Coalition policy in Afghanistan

Coalition policy in Afghanistan

Government sources

Afghanistan: Let failure be our guide, Michael Wesley, Lowy Institute, 18 February 2010

There is a case for arguing that rather than planning withdrawals around success benchmarks, we should plan around failure benchmarks. In other words, we should take a step back and think about what medium to long-term strategic outcomes in Afghanistan would be a strategic disaster for our interests – not to mention a gross waste of life and money – and think about how our military-diplomatic strategies can contribute to avoiding disaster.

The problem with the Coalition’s diplomatic strategy in Afghanistan is the assumption that the Coalition, the Karzai Government and the Taliban are the only interested actors. It ignores just how central Afghanistan is to the competition among regional powers. Pakistan’s tentacles into Afghanistan are well known, but China and India have been quietly investing, building and infiltrating as well.

Fortunately these interests can also be the building blocks of a solution. A new peace conference on Afghanistan should be convened, confined only to the powers directly interested: the US, China, India and Pakistan. The agenda should focus on just two questions: what eventual order in Afghanistan will be acceptable and non-threatening to all concerned powers? And how do we get there from here?

Coalition Blues, Joel Fitzgibbon, The Diplomat, 26 February 2008

Are we winning the war in Afghanistan? It’s a hard question to answer. The better question may be: which war? The military mission? The war for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people? Or the struggle to secure agreement among the International Security Afghanistan Force (ISAF) partners, on a coherent strategic plan which could deliver secure democracy and stability in the war-weary South Asian country?

Before attempting to answer these questions, it’s important to first acknowledge that significant progress has been made in Afghanistan. Economic growth is currently running at an impressive 8 per cent. Healthcare in Afghanistan also continues to improve and spread: more than 80 per cent of the population now has access to basic healthcare services, and infant mortality rates continue to steadily decline. The number of Afghan children receiving an education now exceeds six million, the highest number of enrolled school children in Afghan history.


Analysis and commentary


United States

Negotiations and Reconciliation with the Taliban: Key Policy Issues and Dilemmas, Vanda Felbab-Brown, The Brookings Institution, 28 January 2010

But engaging in strategic negotiations with the Taliban or even talking about them in the current security situation is seriously detrimental to the U.S. strategic objectives of increasing security in Afghanistan, preventing terrorist safehavens there, and building the Afghan state. Talking about strategic negotiations with the Taliban signals weakness and expectation of defeat and only motivates the Taliban to fight stronger. It thus undermines the effectiveness of the surge before it even fully began.

Winning the war on the home front [PDF], Anthony Bubalo, Michael Fullilove, The Australian, 11 December 2009

President Barack Obama set out a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. He announced both a surge
and an exit strategy, starting in mid-2011. In other words, if the US can slow the insurgency’s momentum in the next 18 months then it can probably afford to start drawing down its troops in mid2011? but if it cannot reverse that momentum, it will probably have to start withdrawing them.

He has done so because he believes the stakes are extremely high… But he knows that the real
danger lies along the line, in six or 12 or 18 months’ time, if the results he has been promised
do not eventuate… To win this war, Obama will need to husband popular support for it on the home front, even as he provides his generals with the forces they need to defeat the insurgents on the battle front.

U.S. Pursues a New Way To Rebuild in Afghanistan, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, 19 June 2009

Holbrooke intends to revamp the entire U.S. reconstruction effort, starting with agriculture aid and counternarcotics. He has decided to curtail campaigns to eradicate poppy crops — which he believes have driven poor farmers to support the Taliban — and restructure USAID’s alternative employment programs, which together have cost the U.S. government almost $3 billion since 2004. Holbrooke and other administration officials believe that assisting Afghans in improving food production must be at the top of the U.S. reconstruction agenda.

Pakistan and the “AfPak” strategy, Shaun Gregory, openDemocracy, 28 May 2009

The shape of the US’s new “AfPak” strategy is now clear. For Washington, the most serious problems posed by Afghanistan and Pakistan – the Taliban, al-Qaida, and associated tribal militants – arise from the Pashtun regions of both countries. Behind the rhetoric, the decision has therefore been taken to contain the violence to these areas.

Switch signals new path for Afghan war, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, NYT, 12 May 2009

Until now, the successive American generals in charge of the war in Afghanistan have argued that their responsibilities ended at the border with Pakistan. But the choice of a new and very different breed of general to take over the seven-year-old fight may mean the old mind-set has begun to change. The new commander, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is an expert in counterinsurgency warfare who for years has viewed the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan as one thorny problem.

Obama’s domino theory, Juan Cole,, 30 March 2009

President Barack Obama may or may not be doing the right thing in Afghanistan, but the rationale he gave for it is almost certainly wrong. Obama has presented us with a 21st century version of the domino theory. The U.S. is not, contrary to what the president said, mainly fighting “al-Qaida” in Afghanistan. This latter-day domino theory of al-Qaida takeovers in South Asia is just as implausible as its earlier iteration in Southeast Asia. Most of the allegations are not true or are vastly exaggerated.

