Stephen M. Walt

Are we taking it too easy on the Taliban?

Today’s NY Times has an odd op-ed by "intelligence analyst" Lara Dadkhah (who apparently works for a defense consulting firm), suggesting that the more restrictive rules of engagement the United States is now employing in Afghanistan are counterproductive. Dadkhah may be correct that the restrictions make it less likely that the United States will use ...

By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

Today’s NY Times has an odd op-ed by "intelligence analyst" Lara Dadkhah (who apparently works for a defense consulting firm), suggesting that the more restrictive rules of engagement the United States is now employing in Afghanistan are counterproductive. Dadkhah may be correct that the restrictions make it less likely that the United States will use airpower quickly against Taliban fighters, but the overall analysis confuses the relationship between tactics and strategy. The purpose of the more restrictive rules of engagement is to cut down on accidental deaths inflicted on Afghan civilians, precisely because such actions make the U.S./NATO presence less popular, diminish support for our Afghan allies, and make it easier for the Taliban to recruit new soldiers. Killing more civilians also undermines troop moral and support for the war back home. Taking the gloves back off, as she suggests, might actually undermine our long-term prospects. Thus, whatever you may think about the wisdom of our engagement there, the new rules of engagement make sense.

The op-ed also contains another line I just don’t understand. At one point she justifies heavier reliance on airstrikes by saying that the U.S. military "does not have the manpower in Afghanistan to fight the insurgents one-on-one." This may just be careless writing/editing, but surely she is not suggesting that the Taliban has the same number of troops as the United States? (According to this source, we outnumber them by about 12-1). If we can’t take them on "one-on-one," then we’re in bigger trouble than I thought, despite the encouraging news of the past few days.

Today’s NY Times has an odd op-ed by "intelligence analyst" Lara Dadkhah (who apparently works for a defense consulting firm), suggesting that the more restrictive rules of engagement the United States is now employing in Afghanistan are counterproductive. Dadkhah may be correct that the restrictions make it less likely that the United States will use airpower quickly against Taliban fighters, but the overall analysis confuses the relationship between tactics and strategy. The purpose of the more restrictive rules of engagement is to cut down on accidental deaths inflicted on Afghan civilians, precisely because such actions make the U.S./NATO presence less popular, diminish support for our Afghan allies, and make it easier for the Taliban to recruit new soldiers. Killing more civilians also undermines troop moral and support for the war back home. Taking the gloves back off, as she suggests, might actually undermine our long-term prospects. Thus, whatever you may think about the wisdom of our engagement there, the new rules of engagement make sense.

The op-ed also contains another line I just don’t understand. At one point she justifies heavier reliance on airstrikes by saying that the U.S. military "does not have the manpower in Afghanistan to fight the insurgents one-on-one." This may just be careless writing/editing, but surely she is not suggesting that the Taliban has the same number of troops as the United States? (According to this source, we outnumber them by about 12-1). If we can’t take them on "one-on-one," then we’re in bigger trouble than I thought, despite the encouraging news of the past few days.

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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