No military solution?

Amir Taheri:

IN Kabul these days, those wishing to sound knowledgeable fire one phrase at visiting reporters: "This has no military solution!" One hears it from President Hamid Karzai, UN "experts" and diplomats. Yet they appear stuck when asked: What precisely is the "this" that has no military solution?

If pressed, they offer various answers: Afghanistan's poverty, gender inequality, corruption, the drug trade, ethnic rivalries and intrigues by rival powers such as Pakistan and Iran.

Obviously, none of those problems has a military solution. But the main problem Afghanistan faces today is the threat posed to the security of its citizens and infrastructure by insurgents using terror tactics such as roadside bombings and suicide attacks.

And that problem does have a military solution -- indeed, the only solution is military. The insurgents must be defeated on the battlefield.

The fact is that, although President Obama has spoken of a "war of necessity," there is little actual fighting in Afghanistan.

The majority of US and other NATO nations' casualties are caused by improvised explosive devices planted on the roads. These devices also kill many noncombatants, mostly Afghan peasants. A few other US/NATO casualties are the results of ambushes organized by insurgents.

The Afghan experience could be divided into three phases. In the first phase, the US, backed by the Afghan Northern Alliance, managed to flush the Taliban out of Kabul, gain control of the country and establish a new regime.

The second phase, between 2004 and 2008, saw America and NATO focusing on such nonmilitary issues as creating a new administrative machine, raising a new Afghan army and police and inventing a new judiciary.

All that was done under the assumption that the UN-backed NATO presence was a peacekeeping, rather than a peace-enforcing, mission. The bulk of NATO forces behaved more like the Salvation Army than a fighting machine in a real war.

US forces did some fighting in the southeastern provinces (often by firing missiles from drones into Pakistan). British, Canadian and French units also did some fighting in the provinces entrusted to them -- but seldom took the initiative by actually going after the insurgents. Their measure of success was the number of children (especially girls) who went to school in areas protected by them, not the number of insurgents killed or captured.

The third phase started in 2008, when President George W. Bush decided to send more troops, a move endorsed by his successor. Washington had realized that there was a military problem, and that it needed a military solution.

In a new strategy developed by Gen. David Petraeus, US forces (with those NATO allies who are prepared to fight) have redefined the mission as one of enforcing peace. The "live and let live" policy, under which insurgents are allowed safe havens, will end.


The same claim was made in Iraq about there not being a military solution, but in fact there was a military solution. By increasing the force to space ratio we were able to defeat militarily al Qaeda and the other insurgents. They were not defeated by a political solution which is the mantra of those who say there is no military solution.

The fact is there is usually a military solution, the question becomes whether a government is willing to pay the price of imposing it. That is still an open question for the Obama administration which still has not committed enough troops to Afghan operations. We need more US troops and Afghan troops to deny space to the Taliban. When deny space we defeat them militarily and force them into situations they cannot cope with.

We should not lose sight of what is happening in Pakistan. That situation has turned in our favor in the last six months due to Taliban overreach, and Pakistan's response along with our Hellfire attacks. With the turmoil in their sanctuaries, there will be more pressure on the Afghan Taliban which provides us with an opportunity to put more pressure on them.


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