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Obama's Afghanistan plan: the warlord factor

We owe it to our troops and to our Afghan friends to put the very best American and Afghan leaders in the provinces.

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In fact, Gen. Stanley McChrystal's review team has studied the opportunities for further cooperation with warlords and tribal leaders and deemed them an inadequate substitute for additional American combat troops. The facts on the ground tend to support that judgment. According to American officers in Afghanistan today, tribal elders will gladly take US money and assure the US that they are eradicating insurgents, but will not really take up arms against the insurgents, or even share where improvised explosive devices are located, unless the counterinsurgents can protect them and their families from reprisals.

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Only by sending tens of thousands of additional American troops and partnering them with Afghan forces can the US provide the security the fence sitters crave.

So what can Washington do besides sending more troops?

It can help emplace governors and battalion commanders with agile minds and magnetic personalities. At the highest level, the US government can use its leverage to influence Afghan appointments and require the newly reelected Afghan President Hamid Karzai to delegate more personnel decisions to Afghans more inclined toward meritocracy, such as Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar.

The White House can also speed the deployment of top-flight American officers to Afghanistan as commanders and combat advisers, in order to improve the performance of American and Afghan forces.

McChrystal has complained that the Pentagon is taking too long to send him the people he needs, a troubling indictment of the military bureaucracies. Those bureaucracies, moreover, are still putting our finest counterinsurgency leaders behind desks for four or five years between combat tours.

Obama should follow the example of Winston Churchill, who in 1952 sent top leadership talent from across the British Empire to Malaya and consequently transformed failure into success within a matter of months.

Counterinsurgency is leadercentric warfare; its outcome is largely determined by the talents of local leaders. We owe it to our troops and to our Afghan friends to put the very best American and Afghan leaders in the provinces, because only those leaders can craft and execute the panoply of actions required to win the war.

Mark Moyar is a professor of national security affairs at the US Marine Corps University and the author of "A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq."