Massachusetts Senator John Kerry (you may recall, he served in Vietnam) has an opinion piece in today's Opinion Journal, critiquing the failure of Bush Administration policy in Afghanistan. From Mr. Kerry's vantage point, the recent surge in Taliban attacks, calls for more western troop deployments and the underfunding of reconstruction efforts are evidence of a failed strategy. In his words, we are "losing Afghanistan," and must recommit to victory in that country.
Kerry's approach to military analysis is apparently influenced by The New York Times. Like the Times, Senator Kerry (or, more likely the staffer who ghost-wrote the op-ed) cherry picks his "facts" carefully for maximum effect. Mr. Kerry wants his readers to believe that Afghanistan is going to hell in a handbasket, thanks to the feckless policies of the man who defeated him in the 2004 Presidential election. Admittedly, the situation in Afghanistan has grown more serious over the past year, but contrary to the assertions of Mr. Kerry and Newsweek magazine (which has a cover story on Afghanistan this week), the battle is far from lost, and there is reason for continued optimism.
Consider this grim assessment from Senator Kerry:
"Funded largely by a flourishing opium trade, a resurgent Taliban effectively controls entire swathes of southern Afghanistan. Roadside bomb attacks have more than doubled this year, and suicide attacks have more than tripled. Britain's commander in Afghanistan recently said that "the intensity and ferocity of the fighting is far greater than in Iraq on a daily basis."
Mr. Kerry doesn't define the term "effectively controls," but he insinuates that the Taliban is essentially back in control of much of Afghanistan. That is grossly inaccurate. True, the numbers of Taliban and Al Qaida-sponsored attacks have increased significantly over the past year, but that trend is a bit misleading, since roughly 90% of the attacks occur in southern and eastern Afghanistan--areas that have traditionally been Taliban strongholds. Additionally, even at today's current, "elevated" levels, Afghanistan has never recorded more than 700 insurgent attacks in a month--roughly the equivalent of four days' worth of terrorist activity in Iraq. Moreover, cumulative totals for September are expected to be about 15-20% low the peak level of August, when roughly 700 attacks occurred. In other words, recent NATO operations (like Operation Mountain Lion) are having the desired effect, although more work remains to be done. Clearly, you won't find that type of balanced assessment in Kerry's op-ed.
Nor does the Senator explore other reasons for the upswing in violence--namely, a switch to the type of "international" effort he suggested during his failed presidential bid. You may recall that overall responsibility for the Afghan mission was turned over to NATO last year. In the months that followed, many of NATO contingents were less-than-aggressive in pursuing terrorists, adopting a "garrison" strategy that minimizes casualties. That approach gave the Taliban an added breather, allowing them to re-group and expand their operational base. The good news is that the terrorists still die in large numbers when they elect to stand and fight. A recent increase in suicide bombings is indicative of a shift to tactics that have some measure of success. In small unit operations, Taliban fighters are still hopelessly outled and outclassed by NATO forces, and they can't maintain their territorial gains in the face of superior forces.
Mr. Kerry also dodges the central question of how NATO can be prodded into meeting its obligations in Afghanistan. He quotes General James Jones, the current Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, who recently observed that all 26 members of the alliance have been dragging their feet in supplying more troops and resources for the fight. That reality would seem to undercut Mr. Kerry's 2004 assertion that the U.S. needed to engage the world community in the war on terror, and forge stronger alliances. As we're seeing in Afghanistan, some of our NATO partners are willing to fight to the last American or Afghan in the battle against the Taliban and Al Qaida, but have problems with sending more of their own troops--especially if those forces might have to venture outside a secure garrison. So much for the internationalist approach.
The Senator is on firmer ground in advocating an increase in aid to Afghanistan, but once again, he ignores the issue of how much the U.S. should pay, and how much our NATO allies should pony up. If Afghanistan is truly a coalition effort--and it's supposed to be just that--then we need more Euros along with additional dollars. And how do we make that happen? Once again, Mr. Kerry is short on answers.