Britain Resolves, U.S. Wavers By ROGER COHEN Published: October 26, 2009 LONDON â In Afghanistan thereâs the United States, Britain and then the rest. Britain has lost 85 soldiers this year, more than all other European NATO allies combined. For both countries the annual death toll has been rising steadily since 2006, and with it the drumbeat of public opposition to the war. In all, more than 1,100 U.S. and British troops have died. Special relationships are forged in blood; the U.S.-British bond is no exception. So, as President Obama hesitates, his decision on American troop levels ever âweeks awayâ as the weeks pass, the British view of the war offers as good an indication as any of what Obama will do. An hour-long conversation with David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, suggests reinforcements are on the way. When I asked if the mission needed substantially more troops, Miliband said, âWhat I think that you can see from the prime ministerâs strategy is that we believe in serious counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is a counterterrorist strategy.â He continued: âThe Taliban has shown what it means to provide safe space for Al Qaeda.â Describing the fights against the Taliban and Al Qaeda as âdistinctive but related missions,â Miliband said âthe badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan are the incubator of choice for international terrorism,â adding that, âCeding ground happened in the â90s and then we all know what happened.â Thatâs a clear rebuttal of the ever-larger school, most often identified with Vice President Joe Biden, advancing the view that Al Qaeda is the real threat, the Taliban much less of one; and so the United States should not commit more military resources to a nation-building struggle in Afghanistan thatâs an expensive diversion from core U.S. strategic interests. Wrong. Counterinsurgency in the âAf-Pakâ theater is indeed a counterterrorist strategy. I see no workable distinction. As Prime Minister Gordon Brown has noted, three-quarters of all terrorist plots uncovered in Britain in recent years had links to Islamic extremists in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The defense of the West begins in the Hindu Kush and Helmand. Would-be bombers must be kept off-balance. To believe otherwise is wishful thinking. But of course the campaign has to be smart. Miliband identified several things that have to change, among them governance, outreach and military strategy. Whatever Afghan government emerges has to be âcredible,â where Hamid Karzaiâs administration has not been, and provide a new âoffer to the Afghan people of security and economic development.â Miliband also called for âserious outreach to the insurgency to divide it,â estimating that â70 to 80 percent of the foot soldiers are recruitable.â The choice they are being given now is âfight or flightâ where it should be âfight, flight or flipâ because âan enduring settlement must be a political settlement in which conservative Pashtun nationalism has a place.â Thatâs critical. The Taliban are a Pashtun movement. Pashtunistan straddles the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. Afghanistan has always been ungovernable without a Pashtun buy-in. Pakistanâs strategic interest in that buy-in is non-negotiable. These are basic â but long ignored â building blocks of successful strategy. Finally, Miliband argued for a different focus to military operations. âOccupying land for the sake of occupying land is not what counts,â he said. âItâs population. You need to make sure the major cities are secured and Kandahar is vital.â These were the convictions behind Brownâs decision earlier this month to send 500 more British troops to Afghanistan, bringing the contingent to 9,500 â a decision the prime minister expected to be âconsistent with what the Americans will decide.â The reinforcement was about one quarter of what British generals had requested. In the U.S. case, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has asked for about 40,000 more troops. Doing the math on a âconsistentâ basis suggests a substantial American reinforcement short of McChrystalâs request will eventually be announced by the White House. I asked Miliband if Obamaâs protracted ponder worried the Brits. Miliband pondered in turn before saying, âNo, I think itâs a measure of the seriousness with which he takes the decision.â O.K., but I still worry. If counterinsurgency is counterterrorism, if this theater is the âincubator of choice,â if McChrystal is the most lucid product of Americaâs crash post-9/11 course in counterinsurgency, then Obama should step up. Beyond Kabul I got these two nuggets from Miliband. Asked how worried he was about an Israeli military strike on Iran, he said: âI donât provide a running commentary on other countriesâ concerns or policies, but we are one hundred percent committed to a diplomatic resolution.â Asked about a Mideast peace, he said, âItâs very stalled and thatâs very dangerous.â He said Israeli settlements must stop, calling them âillegalâ and âan obstacle to peace.â He said: âI profoundly believe that Israelâs security depends on a two-state solution and I think that a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders plus or minus agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, and a fair settlement of the refugee issue is the right basis for Israelâs future as well as the Palestiniansâ future.â I have not heard President Obama be quite as candid. It would help. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/opinion/27iht-edcohen.html[/quote] Roger Cohen joined The New York Times in 1990. He was a foreign correspondent for more than a decade before becoming acting Foreign Editor on September 11, 2001, and Foreign Editor six months later. Since 2004 he has written a column for the Times-owned International Herald Tribune, first for the news pages and then, since 2007, for the Op-Ed page. In 2009 he was named a columnist of The New York Times. Mr. Cohen has written "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo" (Random House, 199, an account of the wars of Yugoslavia's destruction, and "Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). He has also cowritten a biography of General Norman Schwarzkopf, "In the Eye of the Storm," (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1991).