The Importance of Defining Victory

by Joshua Foust on 11/9/2011 · 4 comments

For PBS, I write:

The sad reality of Afghanistan is that victory is not achievable with our current strategy and policies. Last month, I released a report with my think tank, The American Security Project, which tried to assess President Obama’s goals for the war. The current strategy boils down to three broad goals: deny al Qaeda safe haven, prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the government and build up the Afghan government so it can function on its own…

A political conflict does not necessarily require a huge number of troops. But when pundits talk about “victory” in Afghanistan, the discussion invariably centers on arbitrary troop numbers and not on the politics of the conflict. There is no sense of allowing Afghans to chart their own course, make their own decisions, and yes, even disagree with American policymakers along the way.

The real challenge in Afghanistan is that the American effort (as measured by money, people and attention) has focused almost exclusively on the military, while the Taliban has focused on politics. That is why they target the Afghan police with their IEDs – they are sowing uncertainty, trying to show the people of Afghanistan that their government is worthless, and that international forces are toothless to stop them. The Taliban is winning the war for hearts and minds.

I should note that I frame this discussion against yet another call by Max Boot to keep tens of thousands of troops there for all time. Anyway, discuss.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 4 comments }

Lalit Ambardar November 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Politics inspired by doctrine of jihad that envisages resurrection of medievalism not only in Afghanistan but beyond can not be accorded legitimacy.US might succeed in preventing any more terror strikes against it on its soil after it goes ahead with its decision to withdraw but its retreat will be seen as a moral victory by the Islamists worldwide making other countries especially those closer to the US & the West vulnerable to their vengeance.Anti India Kashmir jihad will get a bloody boost & Pakistan itself might sink & fall to the zealots along with the nukes Pak has piled up over the years.US & the west -the proponents of democracy can not afford to abdicate their responsibilities leaving South Asia at the mercy of nukes wielding bigots.
Postulation “The current strategy boils down to three broad goals: deny al Qaeda safe haven, prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the government and build up the Afghan government so it can function on its own…” is agreed, but military engagement is still necessitated by the overwhelming combat component of jihad .

M Shannon November 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm

If Mullah Omar presented himself tomorrow at the US Kabul Embassy and surrendered the US will still have lost. Pyrrhic victories aren’t actually wins. A couple more “victories” like Iraq and Afghanistan in the near term and the US is done for.

Trying to find a new strategy is wrong headed. It will only lead to more years in the morass with the same ending- hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars down the drain.

It’s past time to leave. We lack a credible host partner. With one we wouldn’t need to be there in anything like our current strength and without one nothing we do matters.

Russ Zanca November 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

The only way to defeat the Taliban–the lynchpin for making a more stable and U.S.-inclined Afghan state–is for Afghanistan to experience one of two things:

1. A stable government that accomplishes useful policies on behalf of the entire population, but especially the Pashtun south and east; and

2. an incorporation of Taliban elements not bent on destroying the state of which they may serve as a part.

If forced to compete non-violently for influence and control, the Taliban will be unlikely to success.

Much of twentieth century Afghan history doesn’t bode well for peaceful development in the absence of the U.S. (too bad things are going so badly with the presence of the U.S.)

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