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Afghanistan war, 11 years on: What more can and should the US military do?

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Some 5,000 Afghans are now enrolled in the national “reintegration” program that provides job training and cash to former Taliban fighters who have agreed to put down their arms. Though it has “potential,” this program “is not yet a game-changer,” Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, the No. 2 commander in Afghanistan, acknowledges.

In the meantime, the 68,000 US troops that remain in Afghanistan continue to do much of the heavy lifting, in the form of patrols and even the logistics systems that feed, equip, and maintain the Afghan forces.

In roughly half of the war, the focus has ostensibly been on training these Afghan forces. But with the spate of insider attacks, US troops have been forced to implement “guardian angel” programs.

Bradshaw emphasizes that these programs are discreet. “You know, whoever's got the responsibility to keep an eye on their mates while they're taking exercise or playing sport or relaxing in between operations, whoever has that task just tactfully stays on one side,” he says. “Clearly they have a weapon and they're ready to use it if necessary, but they're not constantly in people's faces. It's done in a tactful and sensible manner.”

Still, the insider attacks, casualties, and persistent corruption throughout the Afghan government after a decade-plus of war make some wonder whether the war effort continues to be worth the cost.

“The administration’s strategy at this point is that they are relying on a negotiated settlement, and what the fighting is doing is determining the terms of that settlement,” says Stephen Biddle, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

Some might argue that “the right thing to do is sticking it out and suffering the casualties we will suffer until 2014,” he adds.

But whether that is indeed the right thing to do, he says, hinges on, “how much can you shift the terms of a prospective settlement in your favor while you continue to fight?”

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