March 25, 2008 Afghan Alarm
By Karl F. Inderfurth
"Make no mistake: NATO is not winning in Afghanistan."
So says the Atlantic Council of the United States, the sponsor of one of three recent independent U.S. reports on Afghanistan. The other two - by the Afghanistan Study Group, on which I served, and the National Defense University - arrive at a similar conclusion: Without prompt action by the U.S. and its allies, the mission in Afghanistan may fail, with disastrous results for U.S. strategic interests worldwide, including the war on terrorism and the future of NATO.
NATO leaders preparing for their summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, next week should take heed. All three reports agree that achieving success in Afghanistan will require two things: a willingness to make the war in Afghanistan and the rebuilding of that country higher priorities, and for the world to recommit to a sustained, long-term effort.
According to the Afghanistan Study Group report, this is a crucial moment. The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence among Afghans about the direction of their country.
What should be done? The independent reports offer recommendations to revitalize the U.S. and international effort in Afghanistan. Among the most important:
*The international community must get its act together in Afghanistan. More than 40 countries, three major international organizations and scores of other agencies and nongovernmental organizations are active in Afghanistan, setting their own priorities and often working at cross purposes with the Hamid Karzai government. The recent appointment of a new high-level U.N. envoy, Kai Eide of Norway, was a long-overdue step in the right direction.
*The international community's "light" military footprint must be replaced by the "right" footprint. This means increasing the number of NATO troops - currently 43,000 - and military equipment to the levels requested by field commanders (at least two combat brigades, an additional 7,500 troops). France appears the likeliest candidate to step forward. Nations unable to contribute more forces should significantly bolster their civilian assistance for development and governance programs. Greater assistance is also needed for training and equipping Afghanistan's national army and police, the keys to Afghanistan's long-term security and NATO's eventual departure.
*Creating crucial judicial, legal and police reforms essential to improve governance and the rule of law and curtail corruption must become a higher priority for the Afghan government and its international partners.
*More creative thinking is needed to prevent Afghanistan's slide into a narco-state (it currently produces 93 percent of the world's opium). The National Defense University report suggests fighting expanded opium production through a pilot program for licit sales of poppies or temporary and massive increases in payments to farmers for cultivating non-narcotic crops.
*A development and reconstruction "surge" is needed. Infrastructure projects - roads, power and water systems - should be accelerated, using the Afghan labor force and contractors as much as possible to create jobs and alleviate destabilizing unemployment.
Finally, there can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan if neighboring Pakistan is not part of the solution. The future stability of the two countries depends on the development of an effective strategy to counter the Taliban/al-Qaida sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal border areas. The U.S. and NATO need to develop a regional plan to address Afghanistan's security and development needs, including an overture to Iran to help stabilize Afghanistan. The U.S. refusal to talk directly to Tehran about Afghanistan is counterproductive.
In recent months, there have been some signs that the U.S. and its NATO partners have recognized the hard truth that defeat in Afghanistan is a possibility. They are beginning to rethink and adjust strategy and resources accordingly. On his recent trip to Kabul, NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Mr. Karzai that Afghanistan "is not considered by NATO as a mission of choice. It is a mission of necessity."
That's a good message to restate to all 26 members of the NATO alliance at the coming Bucharest meeting, which will also be attended by representatives from the 60 donor nations to Afghanistan and President Karzai. So is this statement from the Atlantic Council report: "Urgency is the watchword. The international community must act, and it must act now." Karl F. Inderfurth was a principal member of the Afghanistan Study Group. A former assistant secretary of state, he is a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.