How to Handle the Taliban

President Obama's apparent infatuation with drone strikes in Afghanistan has been getting some attention lately, with ABC's Jake Tapper covering the subject at Yahoo! News yesterday.  The question on everyone's mind is whether an increased reliance on drones will have any effect in defeating the Taliban.

Of course, the War on Terror is the longest in America's history.  Iraq and Afghanistan have differed from other past conflicts in that these are not linear wars: there are no battle lines drawn with the enemy on the other side, the enemy does not wear a uniform, and the bad guys can be anywhere and nowhere.

Recently, President Obama reaffirmed his position that troops in Afghanistan will be pulled out according to a fixed timetable, ending on December 31, 2014.  American Thinker asked intelligence experts what the policy should be regarding Afghanistan.

In his book The Art of Intelligence, Henry Crumpton describes how he was assigned the task of organizing and leading the Afghanistan campaign shortly after 9/11.  With a combination of airstrikes, Special Forces, and CIA operations, America was able to achieve, in less than three months, the defeat of the enemy, wiping out the command and control infrastructures, driving al-Qaeda and the Taliban leadership from Afghanistan, denying them a safe haven, and gathering a "bonanza of intelligence."

Crumpton explained to American Thinker that "we dealt with Taliban leaders and their tribal allies from the beginning.  In fact, during the fall of 2001 we subverted many of them, encouraged them to join our side.  However, we failed to help the Afghans build a robust civil society as a bulwark against Taliban infiltration and exploitation, which began in earnest in 2006-07."

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden agrees with Crumpton that the initial campaign was very aggressive and was successful until 2006.  During that year, territory in Pakistan "became a safe haven.  You can track the re-insurgence of the Taliban to the decisions made by the Pakistanis."

Hayden gives Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta high marks for reaffirming that America still has to fight the Taliban, who are very resilient.  Hayden sees the fight broken up into three layers: the need to have an aggressive, narrowly defined counter-terrorism policy, the need to continue training the Afghan military, and the need for a sufficient amount of soldiers and Marines to stay in the near term "in order to degrade the Taliban as much as possible before they leave."

Jose Rodriguez, the former director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, who wrote the book Hard Measures, believes that in Afghanistan, as well as in other areas of the world, the War on Terror should be fought with "the use of intelligence and our special forces linked together to pursue terrorist targets.  We need to concentrate in addressing our national security to make sure any terrorist plot is stopped before it comes to our shores.  We are finding out that counter-insurgency, rebuilding and developing a country, is very hard to do and is very costly.  We cannot continue to lose blood and treasure."

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, regards the Special Forces policy as a tool, not a strategy.  He suggests that using solely Special Forces has not proven successful over a long period of time.  Crumpton appears to agree with him, stating in his book, "A few CIA guys and a limited US military scattered around the country had no chance of holding on to the gains made.  We had bought time and space, but that was all."

Rogers believes that America needs a logistical footprint from the military that allows for a sustained effort to "strategically defeat the Taliban.  My concern is [that] the president's strategy is only 'lets exit.'  I don't think we should be there forever, but we should have an aggressive strategy to defeat the Taliban, including the safe havens along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  Our strategy has not been as aggressive as we need."

A former high-ranking CIA official agrees and is uncertain about having only a counter-terrorism policy, since he wonders how it can be successful in a landscape that will be controlled by the Taliban.  "I am not confident it can work in an unfriendly area.  Yet I understand, America is out of gas to do nation-building.  There appears to be no money and no political will."

Rodriguez also thinks that America should deal with the tribal leaders directly.  Hayden told American Thinker that since Afghanistan does not have a strong central government, "we should deal with all layers of governments inside Afghanistan.  You cannot do all that is required through just the government in Kabul, that would be impossible."

All interviewed believe that Afghanistan and Pakistan go hand in hand.  According to the experts, Pakistan remains a dilemma.  It is an unstable Islamic country with nuclear weapons where there is still an insurgency of al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.  Crumpton sees in Pakistan "the growing Talibanization of that country.  With perhaps 100 nuclear weapons, with 175 million people, and a persistent enemy safe haven, Pakistan will

continue to be a priority for us."  Rodriguez points out that Pakistan is one of those countries where there are always shades of gray.  "It is naïve to think that they are going to do everything we ask them to do.  They will do whatever they think is to their advantage."

Listening to Panetta, it became obvious that "America is reaching the limits of our patience."  Hayden is all for putting Pakistan on the back burner by "making arrangements with the Indians by welcoming a larger Indian presence in Afghanistan.  Because of Pakistani extortion, we should try to cultivate India."  The Pakistani extortion was evidenced by the imprisonment of the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA get Osama bin Laden, the continual problem of the Taliban in the tribal areas, the closure of the supply routes, and their attempt to charge $5,000 per truck on those routes instead of the previous $250. 

Another sore point between the countries is the drone program.  Rodriguez wonders if the drone program has been overused in Pakistan, since he thinks it has helped to destabilize that country.  Hayden feels that there "will come a point when the cost for using drones overwhelms the benefits.  I don't think we are there yet.  Killing al-Qaeda's number-two, al-Libi, is a good thing.  Yet, we have to be wary of the terrorist recruiting call which used to be 'America is at war with Islam,' but now it is quickly becoming 'the drone attacks kill innocents.'"

Everyone interviewed thinks America will remain vulnerable by not having an interrogation program.  Rodriguez would like to capture the bad guys and kill them only if capture is not possible.  His concern is that "we do not capture any high-level terrorists anymore.  At some point, we are not going to gain any information.  This administration's policy is to kill them all.  We are living off the intelligence that was obtained over the past ten years.  There is the need for the CIA to use their knowledge to interrogate individuals.  No one knows more about al-Qaeda or the Taliban than the CIA.  We need to find out how much is known about the target to vet information.  We are tying our own hands behind our backs.  This is going to be a real problem." 

A former CIA official agrees and described the drone program as a surgical instrument, not a shotgun. He does not buy into the Obama administration's argument that it is hard to capture terrorists, pointing out how some of the top leadership is being held in Guantánamo Bay.

All interviewed believe that al-Qaeda is much weaker, but the Taliban is still strong, and a formidable enemy.  Although the Taliban will never be eliminated, the U.S. still needs to be as dedicated and vigilant as during the initial days in Afghanistan and must continue to pound away at them.  Americans must not forget that al-Qaeda and the Taliban will never stop hating or attempting to kill those in the U.S. because they detest our way of life.  As Tom Young said in his latest novel about Afghanistan, The Renegades, "[t]he only way to view the Taliban is through the crosshairs[.]"