Guess who’s making a comeback in Afghanistan?

posted at 12:55 pm on April 6, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

With support for the war in Afghanistan dropping and the US launching a new one in Libya, the Obama administration will come under tremendous pressure to curtail or end the fight in the Af-Pak theater.  Even some normally hawkish conservatives have begun questioning whether we should be fighting in this region ten years after 9/11.  The fight against al-Qaeda has transformed into a sloggish tribal conflict between Pashtuns and just about everyone else, and with the elected government struggling with corruption and baiting radicals into riots, perhaps the expiration date has arrived for enough people for Barack Obama to declare victory and go home.

Unfortunately, the problem with this scenario is that al-Qaeda has not yet been defeated — and in fact, appear to have gained enough momentum to reopen their Afghanistan franchise:

In late September, U.S. fighter jets streaked over the cedar-studded slopes of Korengal, the so-called Valley of Death, to strike a target that hadn’t been seen for years in Afghanistan: an al Qaeda training camp. …

Over the past six to eight months, al Qaeda has begun setting up training camps, hideouts and operations bases in the remote mountains along Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Pakistan, some U.S., Afghan and Taliban officials say. The stepped-up infiltration followed a U.S. pullback from large swatches of the region starting 18 months ago. The areas were deemed strategically irrelevant and left to Afghanistan’s uneven security forces, and in some parts, abandoned entirely.

How did this happen?  Unfortunately, the US decided that its presence in this region was more disruptive than helpful, and that a retreat would undercut the Taliban.  Instead, it allowed AQ to return:

American commanders have argued that the U.S. military presence in the remote valleys was the main reason why locals joined the Taliban. Once American soldiers left, they predicted, the Taliban would go, too. Instead, the Taliban have stayed put, a senior U.S. military officer said, and “al Qaeda is coming back.”

The good news is that the NATO coalition has adjusted its tactics to meet the new threat.  They have been conducting raids in the area, although from the WSJ’s report, it doesn’t appear that the US will attempt to secure these difficult areas as they did before.  Using both special forces and conventional troops, the coalition hopes to drive AQ back out of Afghanistan soon.

But that’s not the real problem, and everyone appears to understand it better now.  The US in both administrations tried to drive a wedge between the Taliban — mainly Pashtun radicals — and al-Qaeda, mainly by making the war so costly for Pashtuns that they’d give up their alliance with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Without those ties, this fight turns into a murky tribal conflict, or a civil war at best, in which it’s difficult to argue that American interests are at stake.  The reinfiltration of Afghanistan shows that the Pashtuns in the Taliban have no intention of dumping bin Laden and Zawahiri.  More to the point, they realize that they can afford to wait years for the US to leave in order to provide AQ with training camps and recruits to attack the West while the Taliban attempt to seize Kabul and Kandahar.  The training camps already perilously close to a vital route to Jalalabad.

A withdrawal from Afghanistan puts AQ back into a failed state where it can plot and attack at will.  Those are the stakes involved in a retreat at this point.


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“Unfortunately, the problem with this scenario is that al-Qaeda has not yet been defeated —…”

You think…?

Seven Percent Solution on April 6, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Ugh…this is an awful situation, but the way I feel about it:

The problem is Islam and its need and addiction to the extinction of human life.

How do you solve a problem like that?

Lord only knows…seriously.

withmanitisimpossible on April 6, 2011 at 1:03 PM

American commanders have argued that the U.S. military presence in the remote valleys was the main reason why locals joined the Taliban. Once American soldiers left, they predicted, the Taliban would go, too. Instead, the Taliban have stayed put, a senior U.S. military officer said, and “al Qaeda is coming back.”

Maybe its just me but I am not seeing the genius of Petraeus, ‘The guy who wrote the book on counter-insurgency’ in this whole thing. These commanders certainly don’t have a clue about the nature of the enemy they are fighting. The Muslims DO NOT respect perceived weakness or retreat.

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 1:04 PM

Those are the stakes involved in a retreat at this point.

I. Don’t. Care.

Bring our troops home now!

