Pondering A 'Plan B' In Afghanistan How many U.S. troops leave Afghanistan in 2011 will depend on what progress is made in the next six months. If it's underwhelming, there may be calls to change the current strategy. Alternatives that focus on counterterrorism rather than counterinsurgency are already in the making.
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Pondering A 'Plan B' In Afghanistan

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Pondering A 'Plan B' In Afghanistan

Pondering A 'Plan B' In Afghanistan

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

We begin with NPR's Rachel Martin.

RACHEL MARTIN: Things could go well in Afghanistan in the next six months. The Karzai government could get in line, the Pakistanis could do more to pressure the Taliban, and the overall violence level in Afghanistan could drop. But if that doesn't happen, there are several people beginning to plot out alternatives.

MARTIN: And I think Afghanistan is quite important to us, but it's not of overriding importance to our national interests.

MARTIN: Armitage is part of a chorus of former U.S. officials and military experts who say the current strategy isn't the right one. Instead, he wants fewer U.S. troops. And those troops should be focused not on building Afghan civil society, but on destroying insurgent networks - less tea drinking, more drone strikes.

MARTIN: We certainly don't want to be hit from there again, but I think we can diminish the ability of al-Qaida and Taliban allies from hitting us by continuing to disrupt them on a counterterrorism basis, which I think calls for a slightly smaller footprint.

MARTIN: Plan B, as Armitage sees it, is something called a counterterrorism strategy - an approach favored by Vice President Joe Biden in the fall of 2009, when the administration was weighing its options and ultimately decided on the counterinsurgency strategy, Plan A, instead. Armitage says that has worked to a point.

MARTIN: Al-Qaida, we have disrupted. We have dismayed them. We may not have totally dismantled them, but they're not what they used to be in Pakistan or Afghanistan. They've morphed into other places - the Maghreb and Yemen, as we've seen, and perhaps into Somalia. But if we concentrate all our play with all our marbles in Afghanistan, this is going to leave us, I think, ill-prepared in other parts of the world.

CORNISH: It is the place from which the 9/11 attacks were originally conceived and coordinated. And therefore, to suggest that this is just one more place in the broader struggle against al-Qaida, I think, goes too far in the other direction of trivializing the stakes.

MARTIN: O'Hanlon does agree, though, that if sufficient progress hasn't been made by summer, it'll be time to rethink the strategy. And he's suggesting yet another alternative.

CORNISH: Any place that we've fought to clear, we should stay in. We should not concede any territory that we have won from the enemy. But we don't have to go into every new additional part of the south and the east before we begin our downsizing.

MARTIN: Carl Forsberg is with the Institute for the Study of War, and was part of a team that did research for General David Petraeus this summer.

MARTIN: The strategy that we've adopted is moving in the right direction. And if it's given the time and the resources, all the evidence suggests it will pay off.

MARTIN: But even Forsberg acknowledges there are two major sticking points in this war - Afghanistan's weak government and the safe havens, when insurgents in Afghanistan flee across the border to Pakistan for sanctuary.

MARTIN: Ultimately, you have to change their calculus and you have to make it clear that the U.S. is committed to defeating insurgent groups in Afghanistan. So far, the Pakistani calculus does not appear to have changed.

MARTIN: Is there anything that leads you to believe it will change?

MARTIN: Well, that's a huge unknown.

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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