Thinking about US Strategy in Afghanistan

Assigned Reading: Al-Qa’ida prefers U.S. to stick around
(FROM: The Australian)

There’s a lot of talk about Afghanistan these days, but almost all of it involves domestic politics. Conservatives–and to an increasing extent all Americans–are frustrated with Obama’s indecision. The country is sending a message that Jeff summed up nicely: fish or cut bait, Mr. President.

Obviously some decision is better than no decision, but I’m not seeing a lot of discussion about which decision would be best. Prominent counter-terrorism expert Leah Farrall weighed in a couple of days ago with a thoughtful perspective that is worth reading. She writes:

A key objective is the denial of al-Qa’ida access to sanctuary in Afghanistan — a goal the Bush administration also shared. There has been vigorous debate within the US political establishment about what strategy will best achieve this goal. Counter-insurgency proponents argue for increased troop levels while others believe it can be achieved by a targeted counter-terrorism campaign with a lighter force footprint.

Both of these approaches rest on the longstanding premise that al-Qa’ida wants another safe haven in Afghanistan. However, this premise is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its strategic intentions. Afghanistan’s value to al-Qa’ida is as a location for jihad, not a sanctuary.

While calling for jihad to liberate occupied Muslim lands is a potent radicalisation tool, it only yields substantive benefits when there is such a conflict at hand. Before September 11, 2001, most volunteers at al-Qa’ida’s camps in Afghanistan wanted training for armed jihad. Al-Qa’ida had problems with attrition of its members and trainees who left its camps to seek armed jihad elsewhere, usually in Chechnya.

This was one of the driving reasons behind Osama bin Laden’s decision to attack the US with the specific aim of inciting it to invade Afghanistan. For bin Laden, this created a new, exploitable jihad. Since the US invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, al-Qa’ida has become the pre-eminent group fighting a self-declared jihad against an occupying force. These invasions allowed al-Qa’ida to exploit allegations that the US was intent on occupying Muslim lands.

A withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan would undoubtedly hand al-Qa’ida and the Taliban a propaganda victory. However, a victory would deny al-Qa’ida its most potent source of power, influence, funding and recruits — the armed jihad.

I think Farrall is right as far as her analysis goes, but I’m not sure that it changes much from a strategic standpoint. The ironic thing is that both the US and bin Laden may want the same thing for the time being: conflict in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda benefits from having a flashpoint to galvanize recruits. The US benefits because we’d rather face more radicals in the Afghan wilderness than fewer radicals in the American suburbs.

This may work as a short-run equilibrium, but in the long-run we need a better solution.



  1. Gail B says:

    I don't know anything about war–hate war, won't ever like it, and so cannot give any personal opinion on what should or should not be done; and I have no more experience or knowledge about war than Obama/Soetoro does.

    However, when the person who has more experience and first-hand knowledge of the conditions in Afghanistan than Obama/Soetoro and his entire cabinet combined says he needs 40,000 more troops, I would trust his judgment enough to say, "General McChrystal, sir, they are on the way! How else can we help you?"

  2. Rix says:

    > This may work as a short-run equilibrium, but in the long-run we
    > need a better solution.

    We have a perfect solution. Better yet, we have two perfect solutions, one foreign and the other domestic.

    On the foreign front, we stay away from all conflicts except those directed against sovereign American soil or property – not against our so-called European "allies", oil-rich dictatorships or tribal chieftains who find it convenient to receive our free protection. If we are attacked, we use half of our nuclear arsenal (keeping another half in reserve for those who object) to melt the responsible country – or, in case of organization, the host country – into radioactive glass. This approach guarantees to work for at least 500 years. Heck, it worked for Japan, didn't it?

    On domestic front, we outlaw Islam as a public religion. That, it is important to stress, does not mean that observing Muslims are killed, hunted, jailed, deported or even discriminated against. It only restricts public service, public fund-raising for Islamic causes, and of course strips tax-exempt status from Islam-based religious bodies. Coincidentally, it also stops Islam from spreading like a black plague (pun intended) through American penitentiary system. Those who believe this measure to be anti-democratic should refresh his or her memory on the fact that similar restrictions are imposed on Satanism, and nobody objected.

    These two solutions, combined, will guarantee that in a couple of years this country will have no reason to worry about Islamic terrorism – at least until England and France officially become caliphates.

  3. Gail B says:

    Jeff, can you find a place for Rix in your Cabinet?


    Gail, leave Rix alone, he is in my platoon, and we will be busy.

  5. Robert Wallace says:

    "Those who believe this measure to be anti-democratic should refresh his or her memory on the fact that similar restrictions are imposed on Satanism, and nobody objected."

    Yeah… this is why I generally don't respond to your posts.


    "Heck, it worked for Japan, didn't it?"

    It didn't help one iota, and one could argue it significantly hurt them. Japanese isolation only prolonged the time until their culture came into conflict with a dominant West. It didn't help them in dealing with that day when it arrived:

    So sure if by "worked" you mean "lagged behind technologically by centuries relative to the leading societies" it worked like a charm.

  6. Gail B says:


    Yes, Sir! Carry on, Sir!

  7. Rix says:

    Robert, you likely misunderstood me. When I said "it worked for Japan", I mean how it worked on August 6th of year 1945. It was quite clear from the context, wasn't it? Never since had Japan any imperialistic notions – or, if it had, they did not involve military invasions or kamikaze pilots.

    As for Satanism, you missed my point again. For better or worse, our free, democratic society is no stranger to outlawing religions. Poor sods only slaughter goats and desecrate holy images, with an occasional human sacrifice thrown in for good measure; as evil and disgusting as their "religion" is, Islam is BY FAR more dangerous and I don't see why Muslims should be treated any better than Satanists.

Speak Your Mind