5 ways to help fix Afghanistan
October 1st, 2012
08:37 AM ET

5 ways to help fix Afghanistan

By Ahmad Majidyar, Special to CNN

Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has suffered serious setbacks recently. The Taliban’s audacious September 14 attack on a major coalition base in Helmand Province suggested that the security gains in the south remain fragile and reversible, and that the insurgents are trying to make a comeback as foreign troops are withdrawing. Moreover, the alarming rise in insider attacks forced the U.S. and its allies to restrict joint operations with Afghan troops. These developments should alarm Washington as they undermine the security transition to the Afghan lead and the U.S. exit strategy. But on really placating war weary voters, both presidential candidates remain silent on America’s longest war. Mitt Romney made no mention of Afghanistan in his nomination speech, while President Obama only talks about his exit plan.

Yet there is much at stake in Afghanistan. A precipitous U.S. disengagement would allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to reconstitute in southern and eastern provinces and plot against America and its allies. The United States can succeed in Afghanistan, but it needs to pursue a strategy that focuses more on success than just the endgame and withdrawal. There are five things the next president should do to sustain the gains of the past decade and ensure that Afghanistan will not become a safe haven for global terrorism once again:

Avoid a precipitous withdrawal: The surge of 33,000 troops has now ended, with mixed results. The reinforcements expelled the insurgents from their strongholds in the south; allowed the Kabul government to expand its writ in the strategic provinces of Kandahar and Helmand; and strengthened the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Conversely, the arbitrary withdrawal timelines attached to the surge emboldened the insurgents and gave them an incentive to continue fighting rather than seeking a political settlement. The deadlines also weakened the coalition as other allies followed suit: the Netherlands and Canada have already pulled out troops; France will exit by this year’s end; and Britain is also mulling a quicker withdrawal than previously planned. Moreover, the troop drawdown did not allow the military to replicate the same success in eastern Afghanistan, home to the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. It is, therefore, imperative that the next administration avoid further reductions to the 68,000 remaining troops precipitously. This will help the coalition to sustain gains in the south and weaken the Haqqanis in the east. In addition, Washington needs to keep a residual force of several thousands in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to continue assisting the ANSF, and to keep a check on al-Qaeda and its affiliates along the Afghan-Pakistani border. A significant U.S. military presence will also send a strong message to friends and enemies in the region that the United States is not abandoning Afghanistan.

Support Afghan security forces beyond 2014: Since the establishment of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTMA) in November 2009, the ANSF has developed from 190,000 poorly trained and inadequately equipped personnel into a more effective counterinsurgency force of 350,000 soldiers and policemen. The ANSF is now reportedly leading more than 80 percent of military operations, and will assume security responsibility for 75 percent of the country’s population by year’s end. Despite these achievements, however, the ANSF remains reliant on the coalition for support roles, such as intelligence, surveillance, logistics, and air power. It is essential that the United States and its allies continue support for the ANSF prior to and after 2014, and commit to providing the estimated $6 billion required to sustain the 350,000 ANSF personnel. The White House’s plan to cut the ANSF number to 230,000 due to budgetary restrictions is a mistake. The reduction of 120,000 personnel will not allow the ANSF to fill the vacuum created by the departing foreign troops, and a sizable number of those laid off might join the insurgency or resort to other criminal activity.

Get tough with Pakistan: Ostensibly a U.S. ally, Pakistan has been supporting insurgents fighting in Afghanistan over the past decade. The Haqqani Network and the Mullah Omar-led Quetta Shura Taliban operate with impunity from Pakistan. So far, Washington has done little to dismantle these safe havens or force Pakistan to take action against them. The CIA-led drone strikes have largely targeted al-Qaeda leaders. This needs to change. Washington must present Islamabad with a clear choice: dismantle the Afghan Taliban safe havens in exchange for increased U.S. aid, or face serious consequences. Barring a Pakistani action, the U.S. needs to go after the sanctuaries unilaterally, by increasing drone strikes and conducting Special Forces operations. Blacklisting pro-militant elements within Pakistan’s army and intelligence must also be on the table. These measures would not come without costs, and the Pakistani military might take retaliatory actions, such as closing down NATO’s supply routes. But the cost of inaction will be much higher.

Hold off peace talks with the Taliban: Several years of diplomacy with the Taliban have produced no results. Now that foreign troops are withdrawing, the Taliban has little incentive to accept a political settlement. The insurgents’ policy is to wait out the foreign forces and attempt to topple the Kabul government after 2014. The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, was a clear indication the Taliban had no inclination for peace. Moreover, ethnic minority leaders have begun rearming their militias as they fear President Karzai might reach a backstage deal with the Taliban to remain in power. This does not bode well for Afghanistan’s stability and risks a repeat of the 1990s civil war. It is possible to integrate large numbers of Taliban foot soldiers and field commanders by offering them financial and political incentives. But this is unlikely now as the insurgents have the upper hand in the conflict. The U.S. State Department’s long-overdue designation of the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization was an encouraging step, but the U.S. and its allies need to take more aggressive diplomatic and military measures to weaken the Taliban ahead of the 2014 withdrawal.

