November 23rd, 2011
08:30 AM ET

O'Hanlon: Why Huntsman is wrong on Afghanistan

Michael E. O'HanlonEditor's Note: Michael O’Hanlon was in Afghanistan earlier this month and is the author of the new ebook, The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. You can read more from him on the Global Public Square.

By Michael O'Hanlon – Special to CNN

While there were numerous informative exchanges in last night’s GOP presidential debate, one of the more important was on the subject of Afghanistan.

Many Americans would prefer to forget about this war. Americans are tired of it after a decade of war. They  have become hopeful that the killing of so many al Qaeda operatives around the world makes the stakes in Afghanistan now lower than before. But our troops and diplomats and aid workers are the ones who really have the right to be tired - and yet they keep on persevering. The least the rest of us can do is take the issue seriously at a time when more than 90,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines remain deployed in harm’s way.

Governor Huntsman appears to reflect the same kind of thinking that Obama Administration officials, on their recent trips to East Asia, articulated and underscored - the future of the 21st century will be determined not in the mountains of Central Asia but in the broader Pacific region. China and India will be more central than Afghanistan; tectonic shifts in international power distributions will be more crucial than a given counterinsurgency campaign in a small remote country.

Sounds reasonable. And let’s hope he’s right. But Afghanistan remains the place where the idea of the 9/11 attacks was hatched. It remains a large land area where, if the Taliban came back to power, not only al Qaeda but the Pakistani Taliban (which seeks to overthrow its country’s government and claim its nuclear weapons) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks and would love to do something even worse again, perhaps plunging India and Pakistan into war) might find their best sanctuaries. It is a place where, after so many years of sacrifice, NATO troops working with Afghans have secured perhaps three-fourths of the country reasonably well, and gotten the Afghan army and police perhaps halfway towards where they need to be to keep most of the country safe with only limited help.

Whether we like it or not, Afghanistan is important, and the job is not yet done. Obama administration officials, despite their preference to swing to East Asia, need to remember this; Governor Huntsman needs to do so as well.

There are two main reasons why Huntsman’s plan for a rapid drawdown is mistaken. First, the eastern part of the country still needs to be better secured after progress in most of the rest of the country over the last two years. The ring road connecting Kabul and Kandahar is to be better secured over the coming year, for example, and the border regions with Pakistan more hardened against infiltration. This requires U.S. troops as part of the effort, since the job is quite challenging.

Second, the Afghan army and police need to complete the process of being built. Just as crucially, they need more apprenticeship in the field. Today, NATO forces and Afghan units partner intensively, with a NATO company or battalion often working hand in hand with an Afghan “kandak” (roughly a battalion-sized unit). The Afghans are fighting pretty well individually for the most part, but as an institution they have a ways to go. They can help some in the east now, and continue to do most of the work in Kabul and the north and west, and are doing an increasing fraction of the total stabilization mission in the south as well. But we need to be careful in making the transitions.

In other words, the strategy is working - at least tolerably well, if not super well. But it needs two to three years of intensive NATO effort before our role can be minimized.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Michael O'Hanlon.

Post by:
Topics: 2012 Election • Afghanistan

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. mark s

    As long as the Pakistanis provide sanctuary for insurgents, and the Afghan leadership has little relevance to local populations at the district level, the strategy will not work. We are spending $2 billion a week in support of a process that may lead to better security in half of afghanistan however i question whether the afghan govt will pay the salaries of an expanded ,military and police force. I don't believe they will sustain that effort and we shouldn't provide financial support for these core costs.

    November 23, 2011 at 9:05 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      True, especially when the Afghan borders with Pakistanare are so porous! It's impossible to have them "more hardened against infiltration". It's important that the region remains stable after 2014. India could play a role, but Pakistan wouldn't embrace this idea. Take the Chinese, who are mining in Afghanistan, on board. As Pakistan and China have a good relationship, the two could be the peace-keeper of the Hindu-Kush.

