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Obama speech on Afghanistan war: the missing moral victory

No matter what President Obama does after his speech on a partial troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, it is Afghans themselves who must rise up against the brutal tactics of the Taliban.

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A bit of hand-wringing must have preceded President Obama’s decision on how many troops to pull out of Afghanistan. How does anyone really know when America’s longest war will reach a turning point?

One clue may come from Iraq and a key turning point in that war – long before the surge of US troops helped quell it.

In 2005, anti-American Sunni insurgents in Iraq began to feel a revulsion toward the barbaric tactics of their foreign comrades, the local branch of Al Qaeda. While the bombing of US soldiers was accepted, the Sunni fighters nonetheless drew a moral line at the beheadings of Iraqi civilians.

The constant decapitations by the local Al Qaeda offended the religious sensibilities of many Iraqi Muslims. “Islam is peaceful, not beheading and killing,” an Iraqi woman told NPR in 2006. “Is this the Islam they want to bring us?” Even Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is now the head of Al Qaeda after the killing of Osama bin Laden, told the branch in Iraq to stop the practice.

But it was too late. The United States was able to win over tens of thousands of Sunni militants in what became known as the Sunni Awakening.

Might a similar moral awakening now be under way in Afghanistan, one that compels civilians as well as low-level Taliban to turn against the brutal tactics of the Islamic militant group?

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