Counter-Terorism vs. Counter-Insurgency in Afghanistan

The War on Terror is a chess game. America always is able to "check" the terrorists but can never achieve checkmate. Experts emphatically agree that a sole counter-terrorism policy will not work since the Taliban and al-Qaeda are constantly gaining new recruits. They feel that America will not succeed without the Afghans' support.

A counter-terrorism strategy, according to those experts I interviewed, consists "solely" of "killing off the bad guys." It would be great to think that all the terrorists can be eliminated. However, as former CIA Director James Woolsey explained, "After you kill bad guys[,] other bad guys show up and kill the people who helped you." As evidence, earlier this year, a major Taliban leader was killed and then quickly replaced. A former high-ranking CIA official felt that there will always be terrorism at some level but could be limited to the "nuisance level." Former CIA Director Michael Hayden agrees and commented that "this is the kind of war where we may never be able to achieve checkmate. We just have to keep going after them. Remember, they are far less capable now than they were in 2001." Newt Gingrich said, "A counter-terrorism policy will inevitably fail because we will lose all intelligence sources. Success will only come through effective counter-insurgency and the building of a modern Afghan government and society. Anything less will be a defeat."

What America needs to do is implement both a counter-terrorism (CT) and counter-insurgency (CS) policy. Eliminate terrorists wherever possible, yet try to gain the support of the people. Woolsey commented that "for some people[,] CT means killing the bad guys and not paying attention to the people at all. The search and destroy policy does not work and has never succeeded. If you are going to prevail[,] you need to have some substantial degree of CS. The exact mix, who you go after, how you go after them, and who you work with is a complicated question."

Many of the Afghans and Pakistanis do not want or like the Taliban. However, they do not trust the United States and refer for evidence to America's rapid pullout from the area in the 1980s after helping to defeat the Soviet invasion. President Obama's exit timetable is also not a way to regain the people's trust. As former Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend commented, "How can the Afghans trust us for the long haul? We risk allowing the Taliban to make further inroads with the timetable[,] and that will be our demise right there." A former CIA operative was told by the Afghans that "you guys are only going to be here as long as it's in your national interest. We can't depend on you. You are going to leave."

The Afghans and Pakistanis must be convinced that it is in their best interest to support the U.S. since America can provide stability. However, Hayden noted that "If you are an Afghan you may agree with our position more than the Taliban, but if we leave because of a timetable, how can you be protected? Then at best the Afghans are going to try to stay out of the way or at worst cooperate. So if they make arrangements with the Taliban, are they being selfish?" A former high-ranking CIA official agrees and explained that Pakistan and Afghanistan are a package deal, where these two areas must be thought of as one. He pointed out that in 2006, the Pakistani army pulled out of the regional tribal area, which allowed the Pakistan Taliban to take over and create a safe haven for the terrorists. He commented, "Will Pakistan hedge its bet as they did in 2006 if they feel the Americans are going to pull out?"

There is also the worry that Americans are losing their resolve to fight the War on Terror in Afghanistan. Townsend commented that "[p]eople don't deal with the threat and see the intelligence each day. Just because there has been no successful attack in nine years is not because al-Qaeda has any less intent to attack us." A former high-ranking intelligence official wanted Americans to understand that the great increase in forces committed by the president is just now arriving and that "we should allow this to run its course and have this conversation next summer. We should think more like the Chinese[,] who think in millenniums[,] not years[,] and not be short-sighted as we have done before."

In order to prevail, there is the need for a counter-insurgency policy. The goal should include removing the timetable, making sure the region is less of a safe haven for terrorism, and supporting an efficient government that includes a regional diplomacy involving the warlords. An intelligence official believes that currently, America does not have an alternative to President Karzai. Woolsey agrees and pointed out that "there is no guarantee that if you have a vote you will end up with someone decent. We might need to rely on the traditions of the tribal councils." In order to gain the villagers, support troops are needed to secure areas and to help the different provinces develop programs and services. As Henry Kissinger said in his June Washington Post op-ed, "[A regional diplomacy] would also try to build Afghanistan into a regional development plan, perhaps encouraged by the Afghan economy's reported growth rate of 15% last year."

The consequences for America not achieving these goals are severe. The Taliban will gain control of the Afghan government, more than likely reunite with al-Qaeda, and allow al-Qaeda to have bases there to use as launching points. In addition, an unstable Afghanistan means an unstable nuclear Pakistan. Townsend summarized it when she stated that "the alternative is so untenable to me, that is, to leave and hope for the best. Americans should quit looking at their watches."
The War on Terror is a chess game. America always is able to "check" the terrorists but can never achieve checkmate. Experts emphatically agree that a sole counter-terrorism policy will not work since the Taliban and al-Qaeda are constantly gaining new recruits. They feel that America will not succeed without the Afghans' support.

