Afghan Quicksand Awaits Obama

Success or failure in Afghanistan depends on the handful of countries that step up -- and a multi-pronged, combat/political/nation-building strategy. The Brits field excellent soldiers but are short of enabling equipment, such as helicopters, armor, and UAVs, which could greatly enhance their combat effectiveness. Nevertheless, an outstanding British-led operation to deliver a 200-ton hydroelectric turbine to the Kajaki Dam could eventually deliver electricity to 1.8 million people. This dam, with its potential to bring light, heat, and the ability to begin industrializing, is a true and serious victory for the good guys.

So, let me stipulate that it's still a real fight. While the AOGs are making progress on some fronts, success is no more assured for them than for us. Mostly they destroy things that their countrymen want -- including peace and the prospect of increased prosperity. They cut off lips and noses and douse women with gasoline and burn them alive. Just recently, a group of enemies apparently tried to bait us into killing a wedding party. If we are going to get groups to the negotiating table, we must pose a credible threat against enemies and a credible promise to the rest. What we don't want is the current situation, where it's actually the AOGs that are forcing us to the table, largely due to NATO's general apathy and unwillingness to fight.

To ensure that we have influence over the outcome, we need more soldiers in Afghanistan, and fast. They need to be U.S. forces, British, Canadian, and Aussie; we cannot depend on NATO in general and they don't know how to fight anyway. Unless President-elect Obama knows some kind of magic spell, he will not be able to persuade most NATO countries to do the right thing. Springtime 2009 will likely bring very heavy fighting in Afghanistan. We will not have credible negotiating positions while we remain outgunned by a bunch of old rifles and dinged-up RPGs.

While security in Iraq continues to improve, Afghanistan is drowning in a frothing quicksand. While most of the 2008 fighting season is over, we can be assured that the Afghan national sport -- guerrilla warfare -- will become the 2009 Taliban Olympics by April. They know this is a marathon.

Whatever else, Mr. President-elect, this is no time to go wobbly. It is important to note that some top British and U.S. commanders believe that we can make a "success" out of Afghanistan. We've learned a few things over the past seven years. We've truly got a "dream team" of military commanders with great in-theater experience to advise and guide the next phase. They saved Iraq. Use them well, Sir.

President-elect Obama says he is serious about Afghanistan. (Just don't fumble Iraq, please.) As he must be learning in intelligence briefings, it's going to be tough stuff. It will be like solving a human Rubik's Cube during a firefight while the media screams every time you make a wrong move -- or what is perceived as a wrong move -- and there is a clock ticking and at some unknown point the Cube self-destructs.

Maybe his recent training in the combat of a two-year election cycle will have toughened him up for the international challenges ahead.

Today I am in Kuwait, heading back into Iraq for an end-of-year round-up. Then it's back to the war in Afghanistan for one heck of a fight. Please stay tuned. Your soldiers are locked in a deadly struggle tonight.