June 1st, 2010
09:59 AM ET

Is there a Plan B for Afghanistan?

Within weeks, 20,000 U.S., Afghan and coalition forces will have poured into the Kandahar region of southern Afghanistan - a longtime Taliban stronghold. The mission: establish security for the people, improve local government and push the Taliban out.

It's the biggest battle yet in the counterinsurgency warplan of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. U.S. forces have already struck Taliban targets in the area, but McChrystal is now trying to make it look like a more gentle war.

"We're not using the term operation or major operations, because that often brings to mind in people's psyche the idea of a D-Day and an H-hour and an attack," he said at a Pentagon briefing in May.

But what happens if this Plan A doesn't work? Some people say Plan B is to make Plan A work.

"In a sense, that's right because there are always alternatives but in this case the alternatives aren't that attractive," says Stephen Biddle, an occasional adviser to McChrystal.

One alternative is the acceleration of Afghan forces' training, Biddle says, but "there aren't a lot of options other than that. Do you make troops on patrol walk faster?"

No one expects the insurgents to cut and run. They haven't in nearby Marjah, where U.S. troops are using a similar strategy and have been fighting for months. Marjah was supposed to give the U.S. the momentum to move on into Kandahar as the next target.

But McChrystal recently called the Marjah campaign "a bleeding ulcer."

"When Gen. McChrystal referred to Marjah as a bleeding ulcer, he was talking about the perception of the outside world," says Gen. Nick Carter, Commander of Regional Command-South, ISAF. "And of course, in the same way that it's important that Afghan perceptions go in the right direction, it's important that the outside world also has the right perceptions."

For McChrystal, the clock is ticking. He says he will know by the end of the year if his plan is working.

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Bill


    June 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. hr

    Will somebody explain how we are better off running Afganistan than the Russians were?????? After years and billions of dollars we still have not eliminated Bin Laden and the Taliban – Afganistan bankrupted the Russians – we are well on the way to the same end are we not??????

    June 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Matt

    I think this is the first war I've seen where we tell the enemy our battle plans beforehand. I wonder how this would have worked in WWII? I can just see the headlines: Romel throws D-Day invasion back into the English Channel!!!

    June 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Outlier

    Apparently, several of you were uncomfortable with my “round them up” approach, fretting that we might mistakenly take some innocents. To which I offer; when a surgeon removes a cancer, he will invariably also remove some healthy tissue to ensure he gets all of the disease. America needs to get in touch with her inner warrior. We are there to hunt down those that wish us harm. Period. When they’re gone, we can come home. Building a hospital or a school after bombing a village is ridiculous, and is only done to appease those here in the US that shirk the responsibility of principles. Wars hurt, they’re supposed too. Let’s wrap this one up.

    June 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • ImNoExpert


      The "winning the population" methods you reference are part of a counter-insurgency tactic with the goal of, well, winning the population. The idea is that the insurgents draw upon the local population for support, supplies, and especially recruitment. By acting ruthlessly, America would likely kill off those who hide behind the population, but the cost is that future insurgencies may spring up out of resentment by the population, or the same resentment fueling current insurgencies, making them stronger.

      But by winning the population over, you cut off or undermine the supplies and support base for the insurgency. The people won't fight America if America is helping them out with food, education, helthcare, etc. We also gain an ally in that area and have a credibly positive reputation in the international community for things like "humanitarian support" and "spreading democracy", etc.

      It takes longer and is more financially costly, but its much more in line with American values and interests than the ruthless methods that you suggest. The Nazis tried these methods against resistance groups in occupied territories. Do you want to be like the Nazis?

      June 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ForASong

    Plan *B*? I thought we were somewhere around plan N by now...

    June 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      No, I think we at plan Z now.

      June 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Augustus

    A quick war would be ideal - walking away would be convenient - but you are all leaving something out of the equation. NUKES in Pakistan. NUKES in Pakistan. NUKES in Pakistan. Let's all imagine what the collective mentality of the Taliban would be once they got their mitts on a nuclear weapon.

    June 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • M_K

      you are missing the point, the moment USA walks out, these taliban and afghans will just get back to fighting each other, so it will be business as usual for the next few decades. Pakistan never was and perhaps would not be a threat. The only problem in US strategy was that we have injected ourselves into middle of civil war by siding with Northern alliance. We have no business supporting the corrupt and illegal government of karzai that is full of warlords from previous eras

      June 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DaHound

    Seems like usual the American public has a short memory. We are in Afganistan because of 9-11. We're not nation building. And once again, like Viet Nam, the congress is going to wonder why we can't get this job done quickly while tieing one arm behind the backs of the military. If the U.N. wasn't such a nutless organization, 500,000 troops would be in there and had the mess cleaned up in 3 years. We didn't start this thing. The Taliban gave sanctuary to the people that killed almost 3,000 of your fellow Americans along with quite a few other nationalities. And as far as our nation being a model for others to follow, you better wake up and do some research about what a mess our national debt is and the unfunded liabilities that total over 100 trillion dollars that we will never be able to cover. How's that Social Security check and medical care looking when the government can't pay for it?