A counter-terrorism strategy, according to those experts I interviewed, consists "solely" of "killing off the bad guys." It would be great to think that all the terrorists can be eliminated. However, as former CIA Director James Woolsey explained, "After you kill bad guys[,] other bad guys show up and kill the people who helped you." As evidence, earlier this year, a major Taliban leader was killed and then quickly replaced. A former high-ranking CIA official felt that there will always be terrorism at some level but could be limited to the "nuisance level." Former CIA Director Michael Hayden agrees and commented that "this is the kind of war where we may never be able to achieve checkmate. We just have to keep going after them. Remember, they are far less capable now than they were in 2001." Newt Gingrich said, "A counter-terrorism policy will inevitably fail because we will lose all intelligence sources. Success will only come through effective counter-insurgency and the building of a modern Afghan government and society. Anything less will be a defeat."

What America needs to do is implement both a counter-terrorism (CT) and counter-insurgency (CS) policy. Eliminate terrorists wherever possible, yet try to gain the support of the people. Woolsey commented that "for some people[,] CT means killing the bad guys and not paying attention to the people at all. The search and destroy policy does not work and has never succeeded. If you are going to prevail[,] you need to have some substantial degree of CS. The exact mix, who you go after, how you go after them, and who you work with is a complicated question."

Many of the Afghans and Pakistanis do not want or like the Taliban. However, they do not trust the United States and refer for evidence to America's rapid pullout from the area in the 1980s after helping to defeat the Soviet invasion. President Obama's exit timetable is also not a way to regain the people's trust. As former Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend commented, "How can the Afghans trust us for the long haul? We risk allowing the Taliban to make further inroads with the timetable[,] and that will be our demise right there." A former CIA operative was told by the Afghans that "you guys are only going to be here as long as it's in your national interest. We can't depend on you. You are going to leave."

The Afghans and Pakistanis must be convinced that it is in their best interest to support the U.S. since America can provide stability. However, Hayden noted that "If you are an Afghan you may agree with our position more than the Taliban, but if we leave because of a timetable, how can you be protected? Then at best the Afghans are going to try to stay out of the way or at worst cooperate. So if they make arrangements with the Taliban, are they being selfish?" A former high-ranking CIA official agrees and explained that Pakistan and Afghanistan are a package deal, where these two areas must be thought of as one. He pointed out that in 2006, the Pakistani army pulled out of the regional tribal area, which allowed the Pakistan Taliban to take over and create a safe haven for the terrorists. He commented, "Will Pakistan hedge its bet as they did in 2006 if they feel the Americans are going to pull out?"

There is also the worry that Americans are losing their resolve to fight the War on Terror in Afghanistan. Townsend commented that "[p]eople don't deal with the threat and see the intelligence each day. Just because there has been no successful attack in nine years is not because al-Qaeda has any less intent to attack us." A former high-ranking intelligence official wanted Americans to understand that the great increase in forces committed by the president is just now arriving and that "we should allow this to run its course and have this conversation next summer. We should think more like the Chinese[,] who think in millenniums[,] not years[,] and not be short-sighted as we have done before."

In order to prevail, there is the need for a counter-insurgency policy. The goal should include removing the timetable, making sure the region is less of a safe haven for terrorism, and supporting an efficient government that includes a regional diplomacy involving the warlords. An intelligence official believes that currently, America does not have an alternative to President Karzai. Woolsey agrees and pointed out that "there is no guarantee that if you have a vote you will end up with someone decent. We might need to rely on the traditions of the tribal councils." In order to gain the villagers, support troops are needed to secure areas and to help the different provinces develop programs and services. As Henry Kissinger said in his June Washington Post op-ed, "[A regional diplomacy] would also try to build Afghanistan into a regional development plan, perhaps encouraged by the Afghan economy's reported growth rate of 15% last year."

The consequences for America not achieving these goals are severe. The Taliban will gain control of the Afghan government, more than likely reunite with al-Qaeda, and allow al-Qaeda to have bases there to use as launching points. In addition, an unstable Afghanistan means an unstable nuclear Pakistan. Townsend summarized it when she stated that "the alternative is so untenable to me, that is, to leave and hope for the best. Americans should quit looking at their watches."