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Milt Bearden, who ran the CIA’s covert assistance to the Afghans from Pakistan during the Soviet occupation, has a good piece in National Interest:

There is an unrelenting insurgency—we call it the Taliban, though that is a dangerous oversimplification. It is in effect a Pashtun insurgency, made up of, indeed, Taliban, but also angry Pashtuns, criminal bands and paid gunfighters. Rural Afghanistan is engulfed in the opium trade, with poppy cultivation accounting for about 53 percent of the 2008 Afghan GDP, last estimated at $7.5 billion and accounting for over 90 percent of the world’s illicit heroin production. The corruption spawned by the drug trade has permeated all levels of the Afghan government, severely limiting its ability to deliver services or security even in some parts of Kabul. Most affected by the corruption may be the Afghan National Police, forcing hopes for improved security to recede even more.

His conclusion:

As with all of the other problems the new administration faces, Afghanistan and Pakistan need new, even radical, rethinking if the United States is ever to reverse a failing enterprise. The only certainty about Afghanistan is that it will be Obama’s War, as surely as Iraq is Bush’s War and Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson’s War. The president’s new team for Afghanistan and Pakistan has been dealt a losing hand, but if anyone can turn the tables, they just might be able to do it.

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