The 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama is sending to Afghanistan may provide tactical relief to American commanders on the ground but whether this surge will help guarantee victory against terrorism and extremism in America’s war there is an open question. The American campaign against the Taliban and the al-Qaida suffers from four deficits — political attention, military doctrine, Afghan capability, and a Pakistani commitment. The new Obama policy has hopefully ended the attention deficit triggered by the Bush administration’s foolish and criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the other handicaps still remain. Over the past few years, American military doctrine has leaned too heavily on the deployment of overwhelming firepower, deployed from afar, rather than on the granulated application of force. Thereby, U.S. casualties have been low but an unconscionably large number of Afghan civilians have died in what the Pentagon euphemistically calls “collateral damage.” If the Taliban are to be defeated, the U.S. and its allies will have to be far more intelligent in their military methods than they have been so far.
The Obama package is supposed to address a part of the third deficit — Afghan national capabilities in the security field — but the kind of emphasis we have seen so far does not inspire much confidence. If the U.S. is serious about setting 2011 as the date by when the American combat presence in the country will start thinning out, the Afghan National Army will have to be staffed, trained, and equipped at a much higher level, a task that requires a higher magnitude of funding. By far the biggest weakness of the new Af-Pak policy is Mr. Obama’s inability to craft an effective strategy to deal with the Pakistani side of the equation. Today, it is not just India that says the roots of the terrorist problem lie in Pakistan and that Afghanistan is a victim of instability emanating from across the border. In his speech on Tuesday, the U.S. president spoke of a cancer that has spread on both sides of the Durand Line. If he stopped short of identifying where the malignancy was worst, it was not for lack of information. Rather he hopes to cajole or even threaten Islamabad into taking action against the Taliban and other extremist groups which operate from its territory. The only problem is the 2011 exit date that Mr. Obama announced alongside the surge. With very little indication that the Pakistani military is ready to jettison its strategic patronage of terrorist groups, there is the possibility that Rawalpindi might well be tempted to instruct the Taliban to lie low till the appointed hour only to emerge triumphant once U.S. troops begin to leave.