By Admiral James Stavridis, USN (ret.)
With the recent attack on the city of Kunduz and other significant offensive moves around Afghanistan, the Taliban seem to be trying to take a page from the outcome of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Their recent attacks on cities — marshaling large troop formations, in some cases, of several thousand fighters — appear designed to sow doubt in the minds of an already extremely skeptical and tired American public.
Will they succeed? It depends on our reaction and ultimately our responses. Thus far — after the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) responded by defending some of the provincial capitals effectively and retaking others within a matter of a week or so — it appears that the U.S. administration and the rest of the NATO allies are making the right choice to continue with a military presence through 2017. But an emerging narrative of futility and defeat is building. We should reject it.
We must avoid succumbing to the sense that we cannot succeed in Afghanistan. Many metrics favor a positive outcome: Afghan security forces, while far from perfect, are fighting and defeating the Taliban in the field; millions of children are now in school, nearly half of them girls; life expectancy has grown throughout the country; there are democratic elections and a vibrant free press; and the Afghan economy seems poised to survive the drawdown of foreign troops. Moreover, if the Taliban truly had the wherewithal to strike and defeat the ANSF, they would; fortunately, they do not have the ability to do so. Instead, they may be attempting to use a Tet Offensive strategy to change the fundamental narrative.