LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Optimism premature in Afghanistan

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In his recent Op-Ed, Michael O'Hanlon confidently predicts the United States “can attain the minimal acceptable requirements: preventing a Taliban return to power and a major al Qaeda presence on Afghan soil.” (“Rays of hope in Afghanistan,” Commentary, Monday) What country did he visit?

Recently, at the same time that President Obama expressed similar assurances, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the hard-headed Democratic chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House counterpart, issued a rare public, bipartisan report on their fact-finding trip to Afghanistan. Their stark conclusion - hardly that of two “peaceniks” - was that the Taliban are now stronger than they were before Mr. Obama’s troop surge two years ago.

While Mr. O'Hanlon notes in his piece that Afghan army and police forces “have almost reached their envisioned full size,” he omits the facts that the police are widely deemed to be corrupt, ill-trained and untrustworthy, while the army units take the lead in only the more trivial operations and remain dependent on NATO combat backup, logistics and intelligence.

Mr. O'Hanlon has been a faithful but consistently inaccurate stenographer for the Bush and Obama White Houses on Iraq and Afghanistan. But his steady cheerleading, in the face of factual reporting by more detached experts like Anthony Cordesman, our best foreign correspondents and experienced veterans like Lt. Col. Daniel Davis and Matthew Hoh, suggests he would do better by providing more realistic assessments - and leaving the spin to the administration and regional commanders.

BURT WIDES

Washington

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