Concerns about the state of affairs in Afghanistan have prompted the US and NATO to regroup and reconsider how that war is being prosecuted. The Kabul government is in serious danger of failing, thanks to a resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda influence in the region, bolstered by intense opium production and drug trafficking. (International Herald Tribune: White House and NATO set thorough review of Afghan mission.)
While the Taliban and al Qaeda were routed within months after the 9/11 attacks, the leadership and the bulk of their militants went underground. For the most part, they were neither killed nor taken prisoner, although al Qaeda leadership was decimated. Over time, however, both have reestablished a foothold in Afghanistan and in the lawless mountainous region in Pakistan. In the past year, the Taliban has made some major inroads in retaking pockets of Afghanistan.
The new tact being taken by the US and NATO appears to center around better international coordination in the military effort. Color me cynical, but one would think that lesson was learned over a millennium ago. I'm not sure why the concept of troop coordination has suddenly come up now. Additionally, the US is pressing NATO to supply more troops since US forces are occupied elsewhere and there simply aren't any US troops to spare for Afghanistan.
There's the second lesson we need to relearn, myself included. During the build-up leading to the Iraq War, I was as gung-ho as the other 70% of the nation supporting the invasion. I fully supported the need to invade Iraq, and - based on Iraq's non-compliance with UN Resolution 1441 - believed then and still believe that the use of force was justified. What I neglected to take into consideration then, and what none of our military commanders seemed to consider is the prospect of fighting a two-front war. Neither did any of us consider that both wars would quickly degrade into a battle against insurgencies, something that our conventional force is ill-equipped to fight.
The US and NATO were fully equipped to take on both Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan simultaneously. In fact, there really is no conventional force on the planet that can stand up to the US and NATO in open combat. Unfortunately, neither the US nor NATO are equipped to battle insurgents in two separate theaters for an extended period of time, and that's what we're doing now. The economic drain alone is devastating, and time is on the side of the insurgents.
So this begs the question, where do we go from here? When we look at the two theaters currently in play, what strategies do we employ to turn the current debacle into victory? Well, first and foremost, I think it necessary to choose our front. We cannot continue to battle in both theaters. We're losing ground in Afghanistan, and the gains we're making in Iraq are coming too slowly.
Perhaps the best course of action is to turn Afghanistan entirely over to NATO and focus our attention on finishing the job in Iraq. Simply walking away from Iraq right now makes no sense at all given the gains that we've made. The economic drain in Iraq has also hit Iran, and that's having a rather interesting positive effect on US and Iranian relations. Iran has even proposed discussing the terrorist groups in Iraq and finding ways to quell the violence there. It's actually in their best interests to do so now, too, since they can no longer afford to finance the insurgency. (Reuters: Iran says to discuss Iraq "terrorist groups" with U.S..)
Ultimately, we need to learn, or should I say "relearn", the lessons from the last 6 years. We can't afford to start a second campaign before the first campaign is won. We also need to relearn what President Bush (41) taught us in the first Gulf War. Before going into combat, know what your objective is, how you're going to meet that objective, and most importantly, how you are going to get out when it's done. We failed to do that in both Afghanistan and Iraq and we're paying the price today.