Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Cleaning Up after Bin Laden

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Cleaning Up after Bin Laden

Article excerpt

An eight-point program to accomplish our original goal after 9/ 11.

Osama Bin Laden's death a year ago Wednesday, at the hands of a Navy SEAL team, revealed that America has been fighting two wars in Afghanistan. One is against Al Qaeda, and is clearly in America's national interest; the other war, to fix Afghanistan, is much more questionable. We must take lessons from the way we fight terrorism in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere: Focus more on finishing the fight against Al Qaeda, and less on bringing good government to a failing state.

After 9/11, American special operations and intelligence personnel killed and captured Al Qaeda leaders, eliminated its bases of operation, restricted its financing and disrupted its ability to launch international attacks. Relentless pressure has kept Al Qaeda's ability to conduct attacks low.

But in Afghanistan, it's hard to see whether U.S. efforts are succeeding, and what we should do next. On 9/11 we were not attacked by a country. Yet because many Qaeda fighters were based and sheltered in Afghanistan in 2001, some Americans argued that to make victory permanent we had to not just oust the Taliban government, but also build a democracy, a modern economy and an effective national security apparatus for Afghanistan. It was like arguing that to put out a forest fire, we had to pave the forest.

Today, despite years of investment, the Taliban, criminal families and warlords still resist control from Kabul. President Hamid Karzai has been, at best, an unpredictable ally. Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as more corrupt than any country except Somalia and North Korea. Government security forces still cannot coordinate intelligence and operations across the country without our support.

Since Bin Laden's death, many Americans have decided that our job in Afghanistan is done. They see a victory in the counterterrorism campaign, and are tired of the corruption, confusion and dysfunction of the nation-building campaign. But it would be a mistake to abandon the country entirely, and fortunately, leaving altogether is not the only alternative. America has learned to fight Al Qaeda in other failed and failing states -- Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan -- without completely rebuilding them. It's time to bring those lessons learned back to where we started.

The weakness of the Karzai government need not pose any more of a threat to America than the ungovernability of large areas of Yemen and Somalia does. These areas must be watched closely by intelligence resources and cooperative tribal leaders, and any new threat must be cut down quickly. But that essential mission can be carried out by intelligence and Special Operations personnel who can smother remnants of Al Qaeda without having to rebuild every country where it sets up shop. …

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