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No Substitute for Boots on the Ground

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In 2008 I commanded a team of US Army combat advisers in northern Afghanistan's remote Chahar Darreh district. We patrolled with about 50 Afghan police troopers, conducting ambushes, reconnaissance, law-enforcement tasks and reconstruction. These missions had one purpose: to build trust between the police and the people and thereby isolate the insurgents moving among them. Some Afghan troopers were thieves and Taliban infiltrators. Most served with honor and courage. A growing chorus of Americans rejects operations of this kind. Opposition has hardened in response to Gen. Stanley McChrystal's call to launch a fully resourced counterinsurgency effort. Naturally, the peaceniks want us to leave Afghanistan altogether. Other opponents of the McChrystal plan urge President Barack Obama to select a safer, cheaper cleaner method of defeating al Qaeda.

Some conservative isolationists, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, argue that we should rely on commando raids and missile strikes to zap terrorist targets from afar, thereby sparing infantrymen like us the risks that go with living among the Afghans. Tellingly, the Biden camp has yet to offer any details about the sources of real-time intelligence needed to execute precision strikes, or the locations of the bases from which they would be launched. In the years prior to 9/11, our leaders gambled with the nation's safety by employing "surgical" cruise missiles attacks (that blew up only abandoned tents) and organizing specialized counterterrorism forces (that never deployed due to a poverty of intelligence). Nowadays, any talk of returning to this over-the-horizon concept is shockingly naïve...

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