Joel HafvensteinAugust 10, 2009 - 9:52am0 comments
The Obama administration is clearly determined to reverse Afghanistan's slide into chaos. Since January 2009 we have seen a new military commander and ambassador in Afghanistan, a re-examination of strategy, and the beginnings of a “surge” in American troops and civilian development workers. America's Afghanistan campaign, however, needs a more fundamental shift in priorities.
Over the past few years, the increased reach and effectiveness of the Taliban insurgency has led the U.S. government to take ever-stronger protection measures for its citizens in Afghanistan, including both soldiers and civilians. These robust measures unquestionably save American lives. Unfortunately, many do so by removing Americans to isolated zones where they can't achieve much. Troops fighting a counterinsurgency and civilian agencies carrying out development projects are alike ineffective unless they get out of the bunker and act in ways that engage rather than alienate the population. If American soldiers and development workers do not start accepting higher levels of risk as a matter of policy, a “surge” in U.S. efforts on either front will be utterly wasted.
Bagram Air Base stretches across the desert fringes of the lush Shamali Plain north of Kabul. In the 1980s, Bagram was the military nerve center for the occupying Soviet army, and countless planes took off from its dusty runways to carpet-bomb villages and shower aerial mines in remote mountain passes. The Soviets sought...