Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Tactics versus strategy in Afghanistan

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Reading the latest spate of news reports about U.S. policies in Afghanistan, one thing strikes me as troubling — the failure to distinguish between tactics and strategy. Military boffins argue about the exact meaning of those two words, but for the purposes of argument, let’s say that tactics are a means to an end, while strategy contains within it an understanding of the end to be attained.

Dust storm in Kabul/Ahmad MasoodU.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave us an idea of the end earlier this week when he talked of reconciliation with the Taliban, while excluding anyone belonging to al Qaeda. ”There has to be ultimately, and I’ll underscore ultimately, reconciliation as part of a political outcome to this,” Gates said. ”That’s ultimately the exit strategy for all of us.”

Now let’s look at tactics.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the United States is considering training up Afghanistan’s tribal militias to fight the Taliban.  “The plan is controversial because it could extend the influence of warlords while undermining the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul,” the newspaper says. It adds that, “by focusing on tribal militias and local security, the approach resembles the U.S. campaign in Iraq, where former Sunni insurgents are paid to guard their neighborhoods.”

The New York Times picks up the same theme in its own story about the forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate – a report by American intelligence agencies due to be finished after the November presidential election — which it says concludes that Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban.

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