Also interesting is this article about how helicopters are crucial in the fight in Afghanistan. Without them, troops can't get around, more roadside bombs will be planted, and fewer wounded troops will get to medics in time. Only recently has more/enough choppers been provided. Only recently...
Still, it would be nice to hear exactly what the goal in Afghanistan is. How will we recognize victory? What will a win look like? The enemy is the Taleban and other insurgents. Ultimately, the enemy is terrorism, right? bin Laden was the point for going there, as I recall. Now he is not there, and so to what end is NATO there? 'To stop the terrorist breeding ground' seems the only credible answer to that question. But evidence suggests that international terror isn't planned in Afghanistan at all any more. Europe, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia are where that's at. But sure, if NATO pulled out of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda might move back in. So the only answer is to stay forever? Because it's not like there are any prospects of Al Qaeda and bin Laden being smoked out, despite documented cowboy tactics. On the other hand, now, again since the Taleban is not ruling the farmers, Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of heroin, which kills about ~100,000 people every year. "Covert terrorism"?
If Iraq is a difficult enough war, there are reasons why Afghanistan is much worse.
"The sheer terrain of Afghanistan is much more challenging: the mountains, the altitudes, severity of weather, the distances. That wears on an army," says Maj. Joseph Matthews, a battalion operations officer in the 10th Mountain Division. "You can flood Baghdad with soldiers but if you want to flood the mountains you are going to need huge numbers and logistics."In late January next year, British PM Brown will host a conference on an Afghanistan exit strategy. The plan is to require (intensely corrupt) Afghan President Karzai to provide 50,000 troops for training in the next year, as well as improving the police force, and then pull out NATO troops. 50k troops?! I want to say that I suspect that will prove difficult, but I don't really know. Does anyone think this is going to be possible?
In Afghanistan, troops routinely cross passes 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) and higher, descending into valleys where they say villagers "hibernate like bears" for up to five winter months, cut off from the outside world by the snows.
This almost medieval isolation makes it far more difficult for the Afghan government and coalition forces to spread the aid and information needed to counter the Taliban push while the villagers — mostly illiterate and with little access to radios, never mind television — rely on religious leaders at Friday mosque prayers, or the insurgents, to shape their world view.
A San Francisco Chronicle editorial suggests building more schools is the real way to win the war, and I largely concur, even though I would worry that NATO would need to keep troops in Afghanistan for a very long time for that strategy to be effective. It could be that it would have a more immediate effect on people than the wait for children to be educated, but I wonder if.
"In Afghanistan, success stories are difficult to find," said Lex Kassenberg, CARE's top official in the country. The delicate, painstaking work of bringing a community school to life offers clear rewards such as education, an end to violence and a way to contain the Taliban, he believes. The cost so far: $25 million over five years for CARE. Compare that to the $200 billion-plus spent by the United States over eight years in a stumbling, inconclusive conflict.But what's to stop the Taleban from closing schools if the troops leave? The answer would be the local communities themselves... and hopefully that would work.