Doug Stanton's most recent book is Horse Soldiers, about a small band of Special Forces soldiers who battled the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. He believes the small-scale approach carried out by these troops could have a similar impact if implemented again in the same country.
"These guys go in, don't think they're going to come home, and they ended up turning the Taliban out of the country, and they united the Afghans together," Stanton said of the Special Forces. "One of the great frustrations is that we haven't really taken a look at the playbook from eight years ago."
President Obama's "classic counterinsurgency plan" can work, according to some military minds Stanton consulted, but it must focus on one tribe at a time.
"What we would have to do, or what the Afghans have to do, is create their own government, because Karzai's is so inept," said Stanton, who predicted some measure of success would be in place by Obama's deadline of July 2011.
There needs to be some version of success similar to what was seen in Iraq. "The surge there worked because it was preceded by this other thing called 'the awakening' in Anbar province," Stanton said.
One of the men in Horse Soldiers, upon arriving in the Anbar region of Iraq, noted the exorbitant unemployment rate. He got people on his side by giving them jobs, and turning them against the insurgents. Unless a similar strategy is carried out in Afghanistan, Stanton said that after 18 months, "We'll be stuck in a version of 'Iraq lite.'"
He questions whether there are only 100 Al-Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, as statistics have suggested. But those still there are bitter from their 2001 defeat by the U.S. Special Forces, a unit Stanton compared to the Peace Corps.
"Except they get to shoot back if they have to," he joked. "They'd rather make change from the inside of society rather than hammer at it from the outside."
Obama's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan would do mostly the latter, which Stanton said doesn't always work and often alienates people.
"This is a social problem, it's not just a military problem," he said. "It's a lot like teen pregnancy and drug abuse in the United States — we can't even fix that here, when we know the language, and we can figure out who to vote for. How do you expect another country to just fix it overnight?"
Afghans, he added, must determine their own future, and it's possible that future will include the Taliban, "in a way that they can live with other Afghans without trying to chop their hands off, or stone women in the soccer stadium."