Sat 11 Oct, 2008 10:06 am
October 10, 2008
Can the Taliban be defeated?
Posted by Nancy Youssef
In a piece that appeared in the London Times earlier this week, U.K. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, said the Taliban could not be defeated. Carleton-Smith, who had just finished serving in Afghanistan said: “What we need is sufficient troops to contain the insurgency to a level where it is not a strategic threat to the longevity of the elected Government,”
The report followed a leak earlier this month to a French publication, in which Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador, reportedly said the strategy in Afghanistan was “doomed to failure”.
I don’t think the timing of these reports is coincidental, but a concerted effort to get the United States to sit up and take notice of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. And it has. Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. forces-Afghanistan commander, and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both said things will get worse in Afghanistan and pushed for more U.S. involvement. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked eastern Europe to send more troops. And now Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. Central Command commander, is reassessing the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. What all this will lead to remains unknown. For now, the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is adrift.
Carleton-Smith suggested that the best way to deal with the Taliban is to somehow incorporate them into political process, something akin to the political reconciliation promoted in Iraq. But which Taliban? Like the Iraqi insurgency, the Taliban is not a monolithic group. Some are more reconcilable than others. And if they choose to join, how will the coalition protect them?
I think as the U.S. military reconsiders its strategy in Afghanistan, this idea will get more traction. Indeed, the military community is increasingly embracing this concept. The RAND Corporation had a fascinating study that found the best way to defeat insurgency is to include them into the political process. It’s the lesson of Iraq " reconciliation is more effective than fighting insurgents out.
So can the Taliban be defeated? Who knows? But all signs, from across the pond and beyong, suggest that more troops are not enough. The U.S. military and its coalition in Afghanistan will have to approach the Taliban in a more sophisticated way.