Monday, October 5, 2009

Strategic Depths

Over the weekend the New York Times published an article analyzing the evolution of American strategy in Afghanistan through the lens of a firefight that occurred a year ago in Nuristan province. That firefight featured a large, well coordinated assault on an American outpost, nearly overrunning that outpost and killing 9 US troops. The next day, an eerily similar assault occurred in the same province – this one, a coordinated assault on two American outposts – killing 8 US troops.

This weekend’s assault, coming during the Obama administration’s high-profile Afghan strategy review, will doubtlessly focus attention on the controversial question of whether to deploy more US troops to Afghanistan. I’ve advocated for that as part of a broader counter insurgency strategy in the past – and I continue to believe that that is the correct approach for the situation at hand.

In fact, the New York Times article reporting this weekend’s assault on the American outposts featured comments from the Governor of Nuristan, Jamaluddin Badar:
The fighters had come from Pakistan, [Mr. Badar] said, after military operations pushed them out of their bases there. He said the strike was led by a Taliban commander named Dost Muhammad, whom he described as the shadow commander for the Taliban in Nuristan.
I have argued in the past that, as the Afghan Taliban have used Pakistan for safe-haven and strategic depth, so will the Pakistani Taliban, should the United States abandon Afghanistan. I have also argued that which side of the border functions as a safe-haven for the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban depends on the level of pressure exerted by anti-Taliban forces in the neighboring state. Mr. Badar’s comments apparently bear this argument out and demonstrate that Pakistan’s on-going push against the Pakistani Taliban is having an effect.

Rather than react to the coordinated assaults on its outposts in Nuristan, the United States should recognize that the fight in Pakistan and the fight in Afghanistan are integrally related. Here, now, the stability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are at stake. The United States should reinforce its position, provide sufficient troops and civilian assistance to wage an effective counter insurgency, and to aid Pakistan by denying the Pakistani Taliban Afghan breathing room.

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