There is a piece in the NY Daily News by MG Olson who was C/JTF Commander in Afghanistan in 2004/5. He advocates a pull back to the areas in the North and West and then attacks against the Taliban in the Pashtun belt as they make inroads.
There is a third way. If it is true that Taliban domination of Afghanistan will mean another safe haven for Al Qaeda, then the strategic task should be to contain the spread of Taliban influence in order that such a foothold cannot be gained. This should not require a nationwide, full-blown counterinsurgency campaign, but might be accomplished by a campaign to secure the Afghan territories where the population has to date resisted Taliban incursions and is more inclined to accept coalition presence, mostly located in Afghanistan's northern and western regions. The force could also be postured to allow the continuation of strikes into the Taliban-controlled areas, mainly in the provinces that are located in the Pashtun Belt in the east and south.
Such strikes would be focused on disrupting the Taliban in those areas where they are attempting to seek sanctuary, build training areas or establish shadow governments. It would also permit attacks on any Al Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups in the Pashtun territories as they are identified on the Afghanistan side of the border, or, as deemed useful, to support the Pakistanis in their operations in their Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
This by itself makes no sense as it involves us allowing the Taliban free rein to operate and then assuming we could figure out where and when to hit them on their home turf. It would bring high civilian casualties again and result on an endless round of whack a mole. He adds some more possibilities.
In Afghanistan, the critical internal dynamic may be the tendency for the Taliban to wear out their welcome in areas that they are trying to dominate. Statistics show that the Taliban are more tolerated than accepted in most of the country, and that their ideology and form of governance is unpopular with all but a few Afghans. Given time and provided the right incentives, it is entirely possible that the spread of Taliban influence will be resisted and eventually rolled back, even in the Pashtun areas - an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem.
I would be curious to see where he could show this happening. Everywhere the Taliban gain a foothold they have controlled absent our operations in force against them. If we conduct the kind of hit and run ops he is envisioning they will melt away into the hills and return when the helicopters fly away.
It is impossible to determine precisely how many American troops it would take to execute a campaign based on a strategy of containment. But since the requisite military missions would be more akin to security and stability operations in more benign areas, rather than the current propensity to conduct multiple offensive operations in the heart of the Pashtun insurgency, it is likely that no immediate troop increase would be necessary at all.
So we cede the extremists all of Pashtunistan and hope that somehow the same Pashtuns who comprise the Taliban have fallen under their sway time and again will now rise up in our absence and without our assistance in any meaningful way and take them down.
The President has not been well served by his national security team. They owe him a way past the false dichotomy that they have basically created for him. If in fact Afghanistan has become Obama's War, then his national security team owes him a thorough analysis of the options for fighting it.
He has seen nothing but analysis of the options and McChrystal set out multiple options and the troops required for each, along with the likelihood for success. And where in the world does he come up with the accusation that Obama's national security team has failed to serve him well? The idea that we can pull back, show weakness and expect the Pashtuns to rise up on their own against their own is fantasy. This is a conventional forces version of magic ninjas and unimpressive thinking at best.
Here is a link to MG Olson giving a briefing near the end of his time in Afghanistan. He talks extensively about how little violence there is, how weak the insurgency is and how much reconstruction is going on. All of those were undoubtedly true, but at the time this was happening in 2005, the Talibs were regrouping across the border. Now we face a much stronger insurgency and his ideas about ignoring it and hoping the Afghans will fix an Afghan problem make little sense.