More Allied, Not U.S., Forces Key to Success in Afghanistan

More Allied, Not U.S., Forces Key to Success in Afghanistan

Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani joined many commentators earlier this month in making the case for doubling U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan from the current 27,000. He and others argue that more troops would address escalating violence in the country and hedge against the increasing fragility of neighboring Pakistan's government. Such a large-scale U.S. troop increase, however, could be disastrous in the region, where maintaining a relatively light U.S. footprint and building a more significant allied one is the paradoxical key to defeating al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Even the 3,000-man increase that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is currently considering might have unforeseen strategic consequences if not accompanied by stepped up commitments from allies. This war remains more about perception than numbers. After losing last year's battle in Iraq, nothing would be better for al-Qaida's 2008 recruitment and fundraising than the appearance of growing U.S. unilateralism in the region where they remain strongest. Al-Qaida's operational structure is sheltered in Pakistan, and it will exploit any U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan to further substantiate its claim that the United States seeks to be the new colonial master of the Muslim world. Al-Qaida will use this propaganda to fire up recruits -- Salafist foreigners and local Pashtuns alike.

The larger the U.S. force in Afghanistan, the greater the appeal of al-Qaida's David-versus-Goliath mythology. As Lawrence Wright documents in his al-Qaida biography, "The Looming Tower," Osama Bin Laden, inspired by his experience with the Soviets, regards Afghanistan as the magical place where superpowers go to die. Depicting the United States as an evil empire seeking to unilaterally dominate and occupy Afghanistan is central to al-Qaida's strategy in the war of ideas. Thus, the involvement of NATO and other U.S. partners is the key to victory in Afghanistan. It is much easier for al-Qaida to sell a story about an apostate Afghan government under the sway of a Zionist-controlled superpower than to explain why Canada, Turkey, Singapore, Denmark, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Romania, Portugal, Italy, and others nations are involved.

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