Marine veteran, Atlantic correspondent and assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, West (The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq, 2008, etc.) offers a bleak view of the war in Afghanistan.
“We didn’t have a war-fighting doctrine for defeating the Taliban,” writes the author. “Instead, we had a counterinsurgency doctrine for nation building, much like the Peace Corps on a giant scale.” After a decade of war, the U.S. military has failed its assigned missions of protecting village populations and nation building. Combining policy analysis with on-the-ground accounts of fighting observed during three extended visits in Afghanistan during the past three years, West argues that U.S. military leaders have been wrongheaded and continually failed to face realities. They overlooked “the magnetic power of radical Islam”; treated each village the same, as if the problem consisted of just a few fundamentalists whom village elders could rein in; and tried to convince Afghan tribes to support a corrupt central government. In the Korengal Valley, one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous provinces, Capt. Jimmy Howell told the author: “We’re not making any progress with these people…The insurgents we fight every day are their brothers, sons, uncles. We have to kill enough bad guys and remove their leaders before things will change.” But U.S. military commanders have grown risk-averse, focusing more on providing services and protection to villagers than on killing the enemy. For their part, writes West, the Afghan forces are nowhere near ready to stand on their own. Meanwhile, Taliban forces move freely across the border into Pakistan, which shelters more than 150 insurgent camps. As long as Pakistan plays that role, the war will not end. After making clear the ambiguity and confusion of current American policy, the author writes that America must stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes, learn to fight smarter and neutralize the enemy. He urges reducing conventional U.S. forces and building an advisory task force that can make the Afghan army as battle-ready as the Taliban.
A devastating critique of U.S. foreign policy regarding a seemingly endless war.