Nathan Gardels Headshot

Will More U.S. Troops Strengthen the Taliban?

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As President Obama ponders the assessment of General McChyrstal over what to do next in Afghanistan, the pressure is on for a new "surge" of troops to "clear, hold and build" contested
areas long enough for some kind of effective governance and security from Kabul to take hold.
Yet, as the post-election turmoil suggests, the legitimacy of the government that would take over is far from established.

Nonetheless, Secretary Gates has given this approach one year to show it is working. This may make sense on the fast food time scale of the American clock. But this is a land where the Taliban still remember the Buddhist contamination a millennium ago and the Soviet occupation a couple of decades ago as if it were yesterday.

So, we are pitting the draining will of the American public, after 8 years, to take on even a temporary surge against this deep, tribal determination, honed over the centuries, to resist foreign infidels? Surely, the Taliban will hit, run and wait it out.

Further, aren't people at home already asking why we are building schools in Afghanistan when teachers are being fired in California? And won't more troops make it more of an occupation, granting the mantle of resistance to the otherwise despised Taliban?

Gates argues that more troops won't stir more resistance if they are used properly to protect civilians and create order. True as far as it goes. But how far is that when even our German allies, who have desperately tried to stay out of the fighting, find themselves drawn into massive collateral destruction of civilians? If this keeps up, won't America and its NATO allies come to be seen just as the Afghans saw the Soviets?

This is the considered worry of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Carter when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Here is some of what Brzezinski had to say when I talked to him recently for the Global Viewpoint Network:

The growing risk that we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that the Taliban -- still supported only by a minority -- is beginning to be viewed as a resistance movement against a foreign and especially "infidel" occupation, largely American. The Soviets came to be viewed that way within a year of their invasion. When we moved into Afghanistan almost eight years ago -- and with a very small force -- we were actually welcomed. If we are not careful, we could come to be viewed by the Afghans like the Russians, and that would be a strategic defeat.

The full interview can be found on the Christian Science Monitor website here.

For an alternative view by Francis Fukuyama that "nation-building is key to counterinsurgency,"
go here.