ADNAN GILL About a half a century ago, an ambitious and charismatic American president inherited a confined war. Soon, he owned the war His name was John F Kennedy. About 50 years later, another brilliant and charming president has owned another inherited war, the Afghan War. Once President Kennedy pledged: "Pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty." He asserted: "Now we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place." And just like that, he owned the Vietnam War. President Barack Obama warned: "Our security is at stake." He spelled out the goal for the war: "We must deny Al-Qaeda a safe haven." In this context, the president identified the battlegrounds too. He said: "We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border." Though he failed to mention how Taliban will be beaten or how Osama bin Laden will be captured. Moreover, there was no explanation of how America planned to wage war on the Pakistani side of border. Even though, the Gallup survey, showed 55 percent Americans disapproved the continuation of the war, President Obama decided to extend the war. Reverse the clock 30 years back. The Soviet Union ignored the harsh lessons of history by entering the 'graveyard of empires'. They entered Afghanistan with an initial force of 80,000 soldiers. But at the height of occupation, the 'limited contingent of the Soviet forces' tipped the scales with some half a million personnel. In addition, the Afghan forces were raised to approximately 300,000 men. The occupation indeed came at a punishing cost of about 15,000 Soviets dead, 469,685 sick and wounded, and some 500 MIA. Needless to say that, the war of choice bankrupted the mighty Soviet empire, which hastened its ultimate disintegration. So far in the eight years of the War on Terror, 849 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighbouring Uzbekistan. A haunting reminder of Mission Creep became obvious by the president's pledge to shift the focus of war from fighting Taliban in Afghanistan to hunting terrorists allegedly growing stronger inside Pakistan. Could it be another wild goose chase, like the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) hunt? Certainly, time will tell. The 2001, Afghan invasion was spearheaded by a dozen or so CIA's Special Activities Division's operatives. By March 2009, the strength of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stood at approximately 61,960; out of which about 29,820 troops are from the US. In addition to the already ordered 17,000 combat troops, President Obama promised additional 4,000 troops for training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Now another 30,000 are on their way to Afghanistan. Just like the Soviets, who also tried to raise Afghan armed forces; the coalition too is building ANSF. Obama declared: "We must reverse the Taliban's momentum....And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government." The problem with Obama's exit strategy is that it heavily banks on ANSF's capability to assume security mission from the US forces. Soviets learned a bitter lesson the hard way; Afghan forces could not be relied upon. However, current trends do not bode any better in case of ANSF either. If history is any guide, similarities like Mission Creep, vague objectives, and confusing exit strategies are proven recipes for losing wars. Nonetheless, all is not lost. Going back to reliable American allies like Pakistanis and proven strategies could still save the day. A recipe to wining the war is very simple: ? Dust off the shelved list of the ISI contacts to formulate a winnable strategy. ? Tell India to immediately cease from destabilising Pakistan, and to dramatically reduce its footprint in Afghanistan. ? Reserve Predator attacks for the most wanted terrorist leadership only. ? Stop supporting military-political dictators in Pakistan. ? Encourage formation of a national Afghan government. ? Involve tribal leaders in nation building. ? Above all, stop alienating highly territorial tribals through brute military force; which more than often multiplies civilian casualties. Mr President, if you will win the hearts and minds of the masses, tired of violence and hungry for peace, they will win the war for you. The writer is a US-based journalist.