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A faulty argument for staying on in Afghanistan

Marc Thiessen of the Washington Post's op-ed page is promising doom when US troops pull out of Afghanistan. There is no reason to believe he's close to correct.

By Staff writer / March 20, 2012

A U.S. Army soldier from the Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 377 Field Artillery Regiment looks as a comrade stretches his arms while waiting for an order to fire a 155MM Howitzer artillery at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan March 20.

Erik De Castro/REUTERS

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The murder of 16 Afghans last week, allegedly by a US soldier who wandered off his base in Afghanistan, has renewed a basic question: Why are 90,000 US troops still in Afghanistan?

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Washington Post op-ed writer Marc Thiessen took a stab yesterday at justifying a longer stay in Central Asia, without once mentioning the costs in lives and cash, nor referencing anyone with actual regional expertise. While his piece yesterday warns of danger ahead for the US in Afghanistan, the real danger lies in anyone in a position of power taking such sentiment seriously. His piece lays out "Five disasters we'll face if US retreats from Afghanistan."

Let's take them apart one at a time:

Disaster One: No more drone attacks in Pakistan.

Mr. Thiessen writes, "If we want to continue the drone war against al-Qaeda, we must have a U.S. military presence not just in Afghanistan but in the Pashtun heartland – and we can’t have that presence if the Pashtun heartland is on fire."

There's a whole range of options to maintaining a "presence" in Afghanistan that would allow for intelligence sharing and Afghan assistance in going after the remnants of Al Qaeda, which is now a shadow of its former self. President Hamid Karzai has been eager to stop aggressive US military raids – which inflame Pashtun opposition to his government and the US-led occupation – to allow more space for a negotiated end to the war with the Taliban.

Thiessen appears to be completely unaware of the fact that the Karzai regime views the sorts of military tactics he is calling for as counterproductive.

As for what's left of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Thiessen's prediction that "Al Qaeda would be free to reconstitute" itself there ignores ongoing, albiet imperfect, joint efforts with Pakistan, and the near complete demise of Al Qaeda's traditional network in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Col. (Ret.) Pat Lang; who fought with native insurgents as a Green Beret in the Vietnam War; who founded the Arabic and Middle East studies programs at West Point; and was in charge of the Middle East, South Asia, and Terrorism at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1990s, says the approach that men like Thiessen want makes focusing on counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan harder, not easier. "Karzai... seeks a middle way that will allow the US to continue CT (counterterrorism) operations in that country. Perhaps that is still possible. Perhaps. We have done so much damage to that possibility that I doubt it can still be done."

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