Success in Afghanistan remains possible. As tragic and regrettable as they are, recent “green-on-blue” attacks against U.S. forces do not signify the failure of U.S.-Afghan partnership efforts or the enmity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and Afghan people. Incidents spectacular enough to grab headlines in an overheated election year have badly distorted our understanding of what actually has happened on the ground in Afghanistan this fighting season.
The most important developments this year have been the failure of a determined Taliban effort to regain key terrain that they had lost, and the displacement of continuing violence away from populated areas and toward remote locations. Add to that the resiliency of the Afghan Local Police in key villages under determined Taliban attack, and the emergence of new anti-Taliban movements in former Taliban strongholds. The war is far from won, but a path to victory remains evident and viable if we have the will to pursue it.
In December 2009, the Taliban controlled all of the approaches to Kandahar and were gaining control of the city itself. They controlled most of Helmand province with a fortified and uncontested command node in the town of Marjah. There was virtually no ANSF presence in Helmand, and the Afghan forces in Kandahar were ineffective if not disloyal. The NATO International Security Assistance Force had only a small presence in Kandahar. Local Afghans generally either tolerated or actively supported the Taliban. Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, widely accused of corruption, monopolized power in the area in a way that marginalized and alienated large segments of the population. In nearly every way, we were on the road to defeat.