    June 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mark

    Can't "round up" Taliban unless you can identify them. Insurgents work hard to look exactly like the people they hide behind.

    Can't, as the media are so fond of saying, drive the bad guys out either. They can't go home; they *are* home. Beating them means either winning them over or taking them out of the equation altogether.

    Taken together, these ought to begin to explain why it takes so long and costs so much. And why there's not a Plan B, short of giving up and letting the bad guys have our friends.

    June 1, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      who in Afghanistan do you think is our friend. Karzi's brother is the big wheel in Kandahar. We are being played but like VietNam noone up top is going to admit it.

      June 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Marc

    @randy but let's just leave like we did in Vietnam.. after the Gov't had JFK assassinated and put the next president (war monger) in office we went right to war to stop "communism" and we still bailed out of Vietnam anyway.. these wars cost too much money.. Jeez it took Britian until like 2006 to pay back America for all the resources we gave them in WW2 from the Lend-Lease Act of 1941

    June 1, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Randy

    Let's face it..... There is no definite, easy solution to troop withdrawl from Afghanistan or Iraq. We have been mired in a situation which, if we just completely withdrawl now, will inevitably create a huge power vacuum and potentially lead to more deaths in each country. Unfortunately for America we have been entered into a hell of a "catch-22."

    June 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Eugene

    We can't afford this war, and we can't win. We've made unexpected progress in Iraq, and getting rid of Saddam was a good thing, but we are swimming in quicksand in Afganistan. What I don't get, however, is how all these stop the war bumper stickers have seemed to dissapear – we had a more clear mission in Iraq and there was no end to the protests. Now we're pouring lives into a war that no one can easily explain, but it's OK??? Just because someone else is in the White House??

    June 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      All you people do is cry for peace and love. You dont understand that the group were fighting against could careless if youre a combatant or civilian (EX 9/11, Madrid, etc). That were fighting an enemey that yes maybe long costly in the long run but the routing of radical islamic idealogy and its jihad soldiers is a safer world. That the taliban just like Hezbollah and hamas get their support from Iran. You guys look at a body bag as a statistic and use it for your argument. I look at it as a hero who chose to instead of blogging and spin facts to fight for the very nation that says he/she failed. Do we not as soldiers have the chance to defend our country that we love and for who we care about Eugene. Go ahead write us off. You want to quit? Then tell me why 3,000 americans died on 9/11...We're here to win for them and you even if you hate it. Patriotism!

      June 1, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
      • dixiejon

        I thought we went to Afghanistan to get bin laden, I could care less about what happens to poppygrowing religious fanatics. If the people dont like it letthem stand up for themselves.

        June 3, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Outlier

    @Marc – The way you ensure your future security is to make those that have moved against you regret having done so. You want war to be ugly. Short wars kill fewer people than long wars. Make war palatable, and something seen as "constructive" and you'll be fighting them again, and again, and again.

    June 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • RHSaar

      This is really a general comment directed to all.

      We need to have the resolve as a people to back up what we say, if necessary. Speak softly but carry a big stick is the only thing the world seems to understand. I'm speaking of philosphical radicals and the general uneducated populace in third world nations. Both Hand to mouth survivial or soul to heaven promises are strong motivations when you know of nothing else. Persistence, dilligence and time are the only methods besides exstinction that win heart & mind wars.

      June 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • max

      Americans seem to be slow learners. Stuffed up Vietnam, tinpot regimes in south america, Iraq and eventually Afganistan but still they want more. How many good soldiers and money do you want to waste.
      If it was my kid comming home with no legs or worse in a body bag I would be very digusted with my government. What did we realy gain from the thousands dead in Iraq nad billions spent. Sweet F.A. A dictator gone but just 1 of number in the world & arguably far from the worst. North Korea anyone?

