Less is Not More in Afghanistan

Less is Not More in Afghanistan

In his seminal essay the "Twenty-Seven Articles," T.E. Lawrence wrote that "a bad start is difficult to atone for" in an insurgency or counterinsurgency effort. As the Obama administration prepares a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, it is learning that lesson all too well. For more than seven years, Afghanistan has been the neglected war, impaired by insufficient resources, troops, planning and oversight. Facing a resurgent Taliban, the administration now has no choice but to chart a new path.

Some of the president's strongest supporters are urging him to scale down U.S. ambitions in the country. They contend that the Taliban cannot be defeated, and that the Afghan government will remain feeble no matter how many thousands of American troops and civilian advisers "surge" into Afghanistan. Leslie H. Gelb, writing in the New York Times earlier this month, argued that "finding a way to live with, contain and deter the Taliban is an achievable goal." According to advocates of this "less-is-more" approach, the best plan -- one which would require fewer troops -- is to shift our emphasis towards preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for al-Qaida.

Yet this minimalist approach is a mere variation on the unsuccessful "enemy-centric" strategy the U.S.-led coalition has employed for more than seven years. A more secure Afghanistan that no longer depends on the coalition for its survival remains an attainable objective, but a greater focus on killing Taliban and al-Qaida fighters will not achieve it. Two things will: winning the active support of the Afghan populace and bolstering the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

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