Yesterday, President Obama detailed his new plans for the Afganistan/Pakistan situation. Those two countries continue to serve as breeding grounds for Islamic fundamentalism of a particularly uncontrolled stripe, and Obama is wise to show those countries that the US cares about them and is invested in them for the long haul. The plan calls a focus on training Pakistani
and Afghan military and police, in addition to sending 17,000 combat troops to Afghanistan that Obama authorized in January. Training local law enforcement and military officials makes a lot of sense; locals don’t have to spend as much the time figuring out the best cultural methodology to accompany their enforcement strategies to make it stick.
I feel that Obama’s adoption of some version of the “Petraus Doctrine,” or the idea that a combination of additional troops and a focus on winning over the local population will do well in Afghanistan. I wrote a paper way back in 2003, right after initial combat operations “ended’ in Iraq, that talked about how the invasion of Iraq was going to be bad news because the planners thought it was going to be quick and easy to get in and get out. We now have seen that this is true. I also asserted that if we were going to succeed in Afghanistan, we would need to realize that long-term (as in 10+ years) military assistance to already existing friendly entities would be the only way to go. The Iraq war also had the effect of taking troops and, crucially, intelligence resources from Afghanistan, and our efforts to stamp out extremism there correspondingly stumbled. Taking what we’ve learned about hearts and minds in Iraq to Afghanistan, and committing to long-term, close assistance (but with way fewer troops than in Iraq) to that country’s government has the potential to really increase America’s security.
Of course, Pakistan is an entirely different animal, in that our military doesn’t already have a big presence there, but it offers pretty much the same national security threats that we face from Afghanistan. The best thing that the US can do for Pakistan is have success in Afghanistan – and convince Pakistani leadership that eliminating (or decreasing the appeal of) Islamic fundamentalism is possible and productive.