What’s Undermining the War in Afghanistan?

Ryan Mauro is a fellow with the Clarionproject.org, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at ryanmauro1986@gmail.com.


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General Petraeus is replacing General McChrystal as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and he has his work cut out for him. On the battlefield, he faces the problems of Pakistani and Iranian support for the Taliban and other radical Islamic militants and tough conditions that have forced the offensive into Kandahar to be delayed. At home, he faces rising anti-war sentiment and President Obama’s July 2011 deadline for when troops must begin coming home. These four problems are undermining the war in Afghanistan and must be dealt with soon for success to be possible.

Defense Secretary Gates says that visible progress must be made by the end of the year in order to maintain public support for the war. The American population is becoming more pessimistic about the war, with only one-fifth of likely voters expecting the situation to improve in six months. Over half disapprove of President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan, even though 58 percent support his decision to start bringing troops home in July 2011.

The declining public support is not helped by the misleading statistic given by CIA Director Leon Panetta that only 50 to 100 Al-Qaeda members are in Afghanistan, a statement which makes the war seem less important to national security. Bill Roggio, the Managing Editor of The Long War Journal, has criticized this estimate, pointing to the fact that in 2008 half of the insurgents in Kunar were said to be foreigners and more are believed to have moved in.

“Now, how many of these are actually al Qaeda is certainly something up to debate, as the odds are good that the bulk of these are Pakistanis. But as we’ve argued many times before, the distinctions between these groups are breaking down as time moves on,” Roggio wrote. This statistic desperately needs to be clarified, as many of the Taliban and other terrorists we’re fighting in Afghanistan are in league with Al-Qaeda though not official members. As the death toll rises, Americans will need to be convinced that sacrificing our soldiers is worth the cost.

June was the deadliest month since the war began for NATO with 102 soldiers killed, almost three times that of May. Unfortunately, counter-insurgency campaigns involve more aggressive operations in the beginning resulting in an inevitable spike in casualties before progress including a drop in violence can be measured. All of the additional soldiers won’t be in place until August, further reducing the time available to affect decisive changes. With anti-war sentiment and pessimism already so high, this represents a major problem for President Obama.

The decision to delay the offensive into Kandahar, frequently referred to as the Taliban’s stronghold, until autumn gives President Obama and General Petraeus significantly less time to make the progress that the public requires and less time to stabilize Afghanistan enough for a safe withdrawal to begin in July 2011.

The Obama Administration is already setting the stage for a minimal reduction in troop levels when that target date comes, careful to fulfill his pledge but not jeopardize the mission. He is reminding the American people that July 2011 is when troops begin transitioning out of Afghanistan, not when all forces will leave. General Petraeus is acting as a reassuring voice, saying the date “doesn’t mean we suddenly turn off the lights and let the door close behind us.” Defense Secretary Gates is going further, hinting that reductions could be delayed. “If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011, then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself. We’re not just going to throw these [Afghans] into the swimming pool and walk away,” he said.

The third factor undermining the war in Afghanistan is the conditions that led to the delay of the Kandahar offensive. The difficulties in Marjah have caused a reassessment of the preparation needed for taking on Kandahar. The operation will be significantly larger than the one undertaken in Marjah, as the population is nearly six times greater. There will likely have to be follow-up operations in the rest of Kandahar Province in order to protect the city as the Taliban militants are forced out and try to take up positions nearby.

Frederick and Kimberly Kagan argue that Kandahar City and Marjah cannot be adequately compared. They dispute the notion that it is a Taliban stronghold, writing that “The insurgents remain very strong in Zhari, Panjwayi, and Maiwand Districts to the west and south of Kandahar City, but they do not control any of those areas as completely as they controlled Marjah.”

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  • Gunner57

    I find it appalling that there are still those who consider themslves to be conservative that continue supporting a war that seeks to install a Sharia government that will be our eternal enemy with American blood and treasure.

    Its 9 years after 9/11 and they are still clueless on the commands of Muhammad and his wicked ideology.

  • jim

    What's undermining the war in Afghanistan? The same thing that's undermining the war in Iraq, in Sudan, in Kenya, in Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia, in Russia, in the USA, etc.

    Oh, but we're not at war in all those places, you say? Oh yes we are, but the enemy isn't ID'd. Obama and the MSM refuse to ID the enemy.

    The enemy is called many things, from radical jihadists, to fringe Islamists, etc, etc. But the bottom line, the ultimate enemy, is an ideology, and it is embodied in the Koran. It's why Muslims wage war.

    As long as the Koran contains language endorsing the murder of infidels, there will be war. Only when the Koran is changed, and those who do not follow the new version are immediately condemned and severely punished by fellow Muslims, will Muslims cease to engage in war.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JasonPappas JasonPappas

    The article is disappointing. How about the absurd “rules of engagement?”

    Is the goal of our fighting to keep the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan? Is this border going to be more secure than the US-Mexico border?

    If the Taliban is a proxy for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, why are we supporting those nations instead of fighting them? Why are we funding the enemy?

    If Pakistan is harboring terrorists, do we now accept this? What happened to the Bush doctrine? Why not make Pakistan responsible for its people and suffer the consequences?

    If this is a civil war within Islam, why are we taking any sides?

    Why not kill our enemy & their families and come home? Why not establish a policy that it doesn’t pay to attack America?

    Except for minor details, what’s the difference between Bush and Obama?

  • Andres de Alamaya

    All efforts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq seem hopeless and a waste of lives, time and money.

    As long as we put up with aid to our enemies by the Saudis and Iranians, we'll have trouble in the world. It would be so simple to tell them, "When you help our enemies you declare war on us and we will bomb you" – and then we follow up with bombing raids.

    More than efforts on the other side of the world, we need to concentrate on the Trojan Horses in America and stamp them out. Block any further immigration by Muslims, come down hard on Mullahs who preach hatred in their mosques, and forbid the building of a mosque on Ground Zero. If this one goes through then the people must rise against the various levels of government that have allowed it. If it is built, it will be blown up by militia forces from six other states.

  • Jim C.

    I understand how, say, Pakistan's instability relates to our national security.

    Afghanistan is a sideshow symptom of Pakistan's instability, but I have no idea what Afghanistan at this point has to do with our national security, and I suspect, neither does Mr. Mauro, or Congress, or Mr. Obama. So I guess it is enough to merely use the words, "national security." It is enough to mention "success," Mr. Obama's preferred term. It is enough to allow an editor to insipidly place the word "victory" in the title's tagline, harming innocent brain cells everywhere.

    Afghanistan is nothing beyond an advanced, extraordinarily expensive game of whack a mole that provides a kind of training for our troops. Pure politics (just like use of the word "victory.")

    Now whether it was President Obama or President McCain, you know we'd be looking for the door before they finished their first term. Is it even worth discussing?

  • Larry C.

    Hello,
    The biggest thing that is harming the WAR in that region is the present day administration is Wacko D.C. The far left kook, and the progressives that have infected "OUR"-(THE PEOPLES)-house, and "OUR" senate. It is high time for it to stop, and it is high time for the progressives to go. That is what is hurting the war effort in that region. Tank you.

  • Jim C.

    We've been there, what, 8 years? "Victory?" What on earth are you talking about?

  • denise

    this is ridiculous they need to get the heck out of afghanistan 8 years later and like thousands of dead nothing really is changed in there this is all about freaking politics and as a american mom with a soldier son enough is enough lets realize that two wrongs dont make a right..