It’s not hard to overlook the fact that the United States is still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we are. Although we have been spending tens of billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan, we have only gotten the “inputs right” in the last six months, according to General David Petraeus. The general spoke at the Newseum this morning, and while the cameras were rolling he outlined some of the major challenges that the United States faces in Afghanistan. Although he gave a sober assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, a few of his points deserve closer inspection.
Petraeus began by asserting that there is little argument over America’s “truly vital strategic interest” in Afghanistan and the greater region. He is right to identify the AfPak region as critical to America’s strategic interests. However, Afghanistan is, by all accounts, the less strategically vital ‘half’ of AfPak. Even so, Petraeus explained that the United States has a real reason to be in Afghanistan–to respond to September 11th and to make sure that Afghanistan can secure itself and remove all transnational extremists. The only way to do that, according to Petraeus, is a “comprehensive civil-military counter-insurgency campaign.”
Terrorism is certainly a threat, not only to the United States but to the entire world. Moreover, the global scope of the threat reflects the fact that terrorists can hide and operate nearly anywhere. The problem lies in how to deal with that threat.
When asked why Afghanistan matters as a safe haven if terrorists can operate from Pakistan or Yemen, Petraeus responded that “we have to stop them everywhere.”
But stopping them everywhere will require a fundamental shift in the way that we deal with the threat of terrorism. The United States cannot wage another “comprehensive civil-military counter-insurgency campaign” if an attack is launched from Somalia, Yemen, or Pakistan. Terrorism is a transnational threat, and deploying ground forces to defeat it–even as part of a broader strategy–is an unsustainable solution.
— Jordan D’Amato