Stay the course in Afghanistan

US Army

Soldiers from Company A, 101st Division Special Troop Battalion, air assault into a village inside Jowlzak valley, Parwan province, Afghanistan.

Article Highlights

  • A premature withdrawal will undo the achievements and plunge the country into ethnic and civil war #Afghanistan

    Tweet This

  • Counter-terrorism alone mean repeating previous mistakes and fighting without a decisive victory

    Tweet This

  • The latest violent incidents will increase pressure in America and Europe for a quicker end to the Afghan mission

    Tweet This

The latest spate of violent incidents in Afghanistan is set to increase pressure in America and Europe for a quicker end to the mission in the country.

The US media report that the Obama administration is shifting the combat mission there to a support role by next summer and is considering withdrawing troops faster than planned.

Senior officials at the White House, particularly Vice-President Joe Biden, appear to be using the weekend shootings and the violent protests after the Koran burning to reduce the Afghan strategy to a limited counter-terrorism mission.

"Defeating the Haqqani network and clearing its entrenched safe havens is not possible without a sufficient number of US and allied forces." -- Ahmad K. Majidyar

Remarkable progress

While accelerating the drawdown and ending the counter-insurgency mission may be politically expedient for the White House in the run-up to the US presidential election, it is a recipe for failure in Afghanistan.

Since the beginning of the surge and counter-insurgency campaign in early 2010, US and allied forces have made remarkable progress in southern Afghanistan, particularly in the Taliban heartland provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.

The insurgents were driven out of their strategic strongholds; support for the Taliban among the local population declined significantly; and the central government was able to assert more control in populated areas. The Taliban failed to retake lost territory in its spring and summer offensives last year.

The surge also helped improve the quality and size of Afghanistan's security forces, which have gone from 190,000 inadequately trained and poorly equipped personnel to a more effective counter-insurgency force of 320,000 soldiers and policemen.

The Afghan forces lead nearly 40% of conventional and special forces missions, and have assumed security responsibility for more than 50% of the Afghan population with limited foreign assistance.

Eliminating safe havens

A major reduction in troop numbers, however, would not only endanger these gains, but also prevent the coalition and Afghan forces from eliminating insurgents' safe havens in eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqani network and Hizb-e Islami militants are still actively operating in areas surrounding Kabul and eastern provinces along the Pakistani border.

The most dangerous terrorist group in South Asia, the Haqqanis are closely associated with al-Qaeda, Punjabi Taliban groups, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other terrorist groups with regional and global agendas. Defeating the Haqqani network and clearing its entrenched safe havens is not possible without a sufficient number of US and allied forces. The Afghan forces are not yet ready for the task.

Counter-terrorism alone is also not a viable alternative. Much of the success of counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and drone strikes in Pakistan hinges upon human intelligence. In the absence of conventional forces to provide adequate security and cultivate ties with local population, the special forces will lose local support and be unable to function effectively.

Threat of war

Moreover, the Afghan government will not allow special forces to operate on its soil if the mission is only to capture and kill without providing assistance in governance, security and economic stability. Support for the US and Nato allies in Afghanistan will decline dramatically.

In the first years of war, the United States largely relied on counter-terrorism operations, and much of today's security and governance problems in Afghanistan emanate from that policy.

It strengthened warlords, undermined building Afghan institutions, and allowed the Taliban to reconstitute in southern and eastern provinces. Counter-terrorism alone means repeating the same mistake. It means endless fighting without a definitive, irreversible victory.

President Obama's withdrawal timelines have already undercut the effectiveness of the military mission in Afghanistan. The arbitrary deadlines emboldened the Taliban, weakened the coalition, strained ties with Kabul, and encouraged Pakistan and Iran to continue support for their proxies to maximise influence once US and Nato forces leave Afghanistan.

A premature withdrawal will not just undo the achievements of the past years, but will plunge the country into ethnic and civil war, and help the Taliban and al-Qaeda to re-establish safe havens in parts of the country from where they could plot attacks against Europe and the United States.

Ahmad K. Majidyar is a Senior Research Associate at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author


Ahmad K.

What's new on AEI

Love people, not pleasure
image Oval Office lacks resolve on Ukraine
image Middle East Morass: A public opinion rundown of Iraq, Iran, and more
image Verizon's Inspire Her Mind ad and the facts they didn't tell you
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.