Knucklehead on April 6, 2011 at 1:05 PM

The training camps already perilously close to a vital route to Jalalabad.

never has one city stunk so badly as Jalalabad….

ted c on April 6, 2011 at 1:05 PM

While Obama wants to make nice with Bin Laden ,Bin Laden is trying to make a new attack. Smart power. Let them have a waffle summit.

capejasmine on April 6, 2011 at 1:10 PM

A withdrawal from Afghanistan puts AQ back into a failed state where it can plot and attack at will.

At this point they have their choice of a number of failed, or semi-failed states to choose from as well as those states that back them.

They are not hurting for a place to call home.

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 1:10 PM

“The war is lost”, right Harry?

Rovin on April 6, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Staying in Afghanistan is NOT going to do us any good and will only lead to more American deaths.

RightXBrigade on April 6, 2011 at 1:17 PM

We are our owns worst enemies. Our enemies have not yet been defeated!

coldwater on April 6, 2011 at 1:19 PM

I see this problem, like so many other problems of violence around the world, as one of education. Afghans don’t know who we are, or why we’re there, or why we’re killing other Afghans. They don’t know. We need to communicate that to them in simple, honest terms.

Paul-Cincy on April 6, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Not gonna get better there till we get tough with Pakistan. As long as the ISI funds and supports AQ, we wont be able to set up a viable state or leave

Daveyardbird on April 6, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Guess who’s making a comeback in Afghanistan?

Bert and Ernie?

rukiddingme on April 6, 2011 at 1:20 PM

A withdrawal from Afghanistan puts AQ back into a failed state where it can plot and attack at will. Those are the stakes involved in a retreat at this point.

That will still be the situation thirty years from now. Petraeus doesn’t have a silver bullet. No one does as long as we’re trying to win hearts and minds instead of winning a war.

a capella on April 6, 2011 at 1:21 PM

And this is what happens when you have a ticking hard deadline. AQ comes back into the tribal regions and the Taliban just sits back and waits for us to leave. Once we do, goodbye Afghanistan, and get ready for another, bigger 9/11. Great job, Giggles. Great job.

crazy_legs on April 6, 2011 at 1:22 PM

I believe Powerline had a poll on this recently. IIRC, over 70% of Powerline readers voted to withdraw.

a capella on April 6, 2011 at 1:23 PM

a capella on April 6, 2011 at 1:21 PM

I tend to agree with you. You only get an enemy to retreat or surrender when you have destroyed enough of them and their stuff. I think history has proven it. I could be wrong.

withmanitisimpossible on April 6, 2011 at 1:23 PM

Obama’s strategy has morphed from a Chess Master, to a checker player, to someone who can’t win a tic-tac-toe game.
Fortunately he has Joe Biden backing him up, and he is enlisting this weekend Al Sharpton…

right2bright on April 6, 2011 at 1:25 PM

Afghans don’t know who we are, or why we’re there, or why we’re killing other Afghans. They don’t know. We need to communicate that to them in simple, honest terms.

Paul-Cincy on April 6, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Did the Iranians know in 1979? Do the Turks know? Do the Egyptians? Do the rioters in France, Sweden and Germany know? Do the western educated hijackers and terrorists know?

You are an infidel as is written in the Koran and they know what you clearly don’t. You are the enemy!

It isn’t a problem of communication.

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 1:26 PM

I could be wrong.

withmanitisimpossible on April 6, 2011 at 1:23 PM

Exactly right…
When their life is threatened or their future is hopeless, then they retreat or surrender…if their life is stable or improving, they advance.

right2bright on April 6, 2011 at 1:28 PM

You only get an enemy to retreat or surrender when you have destroyed enough of them and their stuff. I think history has proven it. I could be wrong.

withmanitisimpossible on April 6, 2011 at 1:23 PM

That worked swimmingly with Germany and Japan. Now two of our closest allies. It’s not in our character to do this, but if we wiped the floor up with Islam, they’d respect that. They might even bow down to the U.S. Constitution as the victor. It could be that simple. But again, it’s not in our character to do that.

Paul-Cincy on April 6, 2011 at 1:29 PM

After September 11th attack Bin Laden stated that his main goal is not to defeat us on the battlefield, which he stated he would not be able to do, but rather to drain our resources and ultimately bankrupt us. That’s well on its way to happening. We have to cut our losses in a quick and wise manner. The biggest threat to this country is economic decline and financial collapse!

coldwater on April 6, 2011 at 1:30 PM

Someone remember Obama’s 2008 campaign promise? That one about he’s making hunting down UBL as his top priority?

