Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress the pieces are all in place to gain victory in Iraq, but the prospect for Afghanistan is somewhat different. Admiral Mullen put it this way, “I am not convinced we’re winning in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can.” Gates assured Congress, “no matter what you think about the origins of the war in Iraq, we must get the end game there right. I believe we have now entered that end games.” Both men emphasized “we did not compromise one war for the other.” Their comments raise more questions than provide answers. How can Gates and Mullen ignore the reality that the war in Afghanistan in 2001 had the Taliban on the run and completely disorganized, but troops were withdrawn from that conflict to deal with the new war in Iraq. Of course, one war WAS compromised for the other!
Mullen admits the United States is not winning in Afghanistan, but offers no rationale as to why we should be able to gain victory. Of course, a fundamental problem is the use of the word “victory” in either place. What exactly constitutes “victory?” There were no militants in Iraq in 2003 and now there are thousands. There was no al-Qaeda presence in Algeria in 2003, but now, due to the war in Iraq, there is a new North Africa al-Qaeda.
Afghanistan is not Iraq, it is mountainous, a large narcotics trade which funds insurgents, political instability in neighboring Pakistan, and a serious division within the nation arising not merely from the Taliban, but from tribal chieftains and cliques. What would “victory” look like in Afghanistan?