The White House has completed its formal review of the war in Afghanistan and of the U.S. strategy there. Though the review expresses deep skepticism about the progress of the war, it affirms President Obama's plan to begin reducing troops levels in July 2011 and to bring the majority of U.S. troops home by 2014. Analyzing the state of play in Afghanistan has always been difficult, but this report comes amid an unusually mixed series of reports from the country, which alternatively show promising steps forward as well as discouraging signs of disintegration. Here's what reporters, analysts, and pundits are seeing in today's war.
- Cautious Optimism on Rolling Back al-Qaeda, Taliban The New York Times' Helene Cooper summarizes the review:
The summary said the United States continues to kill leaders of Al Qaeda and diminish its capacity to launch terrorist attacks from the region. It cited some signs that the United States and its allies have halted or reversed inroads by the Taliban in Afghanistan and strengthened the ability of Afghan forces to secure their country, but acknowledged that the gains are fragile and could be easily undone unless more progress is made towards hunting down insurgents operating from havens in neighboring Pakistan.
- No Long-Term Success Unless Pakistan Comes Around "New U.S. intelligence reports paint a bleak picture of the security conditions in Afghanistan and say the war cannot be won unless Pakistan roots out militants on its side of the border, according to several U.S. officials who have been briefed on the findings," reports the Associated Press a few days ago. "It says the war cannot be won unless Pakistan is willing to obliterate terrorist safe havens in its lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan."
- Serious Setbacks in Once-Peaceful North Joshua Foust had earlier warned in The Atlantic that this would happen. The New York Times' Alissa Rubin now adds that, "although the numbers of American and German troops in the north have more than doubled since last year, insecurity has spread, the Taliban are expanding their reach, and armed groups that purportedly support the government are terrorizing local people and hampering aid organizations."
- Signs of Progress in Taliban's Home City The New York Times' Carlotta Gall sees a promising increase in security in Kandahar, Afghanistan's former capital and the largest city in the Taliban-dominated south of Afghanistan. In The L.A. Times, Peter Mansoor and Max Boot say we're doing better than you might think across the crucial southern districts:
During a recent 10-day visit at [Petraeus'] invitation, we found a classic, and successful, counterinsurgency campaign being conducted in the south. We drove around Kandahar city and saw markets flourishing. Children who once threw stones at American vehicles now wave at our soldiers. As we went north into the Arghandab River Valley--a Taliban stronghold until a few months ago--we found numerous American and Afghan outposts and soldiers patrolling on foot between them.
- 5 Ways to Do Better Andrew Exum lists them in Foreign Policy. Click through to read his explanations, which include (1) "Cut Funding for the War," (2) "Compromise on Combat Enablers," (3) "Reinvent, Don't Replace, the Special Envoy," (4) "Find and Pressure Dual Citizens," and (5) "Go Long."