Beating Al Qaeda But Losing in Afghanistan?

My New Atlanticist post “Beating Al Qaeda But Losing in Afghanistan?” rounds up several major reports coming out today, the gist of which are:

  • Our military strikes against al Qaeda have been so successful that a “complete al Qaeda defeat” is on the horizon.
  • We’re finally killing their leaders faster than they can replace them.
  • Our human intelligence in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region is finally decent.
  • Yet, our top brass say we need a major rethink of our strategy and should refocus on al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Now, these would seem to be in stark contrast.  They seem, however, to be in alignment with Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy, which calls for radically narrowing our objectives.

We’re left, it seems, with this:

It would be a supreme irony, indeed, if the war in Afghanistan — entered into by the Bush administration as the opening salvo in the Global War on Terror launched in response to the 9/11 attacks — were successful in destroying al Qaeda and yet perceived as a failure because hubris created unreachable objectives for the mission.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Terrorism, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mannning says:

    Seems to me that we must continue to target OBL, AQ in general, and the TALIBAN with our intel and predators, and even step it up a notch to include many lesser leaders in those organizations.

    We do need to hold the line we have made so far, for a while longer, to let the Predators work and some aid to take effect in the provinces under our control.

    We may never defeat the TALIBAN completely, but we can, with a resurgent Afghanistan army, extend our control to a radiating group of provinces centered on Kabul, while leaving the mountain fastnesses alone.

    If we make this core set of provinces reasonably secure and more viable economically, we have a chance to leave with some hope that the core will survive, and with a hope that it would grow, province by province.

    The nub of the problem, though, is economics. How we could possibly turn the core provinces into an economic success is beyond me. How we could change poppy fields into crops with a decent payoff is not clear either.

    All of which leaves me with a negative feeling about sending more troops into this land of rocks. Certainly not to have them stray too far beyond our current lines or core areas in an attempt to win and hold more territory. Or to defeat the TALIBAN in pitched battles in the far reaches of the country, should they be so dumb as to engage us, since we do not have the troops to hold what we win.

  2. mike says:

    does it take a lot of leadership to carry out these low-level attacks? I am worried that we are just playing a numbers game like the body counts that were so popular in Vietnam.

  3. steve says:

    The same is true of Iraq. We needed realistic goals. Iraq is not going to be a pro-western democratic ally. Leaving a relatively stable country behind is the best we can really hope for.