Now some wag might say that the last sentence probably applies to the entirety of Afghanistan, but that's not me. I'm more inclined to a different sort of observation, like isn't it surreal to imagine that we can protect people in American skyscrapers from being killed by planes or underpants bombs through the prosecution of a counter-guerilla campaign amongst a tiny population of lumber traders who speak an obscure language in an isolated valley on the opposite side of the planet?, but I suppose I digress.
I was a member of the first U.S. patrol to enter the Korengal Valley in 2002, so I read Bing West's explanation for our retreat from there with some interest ("The Meaning of the Korengal Retreat," op-ed, April 23). Mr. West concludes that our efforts were thwarted by "Islamic extremism and tribal xenophobia."
The Korengalis I knew were not predisposed to join an extremist fight against Western outsiders. Nor were they naturally inclined to be our friends. Our aggressive tactics, focused exclusively on rooting out Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, drove them into the enemy's camp. A patient approach of relationship-building, relatively minor infrastructure improvements and a firm commitment not to interfere with the wood trade on which the Korengalis rely for their livelihood might have won a steadfast ally. In the long run, the Taliban and al Qaeda, outsiders themselves, have nothing to offer Korengalis but extremism and xenophobia. Perhaps after ending our permanent presence there, we will be better positioned to win that argument.
Friday, April 30, 2010
I'm going to reproduce in full a letter that appears in today's Wall Street Journal, just because I think it's about the best analysis of U.S. actions in the Korengal and the decision to leave that I've read anywhere. (No link as I'm not sure it's online; I saw it at the Early Bird.) This guy -- Tim Connors of Highland Falls, NY -- nails it in 150 words.