Surge in Afghanistan: A Response to George Will

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By Jeff Dressler

Nobody said it was going to be easy. The day after Gen. Stanley McChrystal sent his strategic assessment to the Pentagon, the call for retreat is already being sounded, this time, from columnist George Will. But Will’s article demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of not only the nature of Afghanistan, but counterinsurgency writ large.

Will quotes a Dutch commander in-theatre to highlight the backwards, primitive nature of Afghanistan…"like walking through the Old Testament” the commander said. Surely, Afghanistan does not conform to western understanding of a modern, advanced society… and America does not seek to make it such. Afghans are smart, they understand more than many Westerners assume. To their credit, the majority of Afghanistan’s population supports the war against the Taliban, including coalition and Afghan efforts to achieve some real progress after eight years of neglect. All they want in return is security. Thus far, they haven’t gotten it.

Delving into Will’s discussion of counterinsurgency, he is somewhat correct in describing the Taliban’s ability to “evaporate and then return.” But the Taliban are not superhuman, they are not ghosts. Their ability to “evaporate and then return” is predicated on two current conditions: 1) the absence of sufficient Afghan and coalition forces; and 2) the ability to coerce and intimidate local populations. Much like in Iraq, a sufficiently resourced war (see Surge) and the ability to secure population centers are aimed at removing the insurgency from the population. If this can be achieved, the tide starts to turn.

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