Today, the two countries are inextricably linked by a spreading Islamic insurgency. Afghanistan is in danger of a “downward spiral,” according to a draft report of the National Intelligence Estimate, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pro‐Taliban militants regularly cross Pakistan’s highly porous border with Afghanistan to attack US and NATO troops.
Mr Obama will have an important opportunity to save this failing mission. But will he be better than President George W. Bush? If he sticks to his campaign pledge to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, and to take the fight into Pakistan, his policies will be a continuation — and possibly an escalation — of Mr Bush’s policies.
Senior US and NATO officials say this year has been the bloodiest for US and NATO forces since the October 2001invasion. The war has not gone very well in recent months, and Mr Obama wants to strengthen US and allied forces by adding more troops to the nearly 70,000 already there. His strategy is to withdraw US combat forces from Iraq within 16 months, leaving behind 60,000 for support. That cut, at least in theory, would free up more troops for Afghanistan.
On the ground, the Afghan government, the White House and US Central Command (Centcom) are currently reviewing new approaches to stabilise the war ravaged country. One plan is to peel Pashtun tribes away from hardcore elements of the Taliban. The incoming Obama administration has indicated that it will consider adopting this approach. While reaching out to Afghan tribes associated with the Taliban sounds promising, dialogue with rank‐and‐file, pro‐Taliban insurgents may have no impact on the senior leadership’s decision to renounce violence or stop recruiting.