"In Afghanistan, U.S. needs a steady push"

In Afghanistan, U.S. needs a steady push

The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 12, 2009, Opinion Section

by Megan Ortagus (Communications Director, ISW) and Wade Zirkle (Vets for Freedom)



On July 2, Operation Dagger commenced in Southern Afghanistan, with more than 4,000 U.S. Marines and 650 Afghan soldiers moving out of fortified bases to destroy Taliban safe havens and protect a war-weary population. This operation begins the long-awaited implementation of a counterinsurgency strategy after almost eight years of ineffective, piecemeal operations.

As President Obama oversees this effort, coupled with an increase of 21,000 U.S. troops, some pundits say Afghanistan is now his war. But that is just another example of the often-shallow political calculations that dominate discussions in Washington. Afghanistan is our war.

As such, Obama should aggressively communicate his end goals and vision for a stable Afghan state. His surge, while necessary, faces unique challenges that could make a new strategy nebulous if his administration is not vigorous in preparing the public for an extended commitment. Already, liberal members of Congress have formed a caucus determined to end the president's new approach to the Afghan conflict before it has even started.

Having just returned from Afghanistan, we have the view that the stakes and the costs of the war are not tidily compatible with one another. This war is by most measures a low-intensity conflict. It is not a hopeless Vietnam-like quagmire and does not have to be a "Graveyard for Empires." Afghanistan in 2009 is also not spinning out of control at the hands of an intractable sectarian war as was Iraq in 2006. While the war is not on the brink of catastrophe, the reconstitution of the Taliban, a destabilized border with Pakistan, and a marked increase in violent attacks mean decisive resolve is needed now to avoid a prolonged stalemate.


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Additional Off-site Authors: 
Wade Zirkle