After a Year of Setbacks Afghanistan Sees Renewed Committment

Not long after the start of the Iraq War the world became so embroiled with the many twists and turns of that fatal mistake that Afghanistan was relegated to the backburner -and soon came to be referred to as the “forgotten war.”

And forgotten it was. Since the fateful summer of 2003, with an initial euphoria and illusion of success in Afghanistan, the foreigners, ever so impatient to pack and leave the dusty country to its own instruments (as they had done before after the Soviet withdrawal) thought that the good work was once again done here.

Not so. As international committment waned (and the reconstruction that was promised came ever so slowly), the Taliban did not rest. They built up in weapons, troops, morale, and popular support (on both sides of Afghanistan-Pakistan border) and starting as early as the spring of 2005 made a comeback.

By 2006 the Taliban were stronger and in a better state to face international troops than they had been even as a regular army back in 2001. Over the years, the regular army of the Taliban diffused into the population and became a guerilla force -a nightmare for the state of Afghanistan and its international backers that had to hold, secure, and defend cities and villages across the country and face a mobile enemy. Add to this the novel reality of suicide bombing, and the losses of 2006 should not come as a shock.

Now, as Afghanistan begins its sixth year post-Bonn and awaits another fateful spring, there is a broad consensus that things must change. If there is a silver lining to the setbacks of 2006, it is this: Afghanistan’s Lost Year has served to catapult the forgotten war back into the front and center of world’s attention.

Here are some key recent developments that I think signal a revitalized US and international committment to the struggle in Afghanistan:

  • In today’s NATO foreign ministers’ summit in Brussels the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is expected to announce increased US committment to Afghanistan and ask European NATO members to step up to the plate -both in terms of increased aid money and more troops.
  • After a US policy review of Afghanistan (studying the period starting with the protests of June 2006) found that the current resource levels are not sufficient to meet the reconstruction goals, the US administration is expected next month to appeal the US Congress for additional funds of as much as $10.4 billion (Washington Post reports the figure as $7-8 billion) to supplement the funds already earmarked for Afghanistan reconstruction.
  • While increasing troop levels may be out of the question for now (especially as the deteriorating situation in Iraq requires a more urgent surge in troops there), the US army has just announced that it will extend the tour of duty of 3000 soldiers of its 10th Mountain Division who are stationed in Afghanistan by 120 days. This comes at the same time as another influx of troops who are supposed to replace the departing soldiers also arrive in Afghanistan. In effect this amounts to a temporary surge of troops, calculated to last the period of the presumptive spring offensive of the Taliban.
  • While his State of the Union addresses was geared mostly towards domestic issues and as a sequel to the Iraq Policy Speech earlier and President Bush remained silent on Afghanistan but for an acknowledgement of the deteriorating situation there, in a nod to fresh US commitment to Afghanistan the American president did meet the US general (McNeil) who is to take over the command of the NATO troops there.
  • This one is a mixed bag of sorts and may not prove to be as effective as other policy shifts, but the US is also eager to fight the War on Drugs in Afghanistan more seriously: the appointment of its former ambassador to Colombia and a stated objective to employ Colombia-style tactics in the War on Drugs signals frustration with the prolonged drug cultivation and trafficking problem and its myriad complications with funding terrorism and insurgency. It was recently revealed that for months the government of Afghanistan has been under increasing “behind-closed-doors” pressure to allow aerial spraying and the use of herbicides and exfoliators in the Southern provinces.
  • While current NATO troop levels in Afghanistan are 20% short of committments made by member countries, another brigade is expected to arrive “shortly” (i.e. before the spring sets in,) “and more after that,” according to NATO commander Gen. David Richards.
  • For what it is worth, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO established a joint “intelligence hub” in Kabul. While the “hub” can hardly stand in for a much more serious settlement of differences and alignment of interests that is needed between Kabul and Islamabad, it is hoped that the move will serve to improve coordination and intelligence sharing

Whether the renewed US and international committment to Afghanistan is genuine and long-term, or just a bracing up for the anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban remains to be seen. In the latter case, the temporary build-up of troops will merely amount to a Maginot Line: the enemy will only delay its offensive enough that the eager foreigners tire and leave once again before the ANA is up to the challenge -as they have unfailingly done in the past. And then it will be groundhog day all over.

12 Responses to After a Year of Setbacks Afghanistan Sees Renewed Committment

  1. Borat says:

    Calling “Taliban” a regular army, is like calling Paris Hilton a vrigin!

