The Five Year Itch

I share Kevin Drum’s frustrations with the odd continuing leaks out of Afghanistan in which military commanders seem to be contradicting themselves:

Overall, the evidence suggests that steadily increasing U.S. troop strength has had virtually no effect in the past; that the Taliban is getting continually stronger; that the central government is corrupt and incompetent; and that even under the best circumstances the Afghan army can’t be brought up to speed in less than five years. At the same time, U.S. commanders say they understand that they have only 12–18 months to turn things around.

The other thing I wonder about is these incredibly long time horizons for getting the Afghan army up to speed. Why so long? We’re not training these guys to mount an amphibious invasion of Japan or get into dogfights with the IDF. The idea is that they need to be able to fight the Taliban. And which superpower is funding, arming, and training the Taliban? Nobody! They’re making do with limited support from perhaps some elements in Pakistani intelligence and maybe some Gulf money.

Given Afghanistan’s long series of civil wars, there are experienced military commanders around on the non-Taliban side and plenty of veteran fighters throughout the country. It seems as if relatively small quantities of American support should decisively tilt the balance of power. And, indeed, in the winter of 2001–2002 they did decisively tilt the balance of power. Did the Northern Alliance troops suddenly forget how to fight? Did we forget how to help them?