All those fools who believed him!

Sir Napsalot on April 6, 2011 at 1:33 PM

If the US and NATO weren’t involved in an illegal [Libyan] war there’d be plenty to go around to win the good war, right?

Wasn’t that a theme Obama ran on back in 2008?

coldwarrior on April 6, 2011 at 1:33 PM

New strategy – Nuke / Pave

Kuffar on April 6, 2011 at 1:33 PM

It isn’t a problem of communication.

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 1:26 PM

They don’t even know the US govt can’t stop anyone from burning the Koran. Maybe you’re right. We’re infidels, and must be destroyed. I just want to join the fight, educationally. Lay it all bare. This is us, this is you. Then if they want to fight us, then fight them.

These “conflicts” are so different from WWII for example. We’re the overwhelming superpower on the globe. We should go in, kick ass, and be done with it, if we’re going to go to war.

Paul-Cincy on April 6, 2011 at 1:34 PM

Someone remember Obama’s 2008 campaign promise? That one about he’s making hunting down UBL as his top priority?

That’s gone the same way as the laser-like focus on jobs.

crazy_legs on April 6, 2011 at 1:36 PM

They don’t even know the US govt can’t stop anyone from burning the Koran. Maybe you’re right. We’re infidels, and must be destroyed. I just want to join the fight, educationally. Lay it all bare. This is us, this is you. Then if they want to fight us, then fight them.

Paul-Cincy on April 6, 2011 at 1:34 PM

Well we have the same level of ignorance from the left domestically. 911 truthers come to mind and if we cannot make a dent on that idiocy then how are we going to do this in Afghanistan?

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 1:38 PM

If the US and NATO weren’t involved in an illegal [Libyan] war there’d be plenty to go around to win the good war, right?

Wasn’t that a theme Obama ran on back in 2008?

coldwarrior on April 6, 2011 at 1:33 PM

Well,….things change depending on circumstance. I see the Senate voted 90-10 against Rand Paul’s amendment to follow Scooter’s own campaign words regarding the authority of a president to singlehandedly declare war.

a capella on April 6, 2011 at 1:41 PM

If Only we can Ban Koran Burning. – Grahmnesty / Petraeus.

antisocial on April 6, 2011 at 1:46 PM

So Ed, you are now firmly in the neo-colonialist camp?

novaculus on April 6, 2011 at 1:46 PM

The reinfiltration of Afghanistan shows that the Pashtuns in the Taliban have no intention of dumping bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Which is why listening to the democrats go on and on about “there is no al-qaeda in Afghanistan” was about as stupid as listening to their claim Saddam had no connections to al-qaeda.

The Taliban and al-qaeda are one and the same when it comes to their common goal of fighting “the crusader”…..

There will be no “success” in Afghanistan as long as Pakistan is allowed to train,fund,and support terrorism.

The diplomatic route with Pakistan has failed….they have been playing us for fools for years.Instead of launching Tomahawks at Libya…we should be launching them at North Waziristan…..
……we should be focused on a war that has troops on the ground and has been going on for a decade.

A loss to the Islamic radicals in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater would be a disaster for this country.This threat is not going away….we are going to have to defeat it.

Baxter Greene on April 6, 2011 at 1:47 PM

If the US and NATO weren’t involved in an illegal [Libyan] war there’d be plenty to go around to win the good war, right?

Wasn’t that a theme Obama ran on back in 2008?

coldwarrior on April 6, 2011 at 1:33 PM

Obama also told the country he had a “smarter” plan that would win the “good war” in Afghanistan…..
….then he dithered for over a year,had to ditch his own General….then took the most politically expedient route hoping that putting Petraeus in would protect him from criticism.
Remember…even the Washington Post reported that over 8 months into Obama’s Presidency,he still had no idea what to do in Afghanistan.
Obama was presented with several plans on Afghanistan…he took the one that involved the smallest amount of troops and risk…..not the plan that involved the best chance of winning.
Just like Obama chose politics over winning in Iraq when he was against the surge….he has chosen politics over winning in Afghanistan by going in weak and relegating it to a secondary issue behind his ideological agenda.

