Layered Strategy

Afghanistan and U.S. operations are the lynchpin to efforts to defeat al-Qaida. Historically, efforts by other nations there (say, Great Britain and the former Soviet Union) hint at the challenges and frustrations — some already encountered; others that might lie in wait — notably in the mountainous regions that are no-man’s or everyman’s land. (Depends on the man.)

Recently, the U.S. publicized efforts that they hope will help defeat al-Qaida elements, notably attacks across the fluid border that thinly divides Afghanistan from U.S. ally Pakistan.

U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike Mullen visited Pakistan to help quell concerns over U.S. forays (OK, bombings) into Pakistan territory (or to reach some loose agreement that all parties can deny about what U.S. and Pakistani forces do in the area. We just won’t know until the next Bob Woodward book.) Taliban forces live and train in the vast region and step into Pakistan where it is believed villagers are supportive.

While that whole dropping-bombs-on-a-sovereign-nation-thing might give some pause, one source who served in the region (and was attacked by Taliban forces) says of U.S. actions, “Good idea. Great that we’re open about it.” He noted that this was one of the big problems in Vietnam, “There are no stop signs in war, but that’s how we often operated in Vietnam. We needed to go into Laos and other places more than we did, and that’s what we’re doing now. Openly.”

Afghanistan, which many consider more complex than Iraq, is a nation of provinces and warlords. (We won’t even toss Afghan President Hamid Karzi’s boys in the mix.) It is known that al Qaeda moves with relative ease. According to one former provincial reconstruction team commander, it will take a generation or two (or three) to educate the population needed to push out the bad actors and keep them out.

Until then, the U.S., with its mishmash of unenthusiastic allies engages otherwise. U.S. Special Operations forces are busy fighting the enemy when not fighting among themselves. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway has been pushing to move his Marines into Afghanistan. Provincial reconstruction team numbers are surprisingly small. Cross-border attacks have been a matter of discussion for some time. How long can they be sustained or justified?

The Magic Eight Ball is on hiatus. 

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