Plan Afghanistan - By Paul Wolfowitz and Michael O’Hanlon
President Barack Obama made clear this week that the remaining troops will soon come home from Iraq. Some 10 years after the first troops landed in Afghanistan, we’re now nearly back to a one-front war. But where are we, really? It’s clear that both citizens and Washington alike are collectively weary of war and frustrated by this particular mission, with its interminable timelines and uncertain partners in Kabul and Islamabad, even if it has only been three to four years since the United States intensified its collective focus and resources on this mission.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the temporary surge of U.S. forces was used for two purposes: First, to increase the size and quality of Iraqi and Afghan security forces so that they could take over most or all of the fight — this might be called “the surge that stays behind” or the “permanent surge”; and second, to create conditions sufficiently stable so that what we hand off to indigenous forces is not a losing hand that is doomed to fail, but one with a reasonable chance of success. The surge in Iraq produced dramatic results in a relatively short period of time; the results in Afghanistan have been more limited. With the president having announced that U.S. forces will withdraw by 2014, the question bears asking: Is victory in Afghanistan now beyond our grasp?
Many analysts have noted that the surge strategy in Afghanistan needs to be fundamentally different from that in Iraq. It is not an accident but rather a product of geography and the demography that Iraq has had strong central governments over the course of thousands of years, whereas Afghanistan has never had one. An Iraqi government can aspire to control all or nearly all of its territory. Indeed, any notion of success in Iraq virtually requires it. An Afghan government, on the other hand, cannot aspire to such an ambitious goal and, critically, success in Afghanistan does not require it.
Strange though it may sound, success in Afghanistan would look a lot more like the success that has been achieved in Colombia over the last 10 years, rather than the success that we are hoping for in Iraq. This is a point that was made two-and-a-half years ago by Scott Wilson, a Washington Post reporter who had spent four years in Colombia as a correspondent and a year in Iraq. Writing in April 2009, Wilson said that Obama “may want to look south rather than east in charting a new course” for Afghanistan. Though they hide in triple-canopy jungles rather than forbidding mountains, the insurgents in Colombia, like those in Afghanistan, will always enjoy the benefit of sanctuaries inside the country. And, until Pakistan withdraws its support for the Taliban, Pakistan will cause the same problems for the Afghan government that Venezuela does for Colombia.