One of the many problems Barack Obama will face upon assuming office is the war in Afghanistan. While allied and Afghan forces swept the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies out of power in the wake of 9/11, a grinding guerrilla war persists.
Afghanistan is one of the worst regions in the world in which to fight a war. Desolate and mountainous with a poor transportation network, Afghanistan is made to order for a force of insurgences to tie down a modern army. When one couples that with ethnic and religious animosities that go back centuries, winning the war in Afghanistan will be a daunting task.
Alexander the Great, one of history’s greatest soldiers, was only able to subdue the region known now as Afghanistan with marriage alliances. Afghanistan has subsequently proven to be the graveyard of armies, including the British and the Soviets.
Barack Obama will have at least three tasks to perform to win the war in Afghanistan.
Build Up American Forces
Because of the necessity of winning the war in Iraq, only enough American forces have been available in Afghanistan to fight a holding action against the insurgency. Fortunately for Barack Obama, Iraq is winding down, thanks to the surge strategy and the firming up of the nascent Iraqi democracy, and thus forces will be freed up to bolster the army in Afghanistan. Eventually four extra combat brigades will be available to fight in Afghanistan.
Garner More Allied Help
The performance of American allies has been somewhat mixed in Afghanistan. While the Anglophone countries, mainly Great Britain and Canada, plus, oddly enough, Holland, have performed magnificently, other countries, such as France and Germany, have been less effective. European troops have mainly been stationed in “safe” areas of Afghanistan and have proven reluctant to fight. Indeed, the German troops in Afghanistan, according to one report, have become so softened by an overindulgence of beer and sausages, their combat effectiveness has proven dubious at best.
Barack Obama needs to get more allied support, in the form of combat worthy troops, to fight the war in Afghanistan. This will be a test of his popularity in Europe. An overhaul of the command structure in Afghanistan, now divided between a NATO led force and an American led coalition, needs to happen and a unified command needs to be built.
Finally, the problem of the safe haven in the Waziristan region of Pakistan needs to be addressed. Taliban and Al Qaeda guerrillas have been able to use Waziristan as a base for operations in Afghanistan. The American-led forces have been only able to hit back clandestinely, with special operations forces and predator drones, to spare Pakistan’s feelings of sovereignty. Pakistan has been unable and likely unwilling to clean up Waziristan themselves. A plan needs to be developed for an incursion into Waziristan, preferably with Pakistani permission and involvement, but if necessary without. Then the plan needs to be executed, sooner rather than later.