The White House report concludes that the current US strategy in Afghanistan “is setting the conditions to begin the responsible reduction of US forces in 2011.” The challenge, it notes, “remains to make our gains durable and sustainable.”
But behind the scenes support is growing among senior Pentagon leadership for a considerable shift in US strategy. It would be a shift based, supporters say, on harsh cost realities and a war that, in the words of the go-to think tank for the Obama administration, remains “a wicked problem” in which “all outcomes are likely to be suboptimal for the United States, its allies, and the Afghan people” despite the “yeoman efforts of the last nine years.”
Throughout that time, US soldiers have become earnest students of counterinsurgency warfare. It is the strategy and a belief, championed by Gen. David Petraeus, that the key to winning in America’s current wars is earning the trust and support of the people through good security and strong government programs. In emphasizing building up the state and protecting citizens, counterinsurgency advocates tend to deemphasize insurgent death tolls as a measure of success.
The problem, critics say, is that counterinsurgency requires a lot of soldiers. It is also expensive – no small consideration during an economic slump and a war that by next year will have cost the United States at least $250 billion.
Equally important, counterinsurgency requires a strong partner government – one that senior military officials concede is currently lacking in Afghanistan. In a report earlier this year, the White House said the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai was “unsatisfactory throughout the first half of 2010.”