Thursday, August 17, 2017

Opinions: A new, winning strategy for Trump in Afghanistan - washingtonpost

Stephen J. Hadley was national security adviser to President George W. Bush.

After 16 years of sacrifice in Afghanistan, President Trump is right to ask why we are there and what does it take to win.

The United States has vital national interests in Afghanistan. Since 9/11, preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland has remained our key objective. While the cost in lives and treasure has been too high, this objective has largely been achieved. But it has required a sustained U.S. troop presence, the active participation of our NATO allies and a close partnership with the Afghan government.

If the Trump administration now opts to draw down U.S. military forces, the NATO allies would go home and the Afghan state would likely collapse. The result would be a victory for the terrorists. It would undo the Trump administration’s recent success against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and provide the Islamic State a haven in Afghanistan from which to foment attacks on the United States.

Instead, the Trump administration can deliver another major blow against terrorism. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda seek to expand their presence in Afghanistan, but virtually none of the Afghan groups — including the Taliban — support them. They can be defeated in Afghanistan just as they are being pushed out of Iraq and Syria. This natural extension of the Iraq/Syria campaign would help consolidate the victory against the Islamic State. But it will require U.S. counterterrorism forces to continue operating alongside Afghan security forces.

The challenge will then be to preserve the victory and help the Afghan people stabilize their country so that the Islamic State and al-Qaeda do not return. This can be done with a political/diplomatic strategy that seeks an inclusive settlement among all Afghan political factions while creating a more legitimate, popularly supported government that addresses the conflict’s root causes.

There has been some progress. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is committed to reform. The Afghan defense forces are bravely fighting at tremendous cost. But the Afghan government must boost its legitimacy by broadening its base of popular support, fighting corruption and ensuring credible presidential elections in 2019. Continued U.S. support must be conditioned on these steps.

The big question is what to do about the Taliban. The answer: Test its interest in peace.

Defeating terrorist groups that threaten the United States does not include or require defeating the Taliban. The United States and NATO must make clear that they will fully support an Afghan-led political settlement involving all sectors of Afghan society — including the Taliban

To give the Afghan government, military forces and society the confidence to enter into such a process, the Trump administration should authorize the modest increase in U.S. and NATO troop levels  recommended by the local U.S. commander. The Afghan government can then credibly tell the Taliban that it will pay a heavy price for continuing to fight, but is welcome to participate in a political settlement.

This new strategy will require U.S. leadership in two additional respects. - Read More


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