Quitting Isn't An Option
World leaders meeting in London recently to discuss Afghanistan's future have dealt themselves a weak hand. The principal obstacles to success in Afghanistan have not been the adversary's strength or any lack of support for the international mission by the Afghan public. Rather, the primary obstacles to victory have been western temporising, irresolution and planned force reductions on a timeline that better suits the Taliban's strategic objectives than our own. The weakness of the Afghan government, a critical handicap, is itself partly a by-product of these broader strategic failures that have incentivised Afghan leaders to hedge against international abandonment in ways detrimental to state-building and development.
The litany of western strategic errors in Afghanistan spans multiple administrations of different political stripes on both sides of the Atlantic. Chief among them have been the chronic underinvestment in building up the Afghan security forces; the deployment of insufficient international forces, many with caveats constraining effective military action; the lack of an international civilian development footprint commensurate with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) military role; the failure to "Afghanise" massive aid flows in ways that have hollowed out rather than built Afghan capacity; an over-investment in relations with Afghanistan's central government at the expense of connecting Afghans to provincial and local institutions of governance; the lack of any concerted strategy to strengthen liberal forces in neighbouring Pakistan; and the absence of Pakistani military pressure until recently on terrorist sanctuaries along the Afghan border.
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