This is what you get when America puts a failed community organizer in as Commander and Chief.

Baxter Greene on April 6, 2011 at 2:01 PM

How do you solve a problem like that?

Lord only knows…seriously.

withmanitisimpossible on April 6, 2011 at 1:03 PM

The problem is more than just Islam, it is the end result of all the pernicious effects Islamism inflicts on its followers over time: It is an ignorant and barbaric culture but one step removed from Hobbes’ state of nature. In it the rule of every man’s hand against every other man’s hand is modified only slightly by family and tribal allegiances; all else rests perilously on the shifting sands of alliances in corruption.

The only way to “solve” it is neo-colonialism. You take over and enforce the standards of a decent society, protecting individual human rights, by force and at whatever cost. This control is exerted until a sufficient majority are invested in the new order as to render nonthreatening those who would return to the old ways.

A withdrawal from Afghanistan puts AQ back into a failed state where it can plot and attack at will.

At this point they have their choice of a number of failed, or semi-failed states to choose from as well as those states that back them.

They are not hurting for a place to call home.

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Quite true. But you have to be dreaming if you think that the threat if Islamist violence would be resolved by a secular government in control of a stable society in Afghanistan. The threats go far beyond geographical boundaries.

What do we gain by denying Afghanistan to the al Qaeda terrorist Islamst and their enablers? Must we have an ongoing presence to do so, which means neo-colonialism? Can we deny the terrorist Islamsits a base there not by an ongoing presence, but by regular returns to destroy their strongholds and the poppy crops? What are the relative costs and benefits?

These issues are basic politics and yet I see none of our leadership framing the issues in basic and realistic terms. The failure of plans based on the idea that somehow Afghan’s backward and barbaric culture would be transformed into one able to resist the forces of Islamism and terrorism simply because we went in and bloodied the Taliban and built roads and schools isn’t surprising.

novaculus on April 6, 2011 at 2:20 PM

A withdrawal from Afghanistan puts AQ back into a failed state where it can plot and attack at will.

Why not? Do we have a “Leader” in who we can trust? Who the hell wants to die for a lost cause?

GarandFan on April 6, 2011 at 2:23 PM

Isn’t it time to face the truth that Al Q is just a decoy to keep from facing up to the reality of Islam?

A withdrawal from Afghanistan puts AQ back into a failed state where it can plot and attack at will. Those are the stakes involved in a retreat at this point.

They can plot and attack at will from anywhere. Their goal isn’t just to hijack planes and fly them into buildings, their ultimate goal is domination. 9/11 was just to get our attention, frighten us and get us to bleed our resources in some logistical nightmare landscape where it is too expensive to bring in ice cream. It worked wonderfully.

BL@KBIRD on April 6, 2011 at 2:24 PM

Pointless. Leave now. We have brave troops putting their lives on the line for work the Peace Corp or the UN should be doing. We are not there to win the battle anymore. A’Stan is tribal hellhole and probably will be for decades to come. No foundation exists to build a nation on. Islam sucks, always will.

echosyst on April 6, 2011 at 2:48 PM

A withdrawal from Afghanistan puts AQ back into a failed state where it can plot and attack at will. Those are the stakes involved in a retreat at this point.

What a bunch of bull. AQs been concentrated on the Pak side of the border and operating with assistance from the Paki Intel service. AQs been operating in Yemen and Somali with almost complete impunity for about 5 years. Also this clown fails to realize the 911 attack was planned in Hamburg Germany and the hijackers took flight lessons in Florida. Im done pretending that controlling Kandahar is key to launching or stopping attacks on the US. Its just a lie.

snoopicus on April 6, 2011 at 3:15 PM

A withdrawal from Afghanistan puts AQ back into a failed state where it can plot and attack at will. Those are the stakes involved in a retreat at this point.

Attack at will? How absurd on it’s face. When all else fails with this never ending, no progress, Islamic Nation Building Charley Foxtrot Mad Hatter, counter-productive, wasted Blood and wasted Treasure, anti-American insanity, bring out the omnipotent AlQ card again. Leaving Afcrapistan after 10 years would not be a retreat, it would be an act of sanity! BTW, most of the plotting for 9/11 was done in Germany and the United States.

