Gilles Dorronsoro from the Carnegie Endowment repeats his complaint that US military commanders are deploying their troops to the wrong part of Afghanistan:
The new troops will not stay in southern Afghanistan long enough for the Afghan army to establish control there and build functioning government institutions. And, indeed, the presence of foreign troops fighting on behalf of a corrupt government in Kabul only makes that government more unpopular, which helps the Taliban grow more entrenched, even as they take losses.
Obama’s speech was just a speech. His point about arming Afghan militias and building security from the ground up is where the country is actually headed. But as the Taliban continue to gain on Kabul from several directions — including the north, where new troops would make more of a difference — Obama’s plan will make it harder for the government to survive and likely that the United States will leave Afghanistan looking worse than it does now.
Dorronsoro’s basic idea, as I understand it, is that there are parts of Afghanistan where the Taliban is entrenched and relatively popular. General McChrystal’s view seems to be that these are the places where the Taliban problem is “worst” and we need to send the most troops. But Dorronsoro thinks we should regard those as places where our forces are unwelcome, and instead focus our attention on places that have only come under attack recently and where the local population is hostile to the Taliban. In other words, spend our time and energy protecting people who want protection, rather than trying to “clear” Pashto areas where the Taliban is popular.
This all sounds very plausible to me, but I’m not really seeing the rigorous grounding in Afghan public opinion information that it would seem to require. I would, however, be very interested in hearing military and administration officials take this point on squarely and say why they think it’s wrong.