The President’s terseness had a purpose: it allowed him to skirt a more exhaustive, and dispiriting, discussion of Afghan realities. Two years ago, Obama signed off on the surge, which deployed an additional thirty-three thousand marines and soldiers to Afghanistan. Though the surge is now at its peak, almost every aspect of the American campaign is either deeply troubled or too fragile to justify substantial reductions in military support. It’s true that, with the help of extra forces, the Americans have cleared large areas of Taliban insurgents, many of whom had been operating without opposition. This success has opened the parts of the country that are dominated by Pashtuns—its main ethnic group—to Afghan government control, but it hardly constitutes victory. According to American officers, the level of violence in Afghanistan this year is fifteen per cent higher than it was at this time last year. The insurgents, far from being degraded, appear to be as resilient as ever. And their sanctuaries in Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership resides mostly unmolested, remain more or less intact.
—Now that Dexter Filkins is no longer working for
ISAF The New York Times, he can admit that the war in Afghanistan is a pretty abysmal failure. What he seemingly cannot do, even now, is admit that the correct response to two years of a failed strategy is not to “tough it out,” as Michael O’Hanlon would put it, but to consolidate our losses and withdraw.