I was reading an op-ed article from yesterday’s Washington Post by Michael Gerson about how America will secure victory in Afghanistan. His idea? They already are, but it is largely a silent victory, overshadowed by the greater political stories of the day.
Gerson points out that in small waves, batches of Taliban fighters are approaching the Afghan government, looking for a deal for reintegration in exchange for laying down arms. The plan has moved beyond sporadic implementation at this point, and has actually spread throughout the country, being promising enough to secure the blessing of Gen. Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan.
While there are most likely many who would abhor any kind of Taliban presence in the Afghan government, there also has to be an understanding that unless a bargaining table is presented, the conflict will simply continue. Many low-level Taliban fighters want to make a living, and are only fighting because of that fact, but if the incentive to fight against the Afghan government (and United States) is removed – by offering economic incentives such as jobs or stipends, as well as a chance to be a legitimate force in government, then the conflict may shift from a wide-ranging insurgency to only the most ideological fighters remaining on the battlefield.
Pure diplomacy will not work alone though. The carrot has been presented, but the threat of the stick needs to loom to encourage the most desirable action. The NATO forces in Afghanistan have done a mighty job in building the Afghan government forces up from nothing, and have also performed above and beyond in achieving major objectives – as Mr. Gerson points out, two Taliban shadow governors have been killed, and the US media often reports successful predator drone strikes on militant targets. A British paper, the guardian, estimates Predators and their larger cousins, the Reapers, have killed as many as two dozen Al-Queda officers and possibly more than a hundred foot soldiers.
These two factors – the outreach of the Afghan government to those militants who would denounce Al-Queda, lay down arms, and accept the Afghan constitution; and the continued NATO pressure on current fighters – will convince militants who are not-so-militant that it is a much better option to take the legitimate path, rather than the insurgent path.
Afghanistan has been a quagmire for almost a decade now, with periodic victories and set-backs, and a seemingly uncertain media as public opinion and official administrations change. But, if the drone strikes are being as effective as the media claims, and if the coalition forces are doing what has been claimed in recent books (Bob Woodward – Obama’s Wars and Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer – Operation Dark Heart), then the only conclusion I can draw is that the NATO forces and the Afghan government are again on the path to victory.
I don’t agree with all of Mr. Gerson’s conclusions, but I agree with the majority of his reasoning, the diplomatic resolution to the Afghan insurgency is a major – if largely silent – victory, but it would not come without the price paid by the Armed Services.
As an aside: both of the books mentioned in this post are extremely relevant, timely, and excellent reads, I would strongly recommend anyone interested in foreign or Afghan strategic decision-making to purchase them.