Friday, May 08, 2009

Echoes of a long-ago war

'The only way to reach Viper Company of the 26th Regiment, First Infantry Division, is by helicopter,' writes Bing West from Afghanistan. Like a stormy petrel, our best war correspondent has left Iraq and turned his attention to the new cloud on the horizon. His opening sentence really resonates. I could have written it from a number of Special Forces outposts in 1964. (Mr West knows that, too. He was a Marine officer in Vietnam.)

Overall, though, he's favorably impressed by the progress made by the US military in the 'Stan. The larger problem remains: what to do about infiltration from Pakistan. Here he provides two alternatives:

'The first is to apply the classic counterinsurgency model: After the military push the enemy from a populated area, the police take over, while government appointees provide honest governance and basic services.' That too evokes Vietnam, circa 1964, and will probably be the course urged by the US Army, brandishing copies of its new counter-insurgency field manual. But it means a long and costly commitment. So:

'The second option is to expand the role of the Afghan army to act as the facilitators and watchdogs of governance.'

Mr West is strongly in favor of that, of course. It will be interesting to see if the Good People sign on to what is essentially a policy of building another military junta. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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