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U.S. falling short of Afghan goals

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

With the summer season of fighting only a few weeks away and the beginning of the U.S. troop drawdown only a few months away, the news from Afghanistan is far from encouraging.

Anti-American rioting, a return of al-Qaida and persistent foot-dragging by Pakistan in fighting Islamist terrorists crowd out reports of battlefield successes of U.S. troops in inflicting serious damage on the Taliban and its allies. The best hope seems to be that American troops can hurt the Taliban enough to force it to make concessions. Talks are said to be under way between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but chances of success are dogged by recent events.

First came the murderous rioting after a crackpot Florida pastor burned a Quran. This nut in no way represents mainstream American sentiments. Yet Afghans, in some perverse Pavlovian reflex, rioted. Worse, it was Afghan President Hamid Karzai and leaders of Afghan mosques who pandered to zealots and incited rioting against America. No Americans were among the two dozen deaths only because none was around at the time.

These are the people and these are the leaders for whom American soldiers are sacrificing their lives and for whom U.S. taxpayers are spending billions to make Afghanistan a better place. Is that ugly explosion of primitive passions by Afghans and the incitement of it by their leaders worth the death of another U.S. soldier? I think a lot of Americans are asking that question.

Next came the Wall Street Journal report that over the last six to eight months al-Qaida has returned to Afghanistan, establishing training camps, hideouts and bases. This has occurred in remote mountainous regions from which U.S. troops had withdrawn. Coalition airstrikes and troop incursions have targeted these new al-Qaida bases. They are small and scattered, and they pose no major threat now. But al-Qaida’s use of Afghanistan as a safe haven once again can’t be seen as a sign things are going well in the war.

More troubling is the administration’s latest report on the war that finds Pakistan still obsessed with its traditional rival India, hampered by political gridlock and economic woes, and failing to clear terrorists from remote areas from which they attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan is more concerned with appeasing religious fanatics and fighting the Pakistan Taliban, its enemy, than it is in battling the Afghan Taliban, which it sees as a proxy to exert influence in Afghanistan. The administration’s report concluded there is “no clear path toward defeating the insurgency” in Pakistan that has caused so much trouble and death for Americans. Wow!

Things have gone wrong since a relatively small U.S. force supported by airstrikes and working with anti-Taliban warlords ousted the Taliban regime after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Critics accused President Bush of taking his eye off the ball by going into Iraq. Still, it’s beginning to look like a lighter footprint on the ground combined with the Predator drone attacks Bush was ramping up, and which President Obama increased, might have been the better policy than more troops.

Obama was criticized for setting a time frame, starting this summer, for a troop pullout. That told the enemy they only have to wait us out. It told Karzai and Pakistan our commitment was time-limited. Obama hasn’t done much to rally the public support among Americans needed to sustain a long-term effort.

But clearly much of our trouble is rooted in the unpleasant realities of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s time to abandon the nation-building approach to Afghanistan. Our strategy, our tactics and the deployment of our forces should be focused only on those measures that can protect American lives and the homeland from attack. Our enemies should know that when they see our troops, they are not seeing nation builders but nation destroyers. Fear of that would be the best safeguard for American lives.

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