Yesterday, an al-Qaeda chemical weapons expert was killed in a Predator strike in Pakistan. Today, Los Angeles Times reports that Pakistan plans to move units of its XI Corps to cover the Afghan border. And according to an Army Times article by Sean Naylor, apparently leaked to bloggers, new CENTCOM chief General David Petraeus will “seek to re-create his Iraqi success in Afghanistan, using many of the same methods that appear to have turned the tide in Iraq over the last 18 months”.
These are encouraging news, but caveats abound. One successful precision strike will not seriously hamper al-Qaeda; Pakistan is better at making promises than keeping them; and, as Vikram Singh has convincingly argued, Afghanistan isn’t Iraq, and even Petraeus’s COIN wizardry can’t change that.
I’m still waiting to hear how Obama plans to tackle all this, although I’m a lot more optimistic about his chances after learning that Barnett Rubin is advising him on Afghanistan.
Here’s how Ahmed Rashid sums up the challenge in his Descent Into Chaos:
The United States and NATO have failed to understand that the Taliban belong to neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, but are a lumpen population, the product of refugee camps, militarized madrassas, and the lack of opportunities in the borderland of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have neither been true citizens of either country nor experienced traditional Pashtun tribal society. The longer the war goes on, the more deeply rooted and widespread the Taliban and their transnational milieu will become.