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AFGHANISTAN: Can the U.S. kill its way to victory?

October 31, 2008 |  4:47 pm

Afghan3 As the debate over revamping U.S. policy in Afghanistan intensifies, Bing West has checked in with strong views.

West -- a Marine veteran of Vietnam, former assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration and author of three books and numerous articles on the war in Iraq -- takes aim at two assertions that seem, to him, to be morphing into givens.

One is that the "surge" tactics used in Iraq won't work in Afghanistan because of differences in terrain and other factors.

The second, as expressed by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is that military power alone won't crush the enemy -- that improving the political and physical infrastructure of Afghanistan is equally important.

West thinks both ideas are wrongheaded.

His views often are consistent with those privately held by many -- although maybe not all -- Marine brass.

"It's strange to hear a military commander during war saying he can't kill his way to victory," West writes. "Our police don't tell us they can't catch all the criminals. We expect our police to provide security even in impoverished areas. Similarly, we expect our military to destroy al-Qaeda by killing its members. The American military mission is not nation building. If poverty and poor government were the causes of insurgencies, most of the countries in the world would be at war.

"To prevent more recruits for the Islamic extremists, we'd like to have a tolerant democracy and a thriving economy in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. But if we make that a precondition for crushing al-Qaeda, we will be in Afghanistan for decades."

The full essay, "Afghan Awakening," can be found at, a website of the Nixon Center, a defense policy think tank that puts out a publication called The National Interest. Click on the "current issue" tab.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marines in Afghanistan. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps

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