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Time for a new path in Afghanistan
One thing all Americans should be able to agree on is that it’s time for a change of course in Afghanistan.
Our current path is untenable. The Obama administration didn’t deliver the seeming victory that propelled him to a second term in office. Instead, it slow-walked defeat, leaving the problem to Obama’s successor.
Now, President Trump has taken the prudent step of rejecting incremental increases and superficial changes to the Obama-era policy. What comes next should be a big departure from business as usual, even if it adds on what appears to be more risks. The real risk is the one we know already — the one involved in continuing to do what doesn’t work.
Some in Congress have grown restive. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, recently said, “We are losing in Afghanistan and time is of the essence if we intend to turn the tide.”
McCain’s plan would flow more troops into the beleaguered country, and give them significantly broader latitude against the Taliban, al-Qaida, the Islamic State and others. The Department of Defense has already offered a “surge” plan of its own.
One radical alternative making the rounds in Washington would set aside the unsatisfactory legacy of the past 16 years. Crafted by Erik Prince, familiar to some from heading the Blackwater organization, the approach begins with the view that the war in Afghanistan has been misaligned with the history of Afghanistan. While the country has maintained a long tradition of decentralized rule, our military effort has been too decentralized.
The Prince plan envisions an inflow of contractors to replace outgoing troops, and a new “trustee” with powers perhaps most analogous to the sweeping ones possessed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the occupation of postwar Japan.
That’s an interesting idea, but American military power cannot be unleashed from the military chain-of-command or robust congressional oversight. Without U.S. troops on the ground, an army of contractors could become a trip-wire, forcing the U.S. military to react to attacks on U.S. personnel on the timetable of our enemies.
Still, Prince is right to warn that Afghanistan’s revolving door of commanders and vicious cycle of operations just can’t go on — especially with major military threats spreading far outside that theater of war.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday that the president is “very, very close” to a decision about a new strategy in Afghanistan, and that the use of private security contractors is one option under consideration. The president is also considering a proposal to send 3,000-4,000 more U.S. troops, and the future of Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, the commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, is uncertain.
The new administration has had to deal with the war in Syria, the fight against ISIS and the threat from North Korea, but it probably needs no reminder that the war in Afghanistan, now the longest war in U.S. history, has been left on the back burner long enough. With all options on the table, it’s time for the president and Congress to choose a path forward that will bring the war to the best conclusion it is possible to achieve.
Orange County Register, Aug. 15, 2017