Foreign Policy Blogs

'Time. It Will Take Some Time'

My hometown paper, the San Diego Union Tribune, has been running a series of reports about the US war effort in Afghanistan that have provided a real service to our community. The weekly reports may not be groundbreaking, but they have provided its readers with a more in depth view of the situation, especially in regards to the Obama administration’s new strategy. This weeks edition had embedded reporter Gretel C. Kovach asking American soldiers; ‘What do you think it will take to win the war?’. Read the whole article, but here is how Kovach sums up their responses (emphasis mine):

After speaking with more than 100 Marines throughout the province, from junior enlisted teenagers tasting their first combat to the senior general in charge, a consensus emerged.

By and large, the men and women responsible for translating U.S. military strategy into action in this corner of Afghanistan said the current war plan is sound and showing results, and they are confident in their ability to stabilize the country for the nascent Afghan security forces and government — if they are given the time to prevail.

Time, or the lack of it due to timelines and withdrawal dates, was the major theme to the article:

Marines know that, despite the current withdrawal timeline, they must somehow convince the Afghans that the U.S. will not abandon them again as it did after the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

The Taliban, “they try to intimidate and harass the people. What I emphasize to them is we are here to stay. That is proven by this enormous base right here looking right into the bazaar,” said 1st Lt. Michael K. Chand Jr., referring to a large combat outpost the Marines built in August in Safar.

“Work with us,” he tells them, “and we will make sure the Taliban won’t bother you anymore.”

Col. Paul Lebidine of San Diego said efforts to help the Afghan government increase its ability to provide for the population require tactical patience, “otherwise it will be for naught.”

“If you wanted (the city of) Marjah fixed, the Marines could get in there and do everything, but it would never sustain itself.” The process by which Afghanistan builds a new nation may not be perfect or even democratic, he added, but it must be Afghan.

“Marines are setting the conditions to allow it,” Lebidine said. “But we are looking for those Thomas Jeffersons, those John Adamses.”

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Patrick Carroll recently finished an 11-month tour as the point man for the Marine force’s religious outreach program in Helmand province. His job was to forge relationships with Muslim leaders, helping to counter Taliban propaganda casting the war as a jihad against infidel invaders intent on destroying Afghan culture.

Carroll said the July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops is unrealistic and unfair. “We can win, we can help the Afghan people win, but it’s a multiyear commitment. I hope the American people will be willing to make that commitment.”

“I remember why we came here,” said Carroll, who worked at the Pentagon when it was attacked on 9/11. “I would rather invest the time to help the Afghan people get on their feet than have another failed state and have to keep coming back another generation. We have to think long term.”

As Faheem poignantly describes below, Americans are growing more impatient and less committed to US war efforts in Afghanistan. Though I think a majority of Americans are still willing to bear a substantial burden to bring about a more stable, secure Afghanistan, the numbers are trending in the wrong the direction. Bob Woodward’s ‘Obama’s Wars’ does not depict a president fully behind his chosen strategy and Obama has clearly not put in the effort to convince the American people that this is indeed a war worth fighting. Of course, the reason he may not have spent the political capital and time pushing this idea may be because he himself, besides his heavy decision to send in more troops, may not believe in it.