Focus on political transition: The past 34 years of conflict in Afghanistan have shown that military efforts in the absence of a comprehensive political strategy cannot guarantee long-term stability. The pro-communist government in Kabul survived the Mujahedeen’s military offensives for three years after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. But the growing political divide within the regime coupled with the 1991 suspension of aid from Moscow resulted in the regime’s collapse. At present, too, the state institutions are weak and the political system lacks broad-based legitimacy. Corruption and incompetence in the government are alienating the population and aiding the insurgency. Above all, concurrent with the foreign troops’ withdrawal in 2014, Afghanistan will face a daunting political challenge: the transfer of power from President Karzai to a new administration. Karzai is barred by the constitution to run for a third term. Suggestions that Washington should pick a replacement for Karzai are misguided. It should be left to the Afghans to elect their next leader. But the U.S. and its allies can help to ensure that the election happens in a fair, transparent and secure atmosphere. A repeat of the fraudulent 2009 election could destabilize Afghanistan – and set the stage for another civil war.


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Topics: Afghanistan • Taliban • Terrorism • United States

soundoff (197 Responses)
  1. Heywood

    all of you looking to revise history should go back look at the news on 9/12/01 to refresh your memory of exactly why we are there.
    The only way to make that cess pool a better place is to kill everyone and everything and start over with humans this time.

    October 2, 2012 at 10:44 am | Reply
  2. rogerrr

    First story on Afghanistan in months once again to tell the US what we are doing wrong. CNN is the voice of the Taliban.

    October 2, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  3. Toiletman

    I have another idea: opium planting! Yes, really. Worldwide, we have a shortage of morphine and other opium based painkillers and even in developed countries with state healthcare, the prices are high. In many countries, the state then has to pay prices while in others the sick people themselves if they can. They will be planting opium poppy anyways so why not use it for medicine purposes instead of drugs? It could give many Afghanis a secure income. After a while, maybe also pharmy industry can go there aswell. Even if western manufacturer's don't want to use Afghan poppy, I'm sure Indian and Iranian firms would welcome it.

    October 2, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
    • Jim Boyd

      Last I heard, the brother of KARZAI controlled the collection and distribution of opium in all of Afghanistan, with KARZAI himself receiving literally millions of dollars per annum, from those operations. Do you really think those two would just knuckle under? You got another think coming, friend.

      October 4, 2012 at 1:20 am | Reply
  4. max3333444555

    i dont know the answer but the posts here dont indicate any amount of thinking other than pull out or stay longer.

    This is a complex situation and, unfortunately, i dont think either the administration or the republican candidate have the capability of handling it.

    October 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  5. Andy A

    A totally out of the box solution – let their neighbors have Afghanistan. Not the Taliban, but break the country up into pieces and give the South to Pakistan, the West to Iran, the North to Russia, and the East to China. Let them have all rights to the country – mine the Lithium and take all the resources they want. Let them take it all. Then they can mop up the Taliban ruthlessly as they want. The US will never get anything out of Afghanistan except problems so let "them" get it. Not our problem anymore. A totally whacked idea, but it just may work. And I have no symphathy for Iran.

    October 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  6. Robert

    Pakistan's behavior is typical of Muslim nations and peoples. If they know that you are much stronger than they are, militarily speaking, they will act as if they are your friend and then stab you in the back with a huge dagger figuratively or literally. Pakistan has done this to us countless times by hiding bin Laden for years while claiming to help us find him and allowing the Taliban safe harbor and denying just to name two. What we need to do is to just hit them so hard that they will not recover as they are now... ever. They're populated by a wicked and deceitful generation that needs to be utterly destroyed. We need to first, take out their nuclear weapons and then all of their leaders and anyone over 20 years of age and any male over 10. When their leaders are gone, we then need to reeducate their population to de-Islamize them and make them either athiest, hindu or Christian because anything is better than the death religion of Islam.

