Foreign Policy Blogs

Afghanistan on the Edge: NATO to Blame

Afghanistan is standing on the precipice of disaster. Almost seven years after the initial attack on the Taliban (most of which was very successful), Coalition forces are now poised at a crossroads. All interested parties must ask themselves one key question: Are we in or are we out? Just as America double-downed on the surge strategy, NATO forces must now commit to success in Afghanistan or go home.

Unlike Iraq, set-backs in Afghanistan are hard to determine, mostly because of the Taliban's inability to conquer territory. As Britain's Foreign Minister pointed out, the Taliban is concentrated in just 10% of Afghanistan's districts, home to a mere 6% of the Afghani population. The Taliban “lack the capacity to hold ground,” he wrote. While probably a true assertion, he doesn't understand the nature of the conflict he is purportedly committed too. Land is inconsequential. The Taliban are not concerned with provinces and districts, but with time and money. Drag the conflict on for as long as possible and watch the occupiers give up and go home. Just like Mick Jagger sang in 1964, "Time is on my side, yes it is.'

How can NATO countries not understand this? Where is their sense of urgency? As time passes, Afghanistan is falling deep in to a downward spiral. Over the past week there has been a surge in insurgent-related violence. Five children were killed in a roadside bombing in the north, 30 afghan civilians were killed as their bus traveled from Kandahar towards Helmand province, and Talibani officials claim they have captured at least 180 Afghani soldiers. There has also been an increase of attacks on foreign workers inside the troubled country. The last few days have seen two German soldiers killed, as well as one British aid worker. 2008, the most deadly year for aid workers in Afghanistan since the start of the conflict, has seen 28 killings and 72 abductions.

More damaging to long-term prospects for peace has been an up tick in government and military defections. The former Mayor of Herat province, Ghullam Yahya Akbari, is now a major Taliban official, commanding over 22 mountain bases and refusing to negotiate with legitimate government sources until foreign troops vacate Afghani soil. The security situation in Herat has gotten so bad that over 20 members of the Afghani parliament have gone on strike to protest the worsening conditions. Previous weeks have also seen a mounting number of military defections, with soldiers once loyal to the political establishment now allying themselves with Taliban commanders. Not only does this increase the amount of insurgent personnel, but also raises the very real possibility of infiltration, espionage, and counter-intelligence.

Even top US Military commanders, often publicly stoic if not privately skeptical, are offering scathing criticism of NATO command. Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute in London, General John Craddock, the supreme allied commander in Europe said, "the will of our alliance in the mission in Afghanistan demonstrates some real shortcomings”. Adding, "our continual inability to fulfill our agreed upon statement of requirements in theatre, we are demonstrating a political will that is, in my judgment, sometimes wavering'.

Now is the moment of truth for all interested parties, including the Taliban and Afghani civilian government. Double-down your bet or cash out. In this conflict there is no middle ground. Admittedly skeptical of the "surge' in Iraq and initially doubting success, I must applaud the audacity of American officials to re-commit themselves at a time when the conflict was scathingly unpopular. That choice is now upon other nations within the NATO alliance. Fortunately, the situation in Afghanistan is completely reversible. The insurgency is not as organized or widespread as that of Iraq 2006, the population is not sympathetic, and Pakistan is a far more accommodating neighbor than was Iran. Now is not the time to ride the fence, commit or go home.



Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;


Great Decisions Discussion group