      November 23, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Reply
    • Saba

      PAKISTAN IS AN ISLAMIST THEOCRACY THAT LIVES AND BREEDS RELIGIOUS , SECRETARIAN HATE

      and it has made INDIA an enemy, then it made Afghanistan an enemy and then it has made the WEST it's enemy and UNITED STATES is Pakistan's enemy now and Pakistan wants AID from the United States ????? SO PAKISTAN SUCKS says noted author Salman Rushidie

      November 26, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • Saba

      why is every Intelligence agency blaming Pakistan????? because they know the truth. India is helping and Pakistan is obstructing

      PAKISTAN IS A TRAITOR

      PAKISTAN IS A SNAKE THAT DRINKS MILK OF PATRON AND SPEWS VENOM ON THE PATRON( UNITED STATES)

      PAKISTAN IS PLAYING DIRTY DOUBLE GAMES

      November 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  2. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Just think. When the GOP regain power, they will start a war with Iran (totally unfunded of course). Then they will draft all the poor people to fight(die) in the war (just like the GOP wants) and give "no bid" contracts to the rich people. Killing two birds with one stone!!! Then we can use Iran's oil to pay for the war. And when the war is over, Iran will sell us cheap oil!!! Just like Iraq........Oh wait........Never mind.

    November 23, 2011 at 9:49 am | Reply
  3. Eugene Levich

    O'Hanlon has it exactly right.

    November 23, 2011 at 11:37 am | Reply
  4. Mary

    With a national debt of over $15 trillion, we should be less worried about insurgents half a world away and more worried about our economy. Spending $2 billion per week on the war in Afghanistan is not just unsustainable, it's fiscally irresponsible. A sound strategy must take into everything into account, including our financial situation.

    November 23, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  5. tammy

    O'Hanlon has a good point. But it has been 10 years. We shouldn't just take off completely but we can switch to counter-terrorism operations, limited training troops and diplomats.

    The risk of staying any longer cannot be ignored, either. American and NATO will look like another colonial power which would make young men want to join terrorists groups even more. Fight against terrorists might end up recruiting more young terrorists.

    November 23, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  6. Saba

    Somalia + nuclear weapons = Pakistan

    it proliferated nuclear technology to Libya , Iran and North Korea

    It sheltered BIN LADEN for 5 years

    It took 18 billion dollars in aid and used it against India than fight terror

    What an "ally" ...TERRIBLE ROGUE

    November 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  7. Saba

    WHY IS AMERICA GIVING EVEN A DIME TO PAKISTAN ( AN ENEMY, NEVER AN ALLY )

    Can any country shelter Bin Laden for 5 years near IT'S military academy, ONLY PAKISTAN

    Can any country proliferate Nuclear weapon technology to Iran , North Korea and Libya, ONLY PAKISTAN

    Can any country support HAQQANI Network so that it kills US Troops as they come home in BODYBAGS, Only
    Pakistan

    Can any country have its overseas citizens plan the TIME SQUARE bomb plot, ONLY PAKISTAN

    Can any country orchestrate the MUMBAI attacks on India , ONLY PAKISTAN

    Can any country nurture the TALIBAN TO KILL it's own people ( ALI MENTIONED Pakistani civialn deaths ) , ONLY Pakistan

    Can any country take 20 billion dollar aid and use it against India as opposed to feed its people, ONLY Pakistan

    Can any country attack the Taliban negotiator,destabilize Afganistan by training Afghan Taliban as a strategic weapon, ONLY Pakistan

    Can any country's citizen ( Khalid sheikh Mohammed) Pitch ideas to Bin Laden on flying planed into building on Sept 11, Only Pakistan

    Can any country's citizen ( David headley alais Dawood Gilani ) act as scout for the Mumbai Attacks , Only Pakistan

    Fareed Zakaria says that Pakistan is a Frankenstein's monster breeding Islamic Terrorism

    November 26, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  8. Saba

    PAKISTANIS intelligence ISI COPIES TERRORISM FROM EVERYWHERE

    PAKISTANIS intelligence ISI COPIES SUICIDE BOMBINGS FROM IRAN

    KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMAD – PAKISTANI WHO MASTERMINDED SEPT 2011 BY GIVING IDEA TO PLY PLANES INTO BUILDINGS

    FAIZAL SHAZAD – PAKISTANI WHO PLANED TIME SQUARE BOMB PLOT

    LONDON BOMBERS WERE OR PAKISTANI ORIGIN

    AJMAL KASAB WAS THE PAKISTANI GUNMAN OF MUMBAI ATTACK

    DAWOOD GILANI ( HEADLEY) – A PAKISTANI PLANNED MUMBAI ATTACK

    TAWAHUR RANA – A PAKISTANI PLANNED THE MUMBAI ATTACK

    PAKISTANI – TERRORISTS OR TERROR SYMPATHIZERS

    November 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,666 other followers