The Week in Review: Leading Toward Victory in Afghanistan

9.25.2009 The Week In Review: Leading Toward Victory in Afghanistan

"I said a long time ago, one of our objectives is to smoke them out and get them running and bring them to justice.” -President George W. Bush

What Does Victory Look Like?

One of the unique benefits I enjoy as a West Point graduate is better-than-average access to a “boots on the ground” view of the Global War on Terror (yes, I realize calling it that is not “PC” but, frankly, I don’t care). In a discussion with a buddy who was recently deployed to Afghanistan, I gained a unique perspective—one not reported by the media or shared in Washington—but one that is as real as the bullet holes in his Special Forces unit’s HMMWV (that’s Army-talk for “Hummer”) on how to win this war. It’s not what you might think.

A Different Kind of Smoke

When we realize that the highest level of development in Afghanistan—Kabul—is akin to the U.S., circa 1950, and the lowest level of development—everything else—is the same as it was when Jesus walked among men, it’s obvious that we cannot expect to establish a thriving democracy or even build on a skeleton government that is already in place. Victory, therefore, will be won by conjuring the desire that we all commonly share: individual freedom.

Afghanis’ individual freedom is currently held in check by the Taliban who, through basic economic exploitation, control the poppy industry—Afghanistan’s largest cash crop. The Taliban have established a remarkably well-developed supply chain (given that there is no infrastructure throughout 90% of the country) to buy poppies from local farmers and resell them on the global drug market. This, in turn, funds terrorist activities and groups like al-Qaeda. Consequently, our number one enemy is not the guy shooting bullets at our soldiers; rather it is the funding that pays for those bullets. We will win in Afghanistan by:

  1. Making the “comfortable” business-as-usual poppy transactions difficult for the Taliban by giving Afghanis incentives to not sell them to the bad guys.
  2. Connecting the outpost villages where we establish these “new economies” to each other by building [even rudimentary] infrastructure, thus encouraging new trade and naturally displacing the Taliban’s role in the Afghani existence.
  3. Providing the resources necessary to ensure this growth occurs organically—which includes short-term military protection and long-term economic aid.

Admittedly, this is a greatly simplified solution, however the concept applies: we must stay in Afghanistan to “smoke [the Taliban] out,” but we need to deploy economics…not just bombs. Trusting the Afghan government to do this themselves, completely withdrawing, and fighting conventionally in an unconventional region all result in failure…

…and failure, particularly in Afghanistan, cannot be an option.

It’s time to fight…it’s time to lead…it’s time to win! Dave

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