A muddled strategy in Afghanistan

Sunday, 10 September 2017 03:15 Written by  Nipa Banerjee Read 153 times

An extended stay of U.S. troops is now the only way to prevent the immediate fall of the government of Afghanistan and the defeat of the international community after fighting the Taliban for 16 years.


The current condition in Afghanistan is not that of a “stalemate,” as claimed by American commanders. All indicators now point to a losing state of war. An extended stay and increased numbers of foreign troops will be saviours in the immediate term and may generate just a stalemate. Backed with no clear strategy, President Donald Trump’s recent Afghanistan announcement, in fact, only lays the ground for an indefinite period of stalemate.

At this time, all indicators clearly show that despite the presence of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the international community’s war under America’s leadership is on track to lose. Taliban insurgency has increasingly strengthened, controlling large swaths of land (an estimated 43 per cent) in Afghanistan. On average, 30 Afghan security force members and 10 civilians are dying every day. Why and how more years of foreign troops’ involvement would change the situation remain unanswered.

The president wants his troops to fight to “win.” For a win to be sustainable, however, the Afghan defence and security forces must be readied to fight on their own, without the support of foreign forces.

Therefore, capacity building of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) has been identified by the international community as a priority need; but in 16 years, the international community has failed to generate the required capacity. NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, mandated to train, assist and advise Afghan forces, has not trained the forces well enough, as all indicators of growing insecurity and losses of the Afghan government show.

The issue of what will NATO do differently to make the ANDSF self-reliant is yet to be addressed.

The president’s announced denial of any need for nation-building introduces further complexity and confusion. Strengthening of Afghan forces, considered a priority by the international community for a win to be sustainable, is a distinct component of nation-building. If nation-building is not a desired goal, other options for sustaining the win must be sought.

Besides, the president’s no nation-building principle requires a radical change in NATO Resolute Support Mission’s mandate. This change will have to be internationally negotiated.

Despite the lack of any clear strategy behind the president’s boastful assertion of a certain-win to be attained by American troops, the Afghan government welcomes America’s so-called “new Afghan strategy,” largely because of America’s declared hard stand on Pakistan.

However, threats to Pakistan may not ultimately prove to be the game-changer. Along with capacity building in ANDSF, a long overdue peace agreement with the Taliban, basically an indigenous group, is a dire necessity for taming the insurgency.

The president has asked all NATO countries to increase troop numbers to fight the Afghan war. Some countries have acquiesced. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in no uncertain terms that Canadian troops will not return to Afghanistan.

This is not necessarily an indicator of Canada shirking its international responsibilities. Afghanistan is still one of the largest recipients of Canadian aid and Canada is committed to finance the salary supplements for ANDSF until 2020.

Based on lack of evidence of effectiveness of Canada’s earlier military efforts in Afghanistan, namely in Kandahar, independent reviewers consider it wise for Canada to not send back combat troops to Afghanistan.