Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 10:22 GMT

Afghanistan: Assessing the way forward

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Joshua Kucera
Publication Date 12 December 2008
Cite as EurasiaNet, Afghanistan: Assessing the way forward, 12 December 2008, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Joshua Kucera: 12/12/08

Afghanistan wants the US to take a more prominent role in military operations in that country by increasing the number of American troops in the country, building up the Afghan security forces more quickly and making a stronger effort to reduce civilian casualties and friendly fire deaths of Afghan security forces, the country's ambassador to Washington says.

"We are very grateful of the role that Canada, the UK and others are playing. But in the long run we would be better off seeing a much bolder US role," said Ambassador Said Jawad, citing excessive restrictions, or caveats, on the use of troops from other countries. "The presence of NATO countries is a very important political asset for Afghanistan.... But when it comes to military operations, the Afghans and the United States should do what needs to be done." Jawad spoke December 11 at an event at the Cato Institute in Washington called "Afghanistan: Seven Years Later."

The incoming US president, Barack Obama, campaigned on a pledge to devote more manpower and resources to Afghanistan, and that was appreciated by Afghans, Jawad said. "There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for Obama in Afghanistan," he said. Even before Obama has taken office the United States has vowed to increase the number of its troops in Afghanistan by about 20,000. (There are now about 34,000 US troops in the country.)

That, along with an increase in Afghan forces, would be enough solve many of the problems that face Afghanistan today, Jawad said. He mentioned recent news reports that American forces killed six Afghan police officers by mistake, and said that the killings of Afghan security forces by their American and NATO allies was "not acceptable to the Afghan people, the Afghan political leadership and we have to do whatever it takes to prevent this."

Jawad said that additional troops in Afghanistan would help: "There has to be a better mechanism to prevent this.... If, instead of high-altitude bombings, we could send in commandos to carry out surgical operations, and maybe even get some of the bad guys alive, we would be much better off." Building up the capacity of the Afghan air forces would help, as well, as even if Afghan pilots made similar mistakes it wouldn't be as inflammatory as it is when American planes cause the deaths, he said. And Americans need to be more forthcoming in apologizing when they have made a mistake. "It's also very important to use the power of apology, to say 'we are sorry,'" he said.

Two US analysts at the Cato event noted that there is an increasing skepticism about what can be accomplished in Afghanistan and a sense that the strategic goals are unclear. Caroline Wadhams, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, said the question in Washington is increasingly becoming; "how ambitious do we really want to be?" She argued that the US needs a reenergized Afghanistan effort, and that the incoming Obama administration needs to retool policy by focusing on redefining strategic goals, taking a more regional approach (in particular including Pakistan and India), increasing the number of US troops, addressing governance issues like corruption and the rule of law, and working on political reconciliation by bringing former Taliban members into the government.

Another speaker at the event, Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy at Cato, argued that, on the contrary, the US needs to pull back in Afghanistan, by recognizing that the US went in with unreasonable expectations.

"We have drifted into an open-ended nation-building mission. We seem to assume that we haven't achieved victory until Afghanistan becomes an orderly, prosperous, secular, liberal society. That is far and above our ability to achieve unless we stay for generations, and maybe it's not even achievable then." Carpenter instead suggested reducing the strategic goals to merely reducing the ability for the Taliban, or other extremist groups to use Afghanistan as a safe haven to plan further attacks against the US.

Carpenter also criticized the effort to destroy the drug trade in Afghanistan, arguing that it's not only the Taliban that supports itself by the drug trade. "We can never win the broader counterinsurgency war if we insist simultaneously fighting a drug war that would disrupt the financial livelihood of large portions of the Afghan population," he said.

In response to Carpenter, Jawad argued that the United States should not reduce its goals in Afghanistan. "People talk about unreasonable expectations. What unreasonable expectations? ... Eleven percent of the Afghan people have electricity, so what are we talking about, reducing expectations? What have you delivered? How high were our goals? You are shortchanging the Afghan people once again," he said.

Editor's Note: Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

Copyright notice: All EurasiaNet material © Open Society Institute

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