U.S. Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
U.S. Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

By Harry C. Blaney III

The first lesson from all that is taking place in Afghanistan is for the West and the new Afghan government to be aware of past mistakes and avoid the creation of new ones all together. The conclusion one must draw from our history in that unsettled nation, and the current situation on the ground, is to be wary of being drawn deeper into an environment for which we still have not learned enough, nor perhaps have the capacity to fully understand.  “Lead from Behind,” as characterized by a recent Economist article, if implemented as planned, is not a bad strategy given our history in the region.

Despite some of the gains of the Taliban, the consensus is that government forces, if supported, can at least contain them, if not eliminate them on the field, and thus may leave an opening for a negotiated settlement. But those that cut off the heads of people will not and cannot be part of any settlement. They need to be eliminated in one way or another as a threat to the safety of all citizens. Surely, one impact of that action, as seen also by the brutality of ISIS, is to keep them further away from the sympathies of the average Afghan and reinforce their will of not wanting them to have this group control Afghan lands.

Thanks to President Obama and the hard work of Secretary Kerry, our diplomats, and military leaders on the ground, we have wound down our combat footprint and are applying our diplomatic, training, and assistance tools to make it possible for the Afghans to save their own nation in the long-run. But it will now be up to the new government, which thanks to our diplomacy, at least starts with a broad base. We should not react now in a knee-jerk way to every act of aggression or attack. We must make sure the Afghans have the resources needed to provide improvements to their security.

American and allied strategy is to assist and advise, but not normally fight on the ground. This is a correct step given the continued uncertainty and balance of forces. But as in Iraq, corruption needs to be reduced, if not eliminated, and the security forces need better resources, training, and leadership.  Here we can and should help. Not just for the sake of Afghanistan alone, but also for the security of the region as a whole including the quite critical nuclear nation of Pakistan.

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