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Up Next In Afghanistan: Circle-Squaring

Via Abu Muqawama, let’s presume for the sake of argument that we know everything we need to know about the Obama administration’s forthcoming shift in Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy from this report from the Associated Press:

The U.S. goal in Afghanistan must be to protect Kabul’s fragile government from collapsing under pressure from the Taliban — a goal that can only be achieved by securing Pakistan’s cooperation, increasing substantially the size of Afghanistan’s national security forces and boosting economic aid in the region, according to senior military and intelligence officials. …

Broadly speaking, the Obama administration was expected to endorse a doctrine of counterinsurgency that has military and civilian components and that scales back U.S. expectations for Afghan democracy and self-sufficiency. A main theme is the premise that the military alone cannot win the war, officials said.

The review was expected to focus on containing the Taliban and the proliferation of lesser-known militant groups, providing a greater sense of security and stability for Afghan civilians and increasing the size and proficiency of the Afghan armed forces.

Any news report that speaks about “scaling back” any expectations in Afghanistan is likely to distress the Karzai government, which two weeks ago dispatched a bevvy of cabinet ministers to Washington to plead against doing just that. But — again, presuming that this report is definitive — the Obama administration is giving them substantively much of what that Afghan delegation argued for: a warfighting strategy that emphasizes the security of the population; a bolstered effort to train the Afghan security forces; and increased development aid. The missing piece here that the Afghan delegation argued for is an emphasis on providing better governance . But even though The Associated Press’ story doesn’t say it, it’s hard to imagine that counterinsurgents like Gen. David Petraeus or Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy would be putting forward a counterinsurgency strategy that didn’t have a governance component. So the Afghan delegation’s circle appears to be squared.

That, however, raises the question of how much the goals actually have been scaled back, or whether the Obama administration truly does have clear goals in mind. We’ll be able to judge that in fuller detail when the strategy is announced — possibly as early as next week, according to the Associated Press. But it appears for the moment that the Obama administration is looking to eliminate jihadist safe havens, “containing” the Taliban — and I don’t know what that means, particularly if getting rid of the safe havens is the goal — and settling for a stable Afghan government. And there’s no contradiction between using counterinsurgency means to a counterterrorist objective.

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