The Afghanistan Surge Is Working

Public support for the war in Afghanistan has hit an all-time low. According to the latest poll, only 37 percent of Americans support the war and 52 percent say it has turned into a Vietnam. That means a slight majority of the country view the war as irredeemably lost. With casualties rising because of the implementation of the surge, President Obama and his military leaders need to act quickly to stem the rising tide of opposition. Luckily, signs of progress are surfacing.

The military is on the offensive against the Taliban and is systematically removing their grip and then protecting the freed populations. One intercepted Taliban message showed their privately expressed fear: “Marines are insane.” In the past three months, NATO has killed 300 senior Taliban and insurgent leaders, and 800 fighters. At least 8,000 troops are now taking part in Operation Dragon Strike, a major new offensive aimed at taking back the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

Retired Army General Jack Keane, one of the masterminds of the surge in Iraq, has visited Afghanistan and says he is seeing positive trends. Intercepted Taliban communications show that their morale is low and Taliban fighters are switching sides. Military commanders tell him that some of the Taliban forces are expressing a desire to come back into the society they’ve been waging war on, a possible indication that a split is forming in the Taliban between those who want to give up fighting and use non-violent political means (like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) and those who don’t. It could even mean that some have grown disenchanted with the Taliban’s ideology and the group itself.

President Karzai has formed a council of tribal leaders and former warlords to help reach out to the elements of the Taliban that want to negotiate. The U.S. has been helping in this process and though it is wise to keep the door open for turncoats, it must be recognized that the term “moderate Taliban” is a self-contradiction. There is a big difference between reaching out to the Iraqi tribes, who were not Islamist by nature, and reaching out to the Taliban, who are. Anyone who joined the Taliban had to enforce their radical Islamic ideology and that includes fighting for sharia-based theocracy. If someone turns against that ideology, then they are no longer part of the Taliban.

It is important to take advantage of dissenting elements of the Taliban, but any effort to form a settlement with the “moderate Taliban” is doomed to failure. Even if those willing to give up arms agreed to enter the political process, their participation will still be based on the objective of instituting sharia law and will stymie the government and country.

However, this peace council is necessary as it can build relations with the tribes and local power-holders to help isolate the Taliban, enlist citizens in the security forces and government projects, and altogether stabilize the country. There has been some progress in this regard, as in January one of the largest Pashtun tribes agreed to fight the Taliban and send one eligible male per family to join the security forces.