Afghanistan Study Group Report, Revitalizing Our Efforts, Rethinking Our Strategies, Center for the Study of the Presidency, 30 January 2008.

“There is, accordingly, an emerging view that Afghanistan and its long-term problems would be better addressed by decoupling funding and related programs from those for Iraq. Doing so would enable more coherence and focus on the increasingly important Afghanistan (and related Pakistan) issues, both for the Congress and the Executive branch as well as in dealing with other governments and international organizations to achieve needed improvement in coordination, collaboration, and efficacy of efforts in the interrelated military, economic and reconstruction spheres.

“Decoupling these two conflicts likely will improve the overall U.S. approach to fighting global terrorism. While the fates of these two countries are connected – and a failure in Iraq would influence Afghanistan and vice versa – tying together Afghanistan and Iraq also creates the false impression that they consist of the same mission, while in reality the challenges in these countries differ significantly from one another. It is not the intention of this recommendation to speak to the comparative funding levels for the two conflicts – only that the Afghanistan Study Group believes it would be best to consider each on their own merits.

“Finally, a more unified management structure within the U.S. government would create a more unified approach toward the international community and Afghanistan. Therefore, in addition to decoupling the funding mechanisms, we recommend that a Special Envoy to Afghanistan position be established within the U.S. government, charged with coordinating and orchestrating all aspects of U.S. policies towards Afghanistan. This should include (but not be limited to) the strategic guidance of military operations, all civilian operations, and links to the UN, NATO and Europe. This official should have overall responsibility for the direction of U.S. assistance programs to Afghanistan and coordinating these programs and policies with European and Asian counterparts and Afghan government officials.”



Canada army chief rejects noncombat Afghan mission, David Ljunggren, Reuters, 1 February 2008.

“Canada’s top soldier, in a move sure to be appreciated by the minority Conservative government, dismissed on Friday proposals made by the main opposition party that the military mission in Afghanistan refrain from combat operations next year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants Canada’s 2,500 troops in the southern city of Kandahar to stay in Afghanistan beyond the scheduled end of their mission in February 2009. The opposition Liberals — who are keeping the government alive in Parliament — say they will only back an extension if the troops focus solely on training Afghan troops. So far 78 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

“General Rick Hillier, the blunt-spoken chief of the defense staff, told reporters there was no chance of the soldiers being able to avoid clashes with Taliban militants. ‘If you’re in Kandahar, you’re going to be in combat operations … the Afghan army is not yet capable enough to be able to handle security by itself,’ he said when asked about the Liberals’ position.”

Canada threatens Afghanistan pull-out, ABC News, 29 January 2008.

“Canada will pull its 2,500 troops out of Afghanistan early next year unless NATO sends in significant reinforcements, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday. Mr Harper, who wants the soldiers to stay longer than their current withdrawal date of February 2009, said NATO’s failure to station enough forces in Afghanistan meant the whole future of the organisation was under serious threat. He said he accepted the recommendations of an independent panel which last week urged Canada to end its mission in the southern city of Kandahar unless NATO provided an extra 1,000 troops as well as helicopters and aerial reconnaissance vehicles.”


Dutch Still Divided on Afghanistan Mission, Angus Reid Global Monitor, 23 April 2008.

Adults in the Netherlands are divided over their country’s current mission in Afghanistan, according to a poll by Maurice de Hond. 49 per cent of respondents oppose the Dutch engagement in Uruzgan, while 46 per cent support it. Afghanistan has been the main battleground in the war on terrorism. The conflict began in October 2001, after the Taliban regime refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Al-Qaeda operatives hijacked and crashed four airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people. The Netherlands committed troops to the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. At least 790 soldiers—including 16 Dutch—have died in the conflict, either in support of the United States-led Operation Enduring Freedom or as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).


Germany rejects US troops appeal, AFP, 1 February 2008.

“Germany on Friday rejected an urgent US call for combat troops in battle-ravaged southern Afghanistan, insisting Berlin’s focus on reconstruction efforts in the relatively calm north was justified. Amid reports of transatlantic tensions over the NATO mission in Afghanistan, German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said the mandate in place until October ruled out stationing soldiers in the turbulent south. ‘I think we will continue to do our part as foreseen by the parliamentary mandate,’ Jung told reporters. ‘That will have to continue to be our focus.’

“US Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly sent an ‘unusually stern’ letter to Jung last month demanding combat troops, helicopters and paratroopers for Afghanistan and charging that some NATO states were not pulling their weight.

“Jung responded with a similarly ‘direct and stern’ letter, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Friday. The minister confirmed that Germany, as well as several other NATO member states, had received a letter from Gates, but declined to comment further on its content. Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Berlin found Gates’s letter ‘surprising’.”

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Arabella Imhoff
Ronald Li
Updated: 8 April 2010