The Case for Continuing the Counterinsurgency Campaign In Afghanistan

The South May Be Under Control But the East Is Not

This piece was published as part of The Future of Afghanistan and U.S. Foreign Policy, a collaboration between the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism and ForeignAffairs.com. (Photo: The U.S. Army / flickr.)

U.S. and allied forces have made great progress in Afghanistan since the start of the counterinsurgency campaign in early 2010. But critical military tasks remain -- and these can only be accomplished by a substantial deployment of U.S. troops. Last May, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would be withdrawing 10,000 U.S. troops before the end of 2011 and the remaining 20,000 surge troops by September 2012, leaving a total of 68,000 in the country. He tabled further decisions on force levels prior to 2014, at which time Afghanistan will take full responsibility for its own security, according to the framework that NATO and Afghanistan established in Lisbon last November. The rapid dialing back of the surge is a risky strategy, though if executed correctly, and not rushed, it is workable.

Some members of the Obama administration, along with experts such as retired General David Barno and the journalist Linda Robinson, have recommended that Obama end the counterinsurgency mission next year and refocus U.S. troops on supporting the Afghan security forces. But that is a recipe for failure. Accelerating the drawdown and ending the counterinsurgency mission sooner than planned would not only squander the valuable gains made over the last two years but prevent both U.S. and Afghan forces from engaging decisively against insurgent and terrorist groups that threaten the security of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States.

Enemies determined to kill U.S. citizens and rebuild sanctuaries remain in Afghanistan. Insurgent groups closely affiliated with al Qaeda -- such as the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Islamic Jihad Union of Uzbekistan -- still have safe havens in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan security forces will not be able to eliminate those territories on their own, because they do not (and will never) have the sophisticated, high-end capabilities

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