- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010


In Wednesday’s State of the Union speech, President Obama is signaling a bold effort to reintroduce himself as a serious budget cutter. His Afghanistan policy is in need of a little of that daring.

We face a difficult task in that “war of necessity,” and there are no easy answers or simple paths to victory. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has a bold plan that enlists local tribes to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda. It was a risk to trust and arm the Sunni tribes that made up the Anbar Awakening in Iraq, but it paid off and was a major factor in our success there. Of course, there are risks involved in Gen. McChrystal’s plan - there are risks in every military action. But as the British Special Air Service says, “Who dares wins.”

The problem is that Mr. Obama’s diplomatic team doesn’t understand daring or bold or much of anything that could lead to a win. It seems to be more concerned with limiting risks until we can cut and run. Both Afghanistan Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and Special Envoy Richard C. Holbrooke have come out publicly against this plan. They both claim to want more control of the program by the Afghan government. This seems odd coming from two men deeply involved in an attempted political coup to push Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the sidelines. During the last Afghan elections, both Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Eikenberry tried to get Mr. Karzai to drop out or share power with his main rival. The relationships between both men and Mr. Karzai’s team became so poor that they essentially were persona non grata.

Now they are the biggest boosters of the same government and working against our military leaders and their plans. This is not a new tactic for Mr. Eikenberry, a retired general who was the commander in Afghanistan for an undistinguished tour. He recently took shots at Gen. McChrystal during Mr. Obama’s extended dithering over an Afghanistan strategy. He opposed more troops and a counterinsurgency effort and leaked this to the press. There is no love lost between the men, dating back to Mr. Eikenberry’s command, when Gen. McChrystal was Joint Special Operations commander and needed Mr. Eikenberry’s assent to conduct counterterror raids. The risk-averse mentality that denied many of those potential raids now manifests itself in opposition to the plan to get the Afghans involved in defending themselves.

The one piece of common knowledge is that we have to get the Afghans in the fight and eventually turn security over to them. We are moving as fast as we can to train, equip and field an Afghan national army. That is a proper and necessary endeavor, but the local tribes intimately know the terrain and the enemy, and we should use that capability. Every piece of territory they control is one less we need to control. Every tribe that becomes part of a joint effort with us is an example to others. This plan deserves a chance, and that means all of our leadership must be on the same team, as Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus were in Iraq. Mr. Eikenberry and Mr. Holbrooke are not, and they need to be replaced. Gen. McChrystal’s plan should be implemented so we can give our troops and our Afghan allies a shot at victory.

Jim Hanson was a weapons sergeant in 1st Special Forces Group and now serves as director of the Warrior Legacy Institute.

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