Heckle on April 6, 2011 at 4:42 PM

Sometimes hotair has more insane articles than dailykos.

Heckle on April 6, 2011 at 4:47 PM

After September 11th attack Bin Laden stated that his main goal is not to defeat us on the battlefield, which he stated he would not be able to do, but rather to drain our resources and ultimately bankrupt us. That’s well on its way to happening. We have to cut our losses in a quick and wise manner. The biggest threat to this country is economic decline and financial collapse!

coldwater on April 6, 2011 at 1:30 PM

The increases in military expediters does not even count as a pimple on the budget deficits we are suffering from. Reforming entitlement spending will do more to prevent financial collapse, than surrendering to the terrorists.

Slowburn on April 6, 2011 at 5:09 PM

Quite true. But you have to be dreaming if you think that the threat if Islamist violence would be resolved by a secular government in control of a stable society in Afghanistan. The threats go far beyond geographical boundaries.

novaculus on April 6, 2011 at 2:20 PM

I don’t believe a secular government is possible for a Muslim population any more than I believe a non-socialist government will ever be acceptable to communists.

We are at war with a religion which crosses national boundries and we have no idea how to prosecute such a war.

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 5:27 PM

After Karzai’s recent behavior, I say pull out and cut off all aid to Afghanistan. Sorry folks, we tried and it ain’t happening.

disa on April 6, 2011 at 5:27 PM

We are at war with a religion which crosses national boundries and we have no idea how to prosecute such a war.

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Sure we do, but who has the guts to propose banning the practice of Islam in the US and barring citizens from Islamic countries entrance under any circumstances? Treat them like NK and the USSR back in the day. Islam isn’t a religion, it’s a form of government.

That means, no Muslims allowed to go to the UN (maybe the UN will move to Europe – or better – Gaza), no visits to universities, no student visas to learn our technology to kill us with it in the future.

Of course, we’d better start drilling our own oil. Starve the beast.

This is a harsh remedy, like chemotherapy. But I think it would work.

Also, it would be great for tourism. Beleaguered Europeans could come here to escape the muezzin and the suicide bombers.

disa on April 6, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Sure we do, but who has the guts to propose banning the practice of Islam in the US and barring citizens from Islamic countries entrance under any circumstances? Treat them like NK and the USSR back in the day. Islam isn’t a religion, it’s a form of government.

That means, no Muslims allowed to go to the UN (maybe the UN will move to Europe – or better – Gaza), no visits to universities, no student visas to learn our technology to kill us with it in the future.

disa on April 6, 2011 at 5:35 PM

I stand corrected. Some like you do know, but the political class is simply too terrified of being called a mean name and most Americans wouldn’t back such a thing unless it was explained in great detail why we needed to do so.

That won’t happen.

sharrukin on April 6, 2011 at 5:39 PM

Barack Weak Horse Obama rides in.

Trips.

Falls.

Al Qaeda horselaughs.

profitsbeard on April 6, 2011 at 6:57 PM

I think it is a mistake to view the threat of Islamist terrorism as a war on Islam. Despite the religious authority to the contrary, many Muslims simply do not accept the notion of advancing the religion by violence and treachery or find that any of the violent barbarity of the Koran is acceptable, let alone mandatory, in this day and age. I don’t give a damn what people profess to believe, so long as they accept the rights of everyone else to believe as they see fit. Fundamental human rights and individual civil rights must be accepted, no matter what your religious belief. The war is with those who would impose their religious beliefs on others by force.

I am reminded of the remarks attributed to Sir Charles Napier while serving as Commander in Chief in India. A group of Hindu elders had complained about the prohibition of Sati, the practice of burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands:

“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; [then] beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”

novaculus on April 6, 2011 at 9:21 PM

The report is wrong. The reporter has mistaken the forces at play – what a surprize.

It’s not Al Qaeda, it’s the Taliban – and they are very different groups. The Taliban has remained strong in Afganistan and it hates Al Qaeda, in particular for bringing the US down upon them, but must tolerate AQ to an extent. AQ is still being hit hard and having increasing trouble retaining traction in other Muslim countries where it formerly have great latitude.

This is not a major problem for the US – it’s a big problem for Afganistan.

Cricket624 on April 7, 2011 at 9:48 AM