      June 1, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Marc

    @Outlier I agree, "nation building" is something I don't like anymore and this is what spreading democracy is all about.... LET IT GO.. People survived millions of years without American influenced democracy. Let's mind our own business and lead by example.. If people can see how successful our country can operate independently than they'll make their own adjustments

    June 1, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. Marc

    @D2 I understand where you are coming from but you are missing my point. I'm not discussing operational means but the fact that we are considering letting the Afghan people run their own country means the resources used already were a waste (excluding our heroes fighting the battles) BECAUSE if there is still talk that this country cannot police itself than were have we gotten to here??? and what benefits will be received from what resources we already provided??? Is this war what the American people paying taxes want? I think not, no benefits here for Americans and that's why I gave that example above about occupying Mexico because it would do more for the American Dollar.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. D^2

    This isn't WWII. Operations in Kandahar aren't Normandy. Our partnership with the Government of Afghanistan more or less requires we announce our intentions ahead of time and give them the opportunity to get (and I wince as I type this) 'buy-in' from the local populace likely to be affected. Fewer civilian deaths are the goal. Does this mean greater risk for Troops? Absolutely. Combat is not a risk free undertaking. In counter-insurgencies, selective risk taking is required.

    I don't really understand what the talk about Plan B is all about. This isn't a BP lead operation with discrete phases we can attempt and move on to the next thing two days later. Clear, hold, build, and transition. It's how COIN is more or less understood to be done. And it doesn't happen overnight, it doesn't happen in that order irreversibly. But that's how it happens. Plan B is maybe to withdraw, cross our fingers, and pray.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  16. Marc

    I think talk about spreading our troops thin is concerning given the fact that we haven't had any casualties that are similar to WWII or any other World War. I know Afghan country is huge but the Iraq War shouldn't have sapped all the resources. All these high paid politicians are analyzing this but this is stuff that already should have been calculated and that's the problem with jumping into action too soon and getting our noses into stuff that will cost us financially. WE NEED TO PUT EVERY AMERICAN TAX DOLLAR TO BETTER USE – EX. Occupy Mexico instead and put an army base there. This will help dramatically with illegals crossing the border and the spys that enter the USA and also help stop the drug trafficking and the drug wars that the Mexican Police have no control over. By doing that it would have numerous benefits purely from the cause and effect of occupying this neighboring country. People got to stop selling American jobs and resources to other countries, it just forces us to get involved elsewhere when we could work internally and keep American jobs thus causing less impact to international events that happen in the world.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  17. Bill

    How do you beat an insurgency? Only two main ingrediants, everything else is secondary. You need time and you need money. Time is won by winning or maintaining public support. If you can't get public support then you distract them. Money is something else all together. Banks, tax payers, foreign government financial and material support. If we are able to maintain the public status quo at least as it is today, the money will continue to come from some where simply because every stable government in the world knows that there is no other choice but to fight there. That and the simple fact that the people leading the insurgency cannot be lived with by anyone, not even their own children. We have been fighting in Afghanistan for 9 years now, we need another 11 years to be certain that we have beaten these people. It takes about one generation.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Listen to yourself. You need public support, or to distract them? Yes, let the military do what it wants...that sounds like a great plan. The Middle East is not a threat to us, and we need to get out NOW. It is completely bankrupting our country and getting our soldiers killed unnecessarily. We do NOT need to be in Iraq or Afghanistan. We should NOT be the policemen of the world, no matter how much you want us to be. We need to get out now and work on our own country's problems, unless you've forgotten how much of a mess we're in today.

      June 3, 2010 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  18. Pvt. Ryan, US Army

    uh huh

    June 1, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  19. Chris

    They say history repeats itself. If this is true I hope that the people leading this war are smart enough to see how Russia lost in Afghanistan. Also what impact (and how do we handle) Pakistan? This is not D-Day, the american public is showing very little support. They are to busy tweeting and facebooking to realize the magnitude of this war.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Yup. couldn't have said it better my self.

      June 1, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      We need to get out of this quagmire...now. The only thing the populace understands is body bags as sad as this may be.

      June 1, 2010 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • KB

      We helped the Afghan people fight off the Russians but you wouldnt know that becasue you are too busy with your selective memory.

      June 1, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
      • WorstNightmare

        Correct, we sent in John Rambo with his glow stick arrows.

        June 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
      • Chris

        No I was busy in boot camp at the time.

        June 2, 2010 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • M_K

      Very well said. There are many problems here. We are too busy swatting flies when there are a lot of things happening. While we have wasted a decade of our military might and money in Afghanistan with no visible results, the world has not stopped waiting. We have lost considerable international standing and military might. Some of the possbile examples of what we lost while we were busy here are
      1. North Korea totally going out of control
      2. Russia reasserting itself, e.g in Georgia and reclaiming russian sphere of influence
      3. Our inability to do anything about iran
      4. Even our so called allies such as Israel increasingly finding us irrelevant in their security strategy
      and the list goes on
      so it is about time, that jsut as in corporate world sometimes you have to downsize to focus on your core busienss so that you could come out stronger, similarly in military terms we have to refocus and rebrand our military strategy, from chasing and bribing small term criminals and warlords to bigger things that matter more in the world, or else we may end up succeeding in afghanistan in a couple of decades and yet find out that the very security that we wanted to get from the war is still elusive.

