That is the question posed by Michael Yon in his most recent dispatch. As he has done in previous dispatches, Yon argues that Afghanistan is a very different and tougher war than Iraq and that we cannot kid ourselves with some notion of Afghanistan suddenly turning around like Iraq. While admitting that American and Allied troops are doing a better job in that strange clan-based country than has any other army in history, Yon makes the case that even the 30,000 additional troops headed to the Af-Pak theater will not be enough.
The sum of many factors leaves me with a bad feeling about all this. The Iraq war, even during the worst times, never seemed like such a bog. Yet there is something about our commitment in Afghanistan that feels wrong, as if a bear trap is hidden under the sand.
If I had not witnessed firsthand what our military accomplished in Iraq, I might think our efforts in Afghanistan are destined to fail. But we are plainly succeeding in Iraq with the long, dark days well behind us. Our military is proving far more capable of fighting in Afghanistan than any military in history. The Soviets got crushed by the Mujahidin, with U.S. help. The Taliban and associates, however, get stacked up every fighting season, though our casualties also continue to increase. If I did not believe we could achieve success in Afghanistan, I would likely not go back.
He also makes the valid point that in the grand scheme of things the ever-resurgent Taliban is not any real threat to the US and that we could conceivably contain and continue to kill al Qaeda without the level of effort required to keep Afghanistan cleansed of the Taliban. He also points out that Russia should have a far more pressing interest in the area:
We must start asking Russia, and others, who the true losers will be if we abandon Afghanistan and leave a resurgent Taliban to lap at their doorsteps. I am not advocating that we abandon Afghanistan, but our own population and allies might grow weary during the long journey unfolding before us. The direct threat to us derives far more from al Qaeda than the Taliban, and we can keep punching down al Qaeda for a lot less than it’s costing to prosecute the Afghan war while abdicating significant influence to Russia. Russia has much to worry about if NATO countries begin to abandon Afghanistan.
I have a brother serving in Iraq right now who, having re-enlisted, will likely get a tour in Afghanistan as well before his time is done. I thought of him while reading Yon’s earnest advice for the President:
As we enter a new fighting season in Afghanistan this year, we need to know that the President has our backs. Not just that he is behind us, but that he is covering our six and ready to politically and economically pounce on those who hamper our efforts. We need to know that the President is fully engaged in this fight, that he is there to win and for the long haul, that he listens and takes close counsel from our senior military, and that he has faith that we can make this process work. But eight years from now, this thing will not be over.
Read Yon’s entire piece here.