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Question: Can the US’s counterinsurgency strategy work in Afghanistan?

Jere Van Dyk:  It's possible that it may work in the long run, but it will never work until such time as the United States—and it surely must know this—until the United States levels with the military leadership in Pakistan and tells it in unequivocal terms to stop supporting the Taliban.  There wasn't a man along the border in the months that I spent there who didn't say that we would be at peace if Pakistan stopped supporting the Taliban. The United States must surely know that we are spending billions—we have given billions of dollars since 2001. Apparently, according to the newspapers, about 10.5 billion dollars.  We don't know how much money has secretly gone to Pakistan.

Many people along the border say that the one reason why this war is going on and that Pakistan is fostering the growth of and behind the Taliban is to convince the United States that it's in the United States' interest to prevent the rise of the Taliban again because out of the Taliban would become that element of Al Qaeda which would attack the West.  Therefore, it's a way for Pakistan to gain money from the West.  This is how men talk along the border.  I don't think that the United States has leveled with us to the degree to which Pakistan—it's very close ally since the 1950's who was always with the United States in trying to contain communism—may be not just an ally, but may be in part an enemy in that part of the world.
 
Question: How well is the Obama administration handling the war?

Jere Van Dyk:  It's very clear that under President Obama, the war in Afghanistan, and particularly in Pakistan, has become far worse.  And by worse I mean it's become more lethal.  President Obama has unleashed I don't know how many but a tremendous... far more drone missiles on Pakistan than President Bush ever did.  President Bush was concentrating on Iraq.  President Obama is concentrating clearly on Afghanistan.

We currently today have as many soldiers and marines in Afghanistan as the Soviet Union had during its 10-year war there, when I was there as a much younger man as a newspaper reporter.  The worst month of the war over nine years was last month, when more American soldiers were killed.  The Taliban told me that "the more soldiers that you send, the more we will kill."  So the more... the longer we are there, the more this war continues, the more that we send in more soldiers, is not going to bring the war down.

As Secretary of Defense Gates, General McChrystal, and all those soldiers surrounding him have said, "We are not winning, but we're not losing."  What is critical is that... there was an article in the Washington Times not so long ago where a brigadier general U.S. said, "We do not understand the Pashtun mind."  Major General Flynn, who was the Intelligence Officer to General McChrystal said, complaining about the lack of intelligence that he's getting—I don't know if was a CIA / Pentagon turf war—but the point is that we know after nine years so little of Afghanistan.  We do not understand the culture, we do not understand the mindset, we don't understand the language... which is one reason why we're having such a difficult time.

In the 1980's, when you watch Soviet soldiers go through villages, they had allies.  Communists were in those villages.  I've sat with Afghans in villages and I've watched American convoys come through, and children don't smile.  Children don't wave.  And those soldiers are afraid.  The United States has got to find a far better way to win these people over and to show them that we are different from the Soviet Union, we are there to help them, and that we don't want to stay.

Recorded June 29. 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

More from the Big Idea for Thursday, October 14 2010

 

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