Sustainable Security in Afghanistan
Crafting an Effective and Responsible Strategy for the Forgotten Front
By Lawrence J. Korb, Caroline Wadhams, Colin Cookman, Sean Duggan;
Center of American Progress, March 24, 2009
The Obama administration inherits a rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. In fact, both President Obama and General David McKiernan, who commands all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, agree that we are not winning the war against the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Facing facts on the ground is a prerequisite to responding to this challenge, which will require a comprehensive and long-term approach that uses all elements of U.S. national power.
Ever since the United States began planning to invade Iraq in early 2002, Afghanistan became the “Forgotten Front” for U.S. policymakers—an under-resourced, undermanned, and under-analyzed “economy of force” operation that was limited to seeking out and killing surviving Taliban, Al Qaeda and other transnational terrorist groups. As a result, critical political and economic reforms to ensure the country recovered from the extremist Taliban regime and decades of war were neglected. This chronic and unacceptable neglect has led to a resurgent Taliban, a fierce insurgency, a weak Afghan government tainted by corruption and incompetence, a booming opium trade, and an increasingly disillusioned Afghan people.
Despite some initial success by the United States and its coalition partners after the 2001 invasion, the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups are now stronger than at any time since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, operating out of neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan and making key inroads in both countries. From both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, these extremist groups continue to threaten the safety of the United States, its allies, and the stability of South Asia.
Responding to this challenge will require a comprehensive, sustainable approach that uses all elements of U.S. national power—military, economic, and diplomatic. Given declining American and European support for the war in Afghanistan, the strategy must be not only effective but convincing, too. In a U.S. poll taken in mid-March, 42 percent of the respondents said the United States made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30 percent just a month before and from 6 percent in January 2002.2 Europeans are even more skeptical, with majorities in Germany, Britain, France, and Italy opposing increased troop commitments to the conflict.
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