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…

  2. […] sees renewed international commitment to Afghanistan. Nathan […]

  3. askarguraiz says:

    Great post. The renewed commitment is certainly welcomed. What remains to be seen is a change in the manner the $ 10.6 billion will be spent. I remain skeptical of the Dyncorp and Louis Berger clan’s share of that money.

  4. safrang says:

    Thanks Borat for the comment. It must be especially hard for you to admit that Paris is not a virgin (I would imagine that after the heartbreaking episode with Pamela Anderson, you might be after this newer American sensation!)

    Askar Guraiz, I share your skepticism about the corps. Recently the Afghan-American journalist Fariba Nawa compiled a muck-raking report (with the support of the activist group CorpWatch) titled “Afghanistan Inc.” It is a scandalous revelation of all the squandering and waste that is now the norm with the reconstruction industry in Afghanistan. In my own humble opinion, the leaner, meaner, much more specialize, and much less greedy Afghan NGOs are far better suited after nearly two decades of experience to take on the reconstruction effort (than both the government of Afghanistan -chronically below capacity- or the international corporations.) Of course there are some notable and shameless exceptions in this case too, and those should be straightened out before they tarnish the general image of Afghan NGOs, but comparatively speaking, they still come out on top.
    Are you still in DC? I really do hope so. I have been swamped with my grad school applications and had to come down hard on one particular deadline last week. Please, let’s meet in the near future. I am available later this week.

  5. askarguraiz says:

    I have read parts of Afghanistan.Inc. I think there is need for a more mainstream-friendly study of the corporate world’s performance in Afghanistan. Businesses such as Dynacorp and Louis Berger are a strong and somber reality of the increasingly privatized foreign aid world. With all due respect to her, small fishes such as Fariba Nawa cannot pick a fight with them, and people like her who appear only on Democracy Now can easily be ignored. But if a relative big deal from the mainstream press writes about these businesses, it at least signals to them that they are being watched. Picking a fight with them is a hippie approach that I think will lead no where.

    It is hard to defend the Afghan government and rank it higher relative to any other institution/s. But it is possible to do so. Out of courtesy to it, and conviction that it is the future; not the NGOs, I would hope the funds get channeled through the government. My problem with the NGOs (some of them would qualify as highly taxable private firms) is that they are not a sustainable institution at all; they are great in relief operations, but counterproductive in construction and state/nation building in general if not tapped.

    Glad that you are done with some of the applications. I am in DC until Wednesday evening. I would love to meet you before I leave this place. So let me know if you are available before Wednesday evening.

  6. Quite interesting one! Let me first manage some proper time to go through all the contexts and then …

  7. homeinkabul says:

    I have been obediently & periodicaly checking the ‘slanted eyes’ site and you’re here? Huh?!

    As soon as I have more time, I will read and go through the posts that i’ve missed…

  8. homeinkabul says:

    Safrang jan,

    Less greedy Afghan NGOs? I’m probably being too cynical but I don’t trust any organization – all need to be held accountable. And I don’t mean accountability to mean ‘write a report by an expensive foreigner’ accountability. Rather, ‘if you don’t do this properly, you’ll have to give us our money back’ accountability…How to work this out in ‘real-terms’, i dunno.

    AG jan,

    But how do we get the mainstream media to be interested? At least Fariba Nawa has it out there now…better than nothing and a hippie voice is better than no voice at all.

  9. Q.A. says:

    Dude…there’s been a decent amount going on. Musa Qala, Kajaki, mortars in Kabul, change of guard command, the amnesty stuff, etc, etc…

    …I’ll post if you post.

  10. Alphast says:


    I am not really sure the War on Drugs in Colombia is doing any good, and I am pretty convinced that it won’t work either in Afghanistan. If no alternative is offered to poor peasants to replace poppies, there is no way they are going to accept this. They will fall even more willingly in the Taliban’s arms or other groups. Why not use these 10 billion $++ to buy the poppies to the peasant directly. It would starve the Talibans out in one or two years. That would be cost effective…

  11. Q.A. says:

    So, I thought I’d take the initiative, and then give you a few days. Hows about an update? Did you read the CSIS report? I just downloaded it and will probably throw a post up about it.

  12. The topic is quite trendy in the net right now. What do you pay the most attention to when choosing what to write ?

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