As we hear about how the Taliban is perhaps not a danger to Afghanistan because they are happy to hang out in Pakistan, they have really upped the ante there. A bombing in Swat kills 41, they attack an army post and hold it for a day, and the new Talib boss promised this and more at a press conference, a press conference for God's sake.
President Obama faces a huge risk if he decides to play politics with the request from Gen. McChrystal for enough troops to shoot for a win in Afghanistan. The administration has launched a number of trial balloons looking for a way to avoid sending what the commander on the ground has asked for. You had Biden's magic ninja plan with a smaller footprint and drones and black helicopters picking up the slack. This got laughed out the door, so you got a modified magic ninja with the same number of troops we currently have. This somehow fails to note that we are unable to secure the populace now. Absent that, they will not assist us and we will simply be targets for increased Taliban activity.
Several administration officials have been telling journalists that maybe those Talibs aren't that bad. You know, most of them are in Pahkeestahn and even if we pull back in Afghanistan they won't fill that void. I mean when have they ever done that? Well I mean other than the past two years. The Pashtuns who make up a large chunk of the Taliban do not even pretend to recognize the Durand line that delineates the purported border. They simply have cousins on both sides of the mountains and the fighters migrate to wherever the least pressure is when they need a break. The reason they have been chilling in P-Stan for the past years is because we were in A-Stan and then in 2004 and again in 2006 the government in Pakistan ceded the tribes control of the border provinces. This made them perfect safe havens and the extremists took full advantage, recruiting, retraining, refitting and then in late '06 and early '07 they began the re-infiltration of A-Stan that we have been fighting since.
While things are very ugly in A-Stan, they are far from the breaking point as Fareed Zakaria points out today.
It's true that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated considerably. While it is nothing like Iraq in 2006 -- civilian deaths are a tenth as numerous -- parts of the country are effectively controlled by the Taliban. Other parts are no man's land. But these areas are sparsely populated tracts of countryside. All the major population centers remain in the hands of the Kabul government.
McChrystal's plan is to consolidate our forces in the most-populated areas and pacify them as completely as possible. The we can begin the ink spot process of moving farther out and expanding the zones of security. Inside that zone quality of life projects can be done without fear of Taliban disruption. The overly risk-averse State Dept. and other agencies, USAID and civilian NGOs can deliver on the promise of prosperity. The Afghan government can take baby steps towards demonstrating that it is not a kleptocracy, and we can continue the build up and training of the Afghan security forces who will ultimately replace us. Half measure cannot achieve this and wil only prolong and eventual defeat.
The Talibs in P-Stan seem bent on making their, un-recognized government pay for it's recent actions in the tribal areas and NW Frontier province. It is uncharmingly naive to assume that they will somehow cease this and morph into pacific goat herders. They believe they have a right and even a holy mission to dominate everywhere their kinsmen live. If we back off in A-Stan they will move in, and the idea that they are separate from al Qaeda is just as naive. If anything the two have grown into one unified front opposing the crusaders and the insufficiently religious. It may seem crazy to us that we have to fear the rise of a collection of marginally civilized fanatics in a land that can barely support the ubiquitous goats. But it doesn't seem crazy to them and that is all that really matters. If we decide to cut & run, walk or saunter away, they will declare victory and they will again plan to reach out from their mountain lairs.