While conservatives have generally been pleased with President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, many have expressed disappointment at the president’s promulgating Summer 2011 as a goal for beginning the handover of security responsibilities to Afghans, suggesting that announcing any sort of drawdown goal will only cause the Taliban to hunker down and “wait us out.”
Elrod at the Moderate Voice has a good response:
Quite simply, the Taliban does not have the luxury of “waiting us out” for 18 months. If they survive that long then it is because we failed in our ground-level counterinsurgency policy, not because we telegraphed our intention not to stay indefinitely. And if they do try and lay low and wait us out, the Afghan army and government will have had that much more time to establish its legitimate control over the entirety of southern Afghanistan.
If killing the enemy were the main goal, then their decision to hunker down and wait for the U.S. to begin leaving might be a problem. But as the main goal of the new COIN strategy in Afghanistan is to secure the population, build trust with local communities through effective delivery of services, all the while increasing Afghan capacity to continue doing those things when we leave, it’s really not. The Taliban “waiting us out” would just give the U.S. more time and space to make Afghanistan a more inhospitable place for the Taliban.
Beyond that, the “they’ll wait us out!” argument betrays a pretty clear lack of understanding of the counterinsurgency strategy being implemented in Afghanistan, in which the civilian population, not the enemy insurgents themselves, are the focus of operations. When Sen. John McCain criticizes talk of withdrawal by insisting, as he did on Meet the Press yesterday, that “The rationale for war is to break the enemy’s will,” all he’s telling us is that he hasn’t bothered to do his homework on this particular war. Which, given McCain’s known preference for empty sloganeering over actual policy, should be shocking to no one.