      June 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
      • Stephen

        To M_K: Afghanistan was a key component of US counter-terrorism strategy in the last decade. Whether or not a lengthy record of no attacks on American is potentially an invisible result (the correlation to Afghanistan actions may not be determined until much later, if ever), and a significant one.

        I fail to see how action in Afghanistan prevented an appropriate response towards N.K., Russia, or Iran (direct military action would have been difficult).

        Finally, following your corporate analogy, Afghanistan has been, from a strictly utilitarian standpoint, a remarkable opportunity for R&D. The experience gained helped reshape American tactics to meet modern challenges, without which it might have slipped into obsolescence. The "bigger' things cannot be practiced other than as a deterrent except in times of climatic strife (world wars).

        June 2, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  20. mejazzbo

    For WWII the utmost secrecy was applied to the D Day invasion. The news media respected "loose lips sink ships". These days, it is broadcast to the world, including the enemy, prior to the action. Higher coalition troop casualty numbers will result from this practice.

    June 1, 2010 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      chances are there is more going on in afghanistan than we know. only the soldiers and commanders know what is really going on. i agree that the news says every freaking thing that they're told not thinking of any other actions taking place after they have said something. like when clinton said how many nukes we have, i honestly doubt we have that few. its just how the world, well the USA anyways, works now...its unfortunate but true....

      June 4, 2010 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  21. Steve

    It would probably be a better idea to secure Marjah first before we jump into another area. Marjah is nowhere near secure and there are fire-fights EVERYDAY. It seems like top command has lost focus on the early gains in Marjah, and now our troops are unfortunately paying the price. It would be very wise to give the troops everything they need (drones, special forces, more dogs for detecting IED's) to defeat the Taliban in Helmand.

    June 1, 2010 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • ImNoExpert

      Agreed, I would think consolidating your holdings rather than stretching your forces thin would be the type of tactic preferable to a military commander. But then again, maybe the time table laid out by the Obama administration is influencing his decision. I don't know anything about the time table beyond what Obama said when he first announced it. Any developments on that?

      June 1, 2010 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
      • Steve

        It is my personal opinion that Obama made a mistake by giving a timeline. I believe that a timeline only emboldens insurgents because they can see a "light at the end of the tunnel" when we set a date that we start leaving. I understand WHY he set a timeline (to appease an American public that is increasingly becoming against the war), but I still think it proves counter-productive on the battlefield.

        I, too, think that is a big reason why McCrystal is moving quickly against Kandahar. Regardless of the reasoning, I still think it's a mistake that will cost the lives of many of our soldiers and Marines. Secure your gains (that initiative may have already been lost in Marjah) instead of jumping into something else.

        June 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
      • James Gundun

        I think Obama's problem isn't that he announced a time-line, so much that the time-line he gave is unrealistic. A four year deadline would have at least made more sense than 18 months, but he had to tie his surge into the 2012 campaign. Though he would have lost US support in the short-term, that support could be regained if the campaign went relatively well and didn't tie his hands so soon. But America's entire strategy is flawed and I would have never made that commitment to begin with. Personally I expect no US troops to withdrawal by July 2011 and for Obama to run as a wartime president, although I have no idea how he will explain this. He did a poor job articulating his surge during the Afghan review or at West Point, and even now remains helplessly silent during Marjah and Kandahar.

        The Afghan review, like that entire war, will go down as one of Obama's greatest failures in strategic decision-making.

        June 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
      • ED4

        I think a timeline is the best way to go. This may not be a winable war and we could end up there indefinately. The expression, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink", is appropriate here. You give the Afgans an opportunity to take back their country, if they take it great, if not, they deserve to be ruled by the Taliban.

        June 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
      • "ANNIE"

        To: James Gundum- This is not Obama's failure , It's Bush-Cheney's Failure and Shame !! If they don't feel extreme guilt about these wars , then they are not human and have no heart !!

        June 14, 2010 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Fraidoon

      I think these all operations are waste of time, energy and at the end will have no major result, the main think for US gov is to enforce Pakistan to stop Tailiban support behind the curtain.

      it is like this that in your home yard there is colony of bees which comes and bites your kids and you trying to kill every individual bees instead of destroying the home and you let the new bee live in colony, to be trained by master bee inside the hives and then coming out and bite again your kids and again you kill the bees not destroying the colony, beucause beside this you will take some honey from them also,

      so my point is why US gov do not directly attack pakistan terror and Taliban like what US gov did in Iraq and assulted infantry.

      if not there is somthing in the wind then!!!

      June 13, 2010 at 3:31 am | Report abuse |