Last Exit from Kabul?

NEW DELHI – America’s war in Afghanistan is approaching a tipping point, with doubts about President Barack Obama’s strategy growing. Yet, after dispatching 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, Obama is considering sending another 14,000.

Let’s be clear: America’s Afghan war is not winnable, even though Obama has redefined American goals from defeating the Taliban to preventing Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks on the United States. But Al Qaeda is no longer a serious factor in the Afghan war, where the principal combatants are now the American military and the Taliban, with its associated militias and private armies. Rather than seeking to defeat the Taliban, the US has encouraged the Pakistani, Afghan, and Saudi intelligence services to hold proxy negotiations with the Taliban’s top leadership, holed up in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The US is fighting the wrong war. After America’s invasion drove Al Qaeda’s leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan emerged as the main base and sanctuary for transnational terrorists. Support and sustenance for the Taliban and many other Afghan militants also comes from inside Pakistan. Despite this, Obama is pursuing a military surge in Afghanistan but an aid surge to Pakistan, which is now the single largest recipient of US assistance in the world.

To defeat Al Qaeda, the US doesn’t need a troop buildup – certainly not in Afghanistan. Without a large ground force in Afghanistan or even major ground operations, the US can hold Al Qaeda’s remnants at bay in their havens in the mountainous tribal regions of Pakistan through covert operations, Predator drones, and cruise-missile attacks. And isn’t that what the CIA is doing already?