How to Strategize for Afghanistan

As Gen. McChrystal requests 40,000 more troops for the counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is taking a cold hard look at the situation. Well they should. Our concerns in Afghanistan are, or should be, about terrorism, not insurgency. I was interviewed by the independent Iranian Farspress news agency on the situation. Here are the questions, with my answers, followed by the answer to an important question not asked by Farspress.

Q. What has the U.S. presence achieved?

A. The effects of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan have been mainly negative. The positive effects of the establishment of an elected national government has been offset by the official corruption and by the rampant fraud in the recent elections. Advances in the position of women in society that are welcomed in some parts of the country, especially the urban areas, have generated resentment and backlash in other areas, helping to fuel a Taliban resurgence that threatens the status of women. Finally, the drug production problem has gotten much worse.

Q. What are your thoughts on the fact that, since the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, narcotics smuggling has increased?

A. When the Taliban was in power the United States accused them of dealing in drugs. The effectiveness of the ban on drugs by the Taliban made the trade even more profitable than it was before or since, which made it very attractive to corrupt elements within the regime. They had no competition and enjoyed a monopoly. Under the current government the opium trade has expanded enormously and accusations of government involvement persist, including accusations that “Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai and the head of the provincial council in Kandahar, routinely manipulates judicial and police officials to facilitate shipments of opium and heroin.” (McClatchy,

Q. Comment on the rise in instability and insecurity.

A. The problems of the U.S. presence are complicated by the fact that the government has not clearly defined its objectives. The only reasonable justification for the U.S. presence would be an understandable desire to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for terrorist groups to plan attacks on American interests. Other alleged objectives, such as nation-building, women’s rights, or suppression of the Taliban, are at best distractions and often actually undermine what could have been a legitimate objective. Counter-insurgency is a fool’s errand when in defense of a corrupt regime in any case, but especially in the land is appropriately known as “the graveyard of empires.” If the U.S. would commit itself to the sole purpose of obtaining assurances from whomever rules Afghanistan that they would agree to the extradition of any persons or organizations for whom reasonable evidence can be provided are planning terrorist acts, such  a limited mission would be tractable and might actually be achievable. Even the Taliban, when they ruled Afghanistan, expressed a willingness to turn over Bin Ladin if the U.S. would produce evidence that he was in any way involved in the 9/11 bombings, but the U.S. was unwilling or unable to do so.

If the administration can come to the logical conclusion that its primary objective in Afghanistan should be to secure America from attacks by al-Qaida or its ilk, then then a successful strategy can be formulated. An agreement with actual or potential Afghani rulers that they will not harbor anti-American terrorists would be only one part of the strategy. The other, indispensable part, is to alter American foreign policy so that we stop provoking anti-Americanism. The implementation of that strategy is a subject for another blog, but it can include such simple, common sense elements as encouraging Israeli cooperation with the recommendations of the Goldstone Report, instead of enabling Israeli violence against civilians. Such violence is terrorism in itself and it provokes terrorist responses.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

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