In August, President Obama laid out the rationale for stepping up the fight in Afghanistan: If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people. Obamas Af-Pak plan is, in essence, a countersanctuary strategy that denies safe havens to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, with the overriding goal of making America and its allies safer. Under Obama, the Pentagon has already sent a surge of 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, and the Administration is even weighing the possibility of deploying as many as 40,000 more.
This is a sound policy. If U.S. forces were not in Afghanistan, the Taliban, with its al-Qaeda allies in tow, would seize control of the country's south and east and might even take it over entirely. A senior Afghan politician told me that the Taliban would be in Kabul within 24 hours without the presence of international forces. This is not because the Taliban is so strong; generous estimates suggest it numbers no more than 20,000 fighters. It is because the Afghan government and the 90,000-man Afghan army are still so weak.