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Victory in Afghanistan Means What Again?

Monday, July 13, 2009 at 08:11 AM EDT

It is difficult to look at Afghanistan and not be reminded of another battle, a conflict with an insurgent force in Vietnam. This does not mean we will repeat all of the mistakes, and at least we currently have a general in charge there whose specialty actually is counter-insurgency.

But we are not looking to topple or take over a government, that job is easy by comparison. Our forces have the difficult task of securing an area and defeating an enemy that rarely attacks in large numbers, choosing their battles to suit there smaller numbers and less well equipped forces.

If only we had stayed after driving the Taliban out back in 2002-2003, before Iraq, it is difficult to believe our situation would not have been a better one. Now, we have been in that country for years, and for many of these years our forces were far too small in number to secure the country. The former Soviet Union poured many thousands of their soldiers into that country, and they were defeated by forces that were backed by the U.S. unofficially. Strangely, many of those forces would later become the Taliban and even al-Qaeda, who we now fight, again in Afghanistan.

It seems so surreal that we supported so many Islamic religious fanatics, but at that time, our recognized enemy was the Soviet Union. But this is all old news, the question becomes, how exactly do we win in a country that has a semi-friendly government (Karzi bends to the winds if he feels politically threatened), and there is no enemy in the conventional sense?

Some point to Iraq as a model for success, and if you count car bombs going off practically every day as a success, then I suppose we could leave Afghanistan right now and simply declare that we won. But with the Taliban and even al-Qaeda operating both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the question of victory becomes even more murky. We do not officially go into Pakistan with our forces, but we do send them a missile or two when we get the opportunity. Pakistan is wrapping up the large assault that it FINALLY decided to have against the Taliban in their country, but it is difficult even for them to know exactly how defeated the Taliban in their country is, as opposed to how many of the insurgents just melted into the background to fight another day.

What will victory in Afghanistan be, or how will it be measured? It might just be the realization that we will not be able to kill all the insurgents, and that a low level of violence from them against Afghanistan’s government will be as close to victory as we can realistically hope to get.

It sounds ridiculous that a nation like the U.S. could not successfully wipe out any given enemy, especially when you consider our military budget. I bet the Soviets thought that as well when they were there.

Another worrying thought is that in Vietnam, we never lost a major battle. Even the Tet offensive, as big as a surprise as that was, was defeated by our forces. Hopefully we have a better strategic goal this time around, we seem to, but I honestly don’t know. And the calls for more troops cannot help but remind us of the past battles in which no matter how many soldiers were sent, we would never win. Not strategically, anyways. And in the end, that is all that matters. Wars do not solve many problems, solving the actual problems takes a bit more than just bullets.