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Nagl: We Can Pull This Afghanistan Thing Off

The president of the Center for a New American Security, John Nagl, has an op-ed in the New York Daily News arguing against despair for the Afghanistan war. “[I]t is possible over the next five years to build an Afghan government that can outperform the Taliban and an Afghan Army that can outfight it,” writes Nagl, a leading light of the theorist-practitioners of counterinsurgency. Why?

The war in Afghanistan is winnable for three reasons: because for the first time the coalition fighting there has the right strategy and the resources to begin to implement it, because the Taliban are losing their sanctuaries in Pakistan and because the Afghan government and the security forces are growing in capability and numbers. None of these trends is irreversible, and they are not in themselves determinants of victory. But they demonstrate that the war can be won if we display the kind of determination that defeating an insurgency requires.

It’s a decidedly big-picture op-ed. Nagl has much less to say on NATO’s prospects for reversing the insurgency’s gains in southern Afghanistan ahead of the July 2011 date for beginning a gradual transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan control — and correlative U.S. troop withdrawals. And he has less to say about the costs of the war, writing instead that success is a “vital national interest” and that counterinsurgency is hard and takes time. Will that persuade doubters?

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