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Ed Feulner: No time to cut and run in Afghanistan

Published 10:30am Friday, September 18, 2009

Students of history know it’s never a good policy to bet against the United States military.
American warriors have a knack for turning the tide toward victory just when things look bleakest.

Consider Pearl Harbor. A devastating sneak attack damaged 21 Navy ships and killed some 2,400 Americans. Yet within six months, our crippled Navy was able to prevail at the Battle of Midway, sinking four Japanese carriers and beginning a trans-Pacific push to V-J Day.

More recently, many had given up on our chances for success in Iraq.

In April of 2007, just three months after Bush ordered a change of strategy in Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, “This war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything.”

Yet over the next year, American warriors executed Gen. David Petraeus’ strategy, restored order and began to redeploy out of Iraq ahead of schedule. That war isn’t “won” yet, of course. But it isn’t lost either – and it won’t be.

These days the focus is on Afghanistan.

Conservative columnist George Will recently declared American forces had accomplished all they could there.

He urged that we withdraw over the horizon, keeping troops out of harm’s way and using air strikes to maintain order as necessary.

The temptation is understandable.

Americans have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, and everyone looks forward to the day we can “bring the boys home.”

However, the war cannot be effectively waged merely with air power, predator drones and Special Forces.

Precise intelligence is needed to use smart bombs effectively.

Yet few Afghans would risk their lives to provide such intelligence unless they can be sure American forces will be available to protect them.

Pulling troops out of Afghanistan before the situation is stable there would allow the Taliban – which we ousted from power eight years ago – to reassert its influence not only in Afghanistan but also next door in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where the Pakistani Taliban is influential.

The fact is that success in Afghanistan, like success in Iraq before it, will require firm and patient presidential leadership.

President Obama recently received an assessment of the war from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan and a proponent of the sort of counterinsurgency plan that his current boss, Gen. Petraeus, employed in Iraq.
Obama should give his military commanders the best chance for success by approving their requests for additional troops and resources.

That doesn’t mean feeding forces in slowly, though.

An incremental approach that defers any requested troop reinforcements could jeopardize the success of the strategy.

Over the last several years, with the focus on Iraq, the U.S. has tried a “small footprint” strategy aimed at limiting the troops on the ground and focusing solely on al Qaeda rather than the Taliban-led insurgent coalition.

This strategy has failed, allowing the Taliban to regroup and rearm.

It’s time for a more robust strategy to defeat the Taliban, even though doing so will be protracted, expensive and grueling.

Our warriors and our Afghan allies can prevail, especially since the Taliban remains extremely unpopular, and most Afghans want to see the U.S. succeed.

When we do, it will send a powerful message to America’s friends and enemies alike.
Every war ends in a different fashion.

The war in Afghanistan, and the greater war against Islamist terrorism, won’t end (as World War II did) with a treaty signing on the battleship Missouri.

They won’t end (as World War I did) with a treaty signing at Versailles Hall of Mirrors.
But with proper leadership and support for our troops, today’s wars will end, as have so many others, with the United States victorious.

This is no time to bet against America’s military.

Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (

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  • jeffrey mcmeans

    Dear Ed,
    We should have left Afghanistan long ago. In fact, we should have finished the job in 2001. I had no problem then. But, now it is too late. I lived in Afghanistan in the early 70′s and then watched the Soviets invade. We backed the jihad then and celebrated when the Soviets left with their tail between their legs. Sure, we have military muscle, but these people will never give up. We always say the Taliban this and that, but the Taliban are Afghan warriors who always come together to throw any oppressor out.
    You talk about our glory in WW2, but this isn’t like that at all. And, by the way, in World War 2, our winning side, the Allies, polished off the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese in 6 years(1939-1945). Afghanistan has a very small population and we are still there, 8 years later, with no end in sight.
    Whenever we leave, the Taliban are still going to be there. Unlike us, they call it home. It’s not our job to bring regime change everywhere. Time to cut the losses and get out of there. A modern army asks for defeat in Afghanistan. Plus, why are we there? Oh; for the oil pipeline. I forgot.

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