We’re still in Afghanistan?

It seems that since Obama’s move to Pennsylvania Avenue, the Iraqi parliament’s troop pullout deadline, and Bush’s escape from the daily headline punching bag, Iraq has faded out as a major subject of debate. Most tasks in the blunderful war in Iraq seem to be on a (though still vague and easily fudgeable) track; however, the new administration has finally shifted strategy and attention to the true threat to national security and the main source of regional conflict: Afghanistan.

In late March, President Obama announced the new game plan with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Meeting with Afghan and Pakistani governments, NATO, Congressmen, and other international organizations for 60 days, the administration laid out the clear goal to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.” While this was essentially a “duh” statement, the new strategy also emphasizes flexibility and adaptive measures as officials will frequently evaluate the strategy’s progress and adapt to new developments – something the old mantra of “stay the course” did not allow sufficient room for.

While Afghanistan is the source of conflict, its problematic eastern border (especially the mountainous tribal region of Waziristan) is the planning, training, and staging area of the offensives that critically threaten the stability of nuclear-capable Pakistan. Obama met with European leaders, saying his strategy does not call for any NATO activity in Pakistan. Ouch, but understandable. Europe is closer, more easily accessed, and more heterogeneous than the U.S., making it a more probable target for terrorist attacks if European forces become more involved. The U.S. is coupling its military campaign with economic offensives as well. In Congress, two bills are in the works regarding Pakistan: one to authorize $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over five years and one requested to establish “reconstruction opportunity zones” in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border to improve the economic climate and perhaps provide more leverage for leaders to work within the zones.

An important factor, particularly in these zones, is the civilian population and law enforcement of both countries. Assigning more resources to improving civilian conditions, as well as investing in the State Department and foreign assistance programs is a smart way to securing the human factor. To ensure this will be protected, the U.S. will soon deploy 4,000 troops to train Afghan security personnel, Afghan National Army, and Afghan National Police. One of the key goals for the administration is to prove to Afghanistan and Pakistan (and even Iraq) that it should take care of itself, though this has been an unfulfilled goal since the wars began during the Bush administration. A sense of security given by a reliable police presence and economic stability will prevent one of extremists’ most important recruitment methods: intimidation and extortion.

The majority of the new strategy is essentially fixing the dried up and beaten “stay the course” idea, focusing more on Pakistan, and shifting resources to the non-bullet-and-bomb areas of U.S. diplomacy. However, this is just the very beginning of a possibly entirely new outlook on the wars, and there will be complications and new developments. All we can plan for now is the extremely nearsighted short run.

In the long run, Obama hopes that he can help form a Contact Group, where the U.S., major Asian nations, U.N., and NATO can all work together to help secure and improve the region. Frankly, all that jazz sounds a little on the lolwat? side, because it won’t happen in his (or our) lifetime – apparently he forgot we still have politicians around.

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