The War in Afghanistan: An Overview

Mar 27, 2011 No Comments

By Nikhil Dixit

Photo: An Anti-Taliban Forces Fighter in Helmand

As the United States winds down its commitment in Iraq, it has increasingly shifted attention to the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan poses several unique challenges. It is larger and more rural than Iraq, which makes protecting its population more difficult. It lacks an educated, professional class, which poses obstacles to economic development. It borders Pakistan, which provides insurgents a safe haven with only limited U.S. reach. Largely due to these challenges, the U.S. now has more troops in Afghanistan than Iraq – and, with them, more casualties.

However, since President Obama’s strategic review in 2009, there have been signs of progress. Armed with new troops, a new general, and a new strategy, the United States has seen qualified successes on its military front. Yet, political progress, which will be key to Afghanistan’s long-term stability, has been disappointing. Nonetheless, President Obama’s strategy deserves more time to succeed, but the U.S. must not let Afghanistan become an open-ended commitment, and it should stick to its timeline to begin withdrawing troops in July.

As the United States has poured more troops into Afghanistan, it has seen increased military success. For example, the province of Helmand, which was the last to fall to the U.S. and has seen some of the war’s fiercest fighting, has been the focus of a recent offensive. Taliban insurgents have largely been driven out of urban areas, and security has increased dramatically. Similarly, Kandahar, another insurgent stronghold, has also seen a drop in violence. U.S. troops have prevented the Taliban’s return, and provided limited vindication to President Obama’s “surge”.

While U.S. troops cannot stay indefinitely, native Afghan forces provide another reason for hope. The Afghan National Security Forces and Police will be essential to long-term stability, as they enjoy more popular support than the U.S. and will lead combat operations once we leave. Encouragingly, with the aid of literacy programs and higher salaries, they are exceeding expectations in both recruitment and retention. However, their ability to operate independently remains questionable. Currently they lead very few combat operations, and in Kandahar they assist U.S. troops only marginally. Perplexingly, even as this issue persists, coalition forces face a shortage of trainers. The U.S. should rectify this problem, and accelerate training so native forces will be ready to assume responsibilities.

While these military successes look promising, the political front remains markedly less so. The central government, plagued with cronyism and corruption, has trouble delivering its citizens even the most basic services. As a result, it has difficulty competing with the Taliban for the general population’s loyalty. For example, several reports have linked Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, with the opium drug trade. President Karzai himself remains a troublesome figure, as his 2009 election was mired by fraud and he has reportedly threatened to join the Taliban. Unless the U.S. can improve the Afghan government’s corruption and inefficiency, long-term success will remain elusive.  This should be one of the coalition’s highest priorities, as without it, military gains will quickly disappear.

While the U.S. still has time to succeed, we should not let Afghanistan become an open-ended commitment. Rather, we should follow President Obama’s timeline to begin withdrawing troops this July and transfer control of combat operations in 2014. The war has been too costly, in both blood and treasure, to continue indefinitely. Over 2,300 coalition troops have been killed and another 10,300 wounded, in a conflict that has lasted longer than any other American military conflict. Moreover, despite our record deficits and crumbling infrastructure, the war costs us over $110 billion per year. While an immediate withdrawal would be morally unsound and strategically unwise, these costs are substantial and we cannot bear them forever.

To stay on our current timeline, we should supplement our military successes with an emphasis on native training and political progress. Without improvements in these two areas, stability will remain out of reach. However, it is not impossible – if the U.S. adjusts to these challenges, it can realize a far better outcome than seemed possible only years ago.

Spring 2011 For. Pol. Issue

About the author

The author didnt add any Information to his profile yet
No Responses to “The War in Afghanistan: An Overview”

Leave a Reply