In the Arena

The Truth About Afghanistan

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It will be days before we can unpack what actually happened in this week’s meetings between U.S. and Afghan officials. The big question concerns reconciliation: Will the U.S. back Hamid Karzai’s efforts to lure the Taliban into a coalition government? In the meantime, the estimable Spencer Ackerman has a report from a source in Kandahar, detailing many of the same problems with the counterinsurgency that I saw when I visited there last month.

As the estimable Fred Kaplan notes, counterinsurgency stands a minimal chance of success when it is being pursued by a weak government:

A new study by the RAND Corp., How Insurgencies End, finds that weak democracies (and that’s one way to describe Afghanistan) have “a particularly poor record at countering insurgency,” winning only 15 percent of the time. To win such wars requires public support; and public support, the study concludes, “can be won only if reforms are both legitimate and effective.”

Two major events loom now–or perhaps not. One is Karzai’s peace jirga, scheduled for June, which won’t be much more than a futility festival if there isn’t some sort of Taliban presence. The other is NATO’s planned Kandahar offensive, another futility festival if Karzai’s government continues its history of corrupt and pathetic governance in the province. I have a nagging doubt about the latter event; unless there’s something I’m missing–entirely possible, by the way–the absolutely crucial civilian side of this operation is in disarray. But, again, the coming events in Kandahar will determine the future of the Obama Administration’s commitment to this effort.