The Way Forward
Senator Biden believes that if we need a strategic surge anywhere, it's in Afghanistan--the central front in our war against Al Qaeda. The surge we need would not involve a great number of troops, but would require the right blend of military, diplomatic, intelligence and financial resources. Senator Biden believes that the misguided and mismanaged war in Iraq has drawn precious assets away from the vitally-important war in Afghanistan, and thereby made all Americans less safe.
It's not too late for Afghanistan to become an example of American success. But if we want to build a victory in Afghanistan, it will require a clear break from the Administration's past policy. For the past six years, Senator Biden has advocated the following steps:
1. Establish security
* Long before the victory in Afghanistan could be consolidated, the Bush Administration began diverting military resources to Iraq. As a result, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent, with over half of the country now effectively out of control.
* US casualties in Afghanistan were higher in 2007 than in any year since the invasion. Afghan civilian casualties are also soaring. Terrorists have seen the success of suicide bombings, IEDs, and other techniques used with brutal effectiveness in Iraq--and transported those bloody methods to Afghanistan.
* NATO forces in Afghanistan are necessary, but far from sufficient. Most of the nations involved in the effort place burdensome restrictions on the use of their forces: some troops can't operate at night, others are forbidden to venture to the Taliban heartland, and fewer than half a dozen nations let most of their soldiers participate in sustained combat. The NATO effort is starved for helicopters and other key resources.
* We need more troops--but not many. A single brigade would make an enormous difference. The real need is for the right kind of troops: we desperately need more Special Operations Forces, more civil affairs and intelligence specialists, more Foreign Area Officers. We also need more hardware: more fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for mobility, more surveillance drones, more satellite tasking, more MRAPs for troop protection.
* We've got to do a better job of building up the security resources of the Afghan government. We need to train the Afghan National Army so that it can take on the missions now performed by American troops. We've got to train the Afghan police, so that they can bring security to every village. We've got to root out corruption in these forces, professionalize them, and pay the soldiers and policemen decent wages.
* We've got to deny the Taliban and Al Qaeda their safe haven across the border in Pakistan. Six years after 9/11, it's outrageous that Osama bin Laden is still a free man. He's hiding out in the wild territory of the Pakistani tribal areas--and his Taliban allies are using this as a base for attacks on Afghans and Americans. I have proposed a Plan for Pakistan, that aims in part to eliminate this safe haven and bring security to Afghanistan.
2. Fulfill the broken pledge of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan
* Several months after the ouster of the Taliban--and several months after Senator Biden proposed a plan along the same lines--George Bush promised a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. Half a decade later, that vow remains unmet.
* Reconstruction in Afghanistan remains stuck in first gear. Billions of dollars are wasted in red tape, and fat contracts for Beltway Bandits. For all the money poured into Afghanistan since the invasion, remarkably little has actually filtered down to the Afghan people themselves.
* The sums involved, surprisingly, are far lower than most Americans might imagine. Since 2001, we've been spending on average less every year on Afghan reconstruction than we spend every week on the war in Iraq.
* We need more money for reconstruction in Afghanistan: We spend about $1.5 billion per year, which on a per capita basis is far, far less than we've spent on reconstruction efforts in the Balkans and East Timor, or just about any other post-conflict zone.
* We need more funds, but we also need to use our funds better. We need a Special Investigator-General for Afghan Reconstruction. The Afghans are patient people, but they're not seeing an effort worthy of a superpower.
* Reconstruction is central to the war against the terrorists. As the former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan put it, "where the road ends, the Taliban begins."
3. Do counternarcotics right
* Under George Bush's watch, Afghanistan has gone from producing about 10% of the world's opium to producing 93%. The Taliban were able to bring drug production nearly to a halt by the end of their reign--there's no excuse for a superpower failing so markedly in the same effort.
* The Administration's preferred strategy is guaranteed to make things even worse. For years, the White House has been trying to force the Afghan government to accept aerial spraying of crops--a policy rejected by the Afghans, by our NATO allies, and by the U.S. military. For good reason: such a plan would alienate the populace, conjure up memories of Soviet-era air strikes, and provide the Taliban with a flood of new recruits.
Instead, we should be providing Afghan farmers with alternate livelihoods. We should helping create a judicial system capable of taking down the drug barons. We should be trying to root out the corruption in the Afghan government that lets the druglords operate with complete impunity. We should be taking out refining plants where the narco-barons turn the opium into raw heroin.
* The Administration wants to target dollar-a-day Afghan farmers. That's dead-wrong: We should be going after the other end of the food chain. There may be a place for aerial eradication in the future--but first we should be targeting the multimillionaire drug kingpins who are helping fund the Taliban.