After seven years of war, the international community has failed to create the conditions for a sustainable Afghan state. The reality is that the international coalition now has limited resources and a narrow political time frame to create lasting Afghan institutions. Yet building such institutions is our only realistic exit strategy.
The debate in Washington and European capitals has recently centered on how many more troops will be sent to Afghanistan in 2009 as part of a military surge. Such a tactical adjustment is unlikely to make much of a difference in a country where the basic population-to-troops ratio is estimated at approximately 430 people per foreign soldier.
The real question is how combat troops should be used. The two choices we face are whether to continue playing offense by going after the Taliban, especially in the south and the east, and spreading troops thin; or whether to adopt a new strategy focusing on protecting strategic sites, namely, urban centers and key roads, to allow for the development of a strong core of Afghan institutions.
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