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Afghanistan Agonistes

Our best hope in Afghanistan probably amounts to providing enough security to avoid total chaos during a swift and massive stand-up of Afghan security forces who will then protect their own country from the Taliban and al Qaeda. A Christmas Day Wall Street Journal article examined the grim challenge, which might actually be more difficult than its analog in Iraq:

"Winning in Afghanistan is about building Afghan capability," Gen. David McKiernan, the top American commander here, said at a recent military ceremony.

That's a difficult goal to accomplish in Afghanistan, a poverty-stricken country with a life expectancy in the mid-40s and a literacy rate of just 30%.....

Gen. Formica says the low literacy rate affects the way U.S. personnel train their Afghan counterparts. Instructors use pictures, drawings and gestures instead of field manuals and other written materials, he said.

Gen. Formica's command also suffers from a lingering shortage of military trainers. Western officials estimate that they need at least 6,000 trainers and support staff, but currently have just 3,700 people.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has criticized North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations for failing to deploy more military and police trainers. A Pentagon official said the European Union had contributed 260 trainers.

"The EU made a commitment to do this," Mr. Gates said at a recent security conference in Bahrain. "But the numbers are trivial."

And public opinion in Europe is growing very dim about Afghanistan. Whether Obama can reverse that through a combination of shrewd diplomacy and pure charisma will have a big impact on how quickly we can help the Afghans defend themselves and get ourselves out.

--Michael Crowley