    October 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
    • Todd

      SHTFU you friggin hindu trash

      October 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • Bishop X

      Sometime back there was an interesting blog on India "The bubble of India has burst: Humpty Dumpty has Fallen”. We here in Haiti continue to monitor the political and cultural turmoil in India as a large percentage of our population are sugar cane slaves from India. As of now, we reiterate our view that Hindu State of India is in a precarious situation and that a geo-political implosion is imminent (if not already in process) and the need of the hour. As you will recall, India was initially broken into pieces by Arabs, Afghanis, Persians, Pakistanis, and lately by Chinese and so on. And rest assured that is not the end. India is mired in poverty and has a suppressive regime with respect to minorities. Substantial aid by the world over the years to India has failed to reverse the downward trends. We can now confirm that India has become unmanageable. If it is not imploded in a controlled manner we are afraid China will chew it up and spit it out. Therefore, we urge the UN general assembly to put this high on their agenda and vote “YES” to further breaking up India. We further propose the following areas be amalgamated with Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and China. In God We Trust.
      Himachal Pradesh
      Uttar Pradesh
      West Bengal

      We wish our friends in India God Speed and may the courage of Maoists bless its soul.

      October 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  7. Peter Clarke

    Angry and sick of our troops being murdered by the same people they are trying to help. Kharzi's government is corrupt and packing american dollars into Swiss accounts. War lords all over the country get bribes; and trust me in 10 more years it will be the same. Afghanistan is a bust. Pakistan is a bust . Wasted bucks on a people who just want to be left alone and follow their tribal lifestyle.

    October 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
    • Jim Boyd

      Peter, you are SO RIGHT about Afghanistan being the same ten years from now as it was before we became militarily involved. Refer to the Biblical book of Genesis. Abraham impregnated his wife's hand-maiden, who gave birth to a boy they named Ishmail. Eventually, Abraham's wife Sarah developed hatred toward that hand-maiden and caused Abraham to send the womn and Ismael away. An angel of the Lord came to the hand-maiden and assured her that the Lord would make Ismael a great leader, but he would never be able to get along with ANYONE. Ismael eventually settled in what is now the troubled areas of the Middle East; thus, those nations can't get along with their neighbors or anyone else. Thankfully, there is so much tension between those nations that they will never agree to come together under ONE CENTRAL LEADER; thus we see all the national and international strife in the Middle East.

      October 4, 2012 at 1:39 am | Reply
  8. Steve

    Obama's war worth winning, What a joke.

    These are Balkanized hillbillies and agrarians that don't trust any form of government.

    October 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  9. dave

    Kill all the poppies.
    Kill all the poppies.
    Kill all the poppies.
    Kill all the poppies.
    Kill all the poppies.

    October 2, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  10. Hadenuffyet

    Too many fronts....let's get our own house in order before preaching ideals.

    October 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  11. Reposted With Intent To Educate

    "It is no secret that Hitler and his Nazi cronies sought inspiration from Indian extremist groups including the branding of his Nazi Party by adopting the Swastika, a traditionally Hindu symbol and representation of Hindu god Ganesha, as its marketing tool. The thesis being that like the Norwegian massacre the Jewish holocaust orchestrated by Hitler was inspired by the inherently violent cult of Indian Hindus and the manifesto of its then extremist/terrorist groups still in existence today. These groups are now the successors to and carrying out the vision of Al Qaeda all over the world albeit in a clandestine manner."

    Let me quote another instance of this disgraceful disposition:
    It is no secret that Mahatma Gandhi (Hindu leader) was a pedophile. What is very disturbing is his relationship (!) and friendship with Hitler. He is known to have offered advice and encouragement to Hitler and his Nazi Party to undertake the Jewish Holocaust."

    A few months ago an auction was being arranged in Europe of Gandhi's letters and other artifacts corroborating the foregoing. Apparently, the Indian government with assistance from expatriate Indian businessmen muscled the auctioneers and put a stop to this auction.

    October 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • Heath

      Gandhi was a boy banger

      October 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Reply
      • Chuck Hutchinson

        he was both...a bangee and a bangor

        October 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  12. nodat1

    thought their were only three way to help NBC

    October 2, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  13. roy

    The first and only way to fix Afghanastan is for the United States to leave there as soon as possible.

    October 2, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  14. Adnihilo

    There is no way to help them, they don't WANT help. We should start by never having gone there in the first place, now we are mired in trying to shore up infighting and corruption in a nation that does not want to change.

    October 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Reply
  15. Truth Hurts, Doesn't it?

    Pakistan is the root of almost every security problems in Asia and the rest of the world. I don't know why in the world is NATO ignoring Pakistan's involvement with almost every Terrorist group in the region. There are tons of evidence that Pakistan support Al Qaeda, Taliban, Kashmiri Mujaheddin or any other extremist group in the region you could think off. I say, instead of invading Afghanistan or Iraq, If Pakistan (The Headquarter of Terrorism) was invaded by the NATO troops after the 9/11, i am 100% sure there would have not been a single terrorist today in that part of the world.

    October 3, 2012 at 4:31 am | Reply
  16. Mike

    The Russians had the right idea, but as usual, we had to interfere. We should have let them continue slaughtering everything that moved in A-stan. Instead, we sent them stingers. Stupid politicians.

    October 3, 2012 at 7:57 am | Reply
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