In the Arena

Meanwhile in Afghanistan…

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Two different views on how things are going today: David Petraeus, preparing the field for his Congressional testimony next week, says progress is being made. CJ Chivers, writing in the Times, isn’t so sure. I’m not sure, either: progress has been made in the Taliban heartland, in Kandahar Province, but the effort in the eastern part of the country, where the Haqqani Taliban network operates, seems to be regressing. Chivers is reporting from the east and this part, especially, is a matter of concern:

Many American officers, year in and year out, describe a persistent trait visible to anyone who visits almost any line unit for an extended time. Afghan units are supposed to be preparing to take over security. Yet they are often unwilling to set out on independent patrols, beyond trips back and forth between their own positions, or to the bazaar. They remain largely a tag-along force.

And so, firefight by firefight, bomb by bomb, many of the troops whose lives are at risk openly discuss how gains feel tentative, perhaps temporary.

The ability of the Afghan National Army to hold the areas that U.S. troops have secured is crucial. It is central to the current strategy. As are the current, quiet efforts to launch reconciliation talks with the Taliban. From what I can gather, this year is it, one way or another: the U.S. will begin a significant drawdown of troops in the field at the end of the fighting season. That seems right to me–this year we’ll see if the progress made in Kandahar will stick. If it does, then the ANA can take over; if it doesn’t, then the current strategy will have failed and it will be time for a more modest, Bidenesque plan.