or major cities. It would seek and enforce stability in Afghan population centers but emphasize politics over combat, urban stability over rural patrolling, Afghan solutions over Western ones, and it would incorporate Pakistan more directly into creative and persistent diplomatic efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and the region."
  • Oust Karzai and Fix Kabul Former Patraeus adviser David Kilcullen says we need Afghan support, and that won't happen until President Hamid Karzai is out and the government notorious corruption is addressed. "Without essential reform, merely making the government more efficient or extending its reach will just make things worse," he writes. "Only a legitimately elected Afghan president can enact reforms, so at the very least we need to see a genuine run-off election or an emergency national council, called a loya jirga, before winter. Once a legitimate president emerges, we need to see immediate action from him on a publicly announced reform program, developed in consultation with Afghan society and enforced by international monitors. Reforms should include firing human rights abusers and drug traffickers, establishing an independent authority to investigate citizen complaints and requiring officials to live in the districts they are responsible for (fewer than half do)."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.