The Afghan Question

On the 13th April 2017, the United States detonated a 21,600-lb bomb in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Known as the mother of all bombs from its acronym MOAB. It was used to target a series of tunnel networks and ISIS-K members. It resulted in the death of over 100 fighters. The initial reaction as to the reasoning behind the use of the most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat ranged from being assertive on counter-terrorism to a calculated decision used to enhance President Trumps reputation and to deter America’s enemies. Whichever conclusion you draw from the bombing the move had one unintended outcome. It resurfaced the foreign policy debate around Afghanistan. The country has been scarcely in the news since the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014. You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the war now rages into its 16th year and shows no signs of dissipating. In fact, rather the opposite. The situation in Afghanistan is precarious at best. The Taliban control 40% of the country. Afghan security forces are suffering unsustainable losses and civilian casualties are it its highest since the peak insurgency in 2011.

When George Bush commenced Operation Enduring Freedom he proclaimed, ‘We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.’

Afghanistan is still a country which harbours terrorists not by the national governments choice but a sanctuary nonetheless. Al-Qaeda still operates within Afghanistan. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan known to ‘the west’ simply as the Pakistani Taliban use Kunar Province in Afghanistan as its headquarters for operations. A group which is responsible for the attack on a school in Peshawar Pakistan killing 132 children. The Haqqani network known for its targeted killings of coalition forces and its bombing of the US embassy in Kabul are renown across the country and the establishment of ISIS in Khorasan province creates another branch to a group infamous for its barbarism.

These deadly groups cannot be allowed the sanctuary of any country. We have seen the consequences of allowing a group to establish networks and training camps within nation states.

224 dead and more than 4000 injured in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.

2996 dead and more than 6000 injured in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

192 dead and more than 2000 injured in Madrid.

56 dead and more than 700 injured in London.

So how does the international community solve this security dilemma? Firstly, the use of the world’s biggest non-nuclear bomb does not equate to a foreign policy grand strategy. The Trump administration needs a coherent grand strategy and a clear exit strategy with both short and long term aims. Here are how the fortunes within Afghanistan can be reversed.

Initially, Donald Trump must seek the help of NATO and other US allies in its re-deployment of troops. An international coalition provides more legal justification at the United Nations, provides unitary in fighting the War on Terror and gives Trump the political capital at home to maintain his ‘America first’ strategy. Should its allies be numb to the warning signs in Afghanistan. The United States should pursue unilateral action. The deployment of 5000 US troops at the urging of the Pentagon should be implemented immediately. To smash the stalemate, regain momentum and prevent the resurgent Taliban whilst tackling the terrorist groups located in the country. However, this policy alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by three other factors.

  1. The US government should reform its relationship with the Pakistan government. This pseudo ally has trained, directed and funded terror organisations to pursue its own national interests whilst giving sanctuary to the world’s most notorious terrorists. The White House must outline in unequivocal terms that Pakistan has a simple choice between ally or foe. Continuity is no longer an option. With the latter resulting in the state being designated a state sponsor of terrorism.
  2. The US must have an assertive counter-terrorism strategy. This means the prioritising of special-ops. This is necessary to remove the personnel at the top of the terror organisations. These are often more ideologically driven than the fighters at the lower levels who are opportunistic Afghan men with a legitimate grievance and can potentially be integrated back into society. Furthermore, the United States must rethink its policy regarding drone warfare. This strategy has low risk for the United States but can have catastrophic consequences for the local population. Although civilian casualties in war are inevitable. This is strategy is clearly avoidable and is not used through necessity more due to the cost-benefit analysis. I am not against the principle of drone strikes as a method of war but it must only be used in two situations either in; an immediate threat or decapitation strikes against high ranking personnel. Its dramatic increase under the Obama administration created a dangerous precedent and was a stain upon the moral compass of the United States. For every ‘strategic error’ made regarding drone warfare the Taliban win yet another tactical victory. The greater the use of drones or the further use of massive ordnance weaponry risks further ‘collateral damage’. With the loss of every innocent citizens, the coalitions moral authority weakens and more Afghans seek to avenge their deaths. Often through the route of terror organisations. This is simply unacceptable. Afghanistan has proven that wars cannot be won on armaments alone and that the pursuit of hearts and minds is key to long term stability in the Afghan state.
  3. The international community must hold the Afghan government to account and be more directly involved in the movement of money. It must use the aid more wisely to address the problems within Afghanistan and not allow the funds to be allowed for corruption, nepotism and patronage. The foreign aid and investment must be used to build a credible afghan state. Otherwise the people of Afghanistan will once again turn to groups or organisations which offer them greater prospects.

This strategy may not solve the entirety of the problems within Afghanistan and cannot re-write the wrongs of history but a re-commitment to Afghanistan will provide the Afghan security forces with the necessary resources and assistance to become an effective fighting force. It will preserve, protect and defend the structure of the Afghan state. It will prevent the use of the country as a sanctuary to plan and commit terror and finally it will be a statement to the Afghan people that the international community is not abandoning them and that we remain resilient in the quest to find peace in a country which has only known war.


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