The Current Effort to Stabilize, Modernize and Globalize an Unprecedented Afghanistan
Since 2001, the fluctuating cycle of deployment, death, and lack of results in the United State’s (U.S.) seemingly never-ending war in Afghanistan has fueled national anguish and misconceptions of an overarching mission and provoked the capitulation of two administrations to ineffectual public demand rather than seeking a sensible solution. On October 7th, 2001, President George Bush officially launched the U.S.’s aggressive campaign against radical fundamentalism and, in specific, the Taliban. Bush expressed his goals for the war in this quote:
“These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.”
This broad assault on Middle Eastern terrorism was largely motivated by the national desire for vengeance in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. While the Bush Administration acted carefully, it was too quick to pursue an all-out assault on Afghanistan. Following Bush’s uneven campaign against radical fundamentalism, President Barack Obama subsequently acted out of impulse and removed thousands of troops, destabilizing the region even further. Although historical precedents demonstrate the difficulty of controlling Afghanistan, it is irrefutable that our circumstances are far different from our predecessors in Afghanistan. The United States’s presence and aid have fueled a rebound in the Afghani standard of living and a strong containment of opium growth. To withdraw more troops would only fuel more economic and government instability.
Afghanistan has a complex history with interventionism and system(s) of government that have brought a sense of instability and distrust to the Afghani people. The fight for governance in Afghanistan begins in 500 BC when the crucial land that bridges Europe and Asia was conquered by Persian king Darius I and in centuries to follow, was ruled by leaders similar to the likes of Alexander the Great, Mahmud of Ghazni, and Genghis Khan. What set apart each empire were contemporary religions that set a precedent for uniting Afghanis in times of uncertainty, while in modern Afghanistan, these religions, such as Graeco-Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, are largely extinct and the country is now united through Islam.
These distinguished empires that operated in Afghanistan set and kept a continual historical model that has kept Afghanistan as a “shadow state” or colony pursue, rather then an independent nation. This trend continued through the 19th century under British rule.
Following a brutal civil war between the sons of Timur Shah, Dost Mohammad Khan took control of the now Islamic nation and in 1826 established the Barakzai Dynasty as Emir of Afghanistan. Following Afghanistan’s new found stability, Britain saw Afghanistan as a crucial “pawn” in their attempts to extend their Indian colony and to counteract the growing Russian Empire in a rivalry called “The Great Game”. After three disastrous attempts at capturing Afghanistan, dubbed the “Anglo-Afghan Wars” that lasted from 1839-1919, the British gave up on intervention in Afghanistan and in 1934, America and the global community began to recognize Afghanistan as a new, sovereign nation.
The 20th century Afghanistan continued the countries long standing relationship with instability when in 1953 General Mohammed Daud became Prime Minister and turned to The Soviet Union for economic and military assistance. This served as a precursor for Russian intervention in decades to come. In 1964, a constitutional monarchy was introduced and catastrophically failed, ultimately leading to a power void that was beginning to be filled when a secret communist party was formed in 1965. As historical standards displayed, this path would lead Afghanistan to be occupied by a superpower: The United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). Gradually, the warning signs of a Soviet intervention sounded off and in 1978 General Daud was overthrown and killed in a pro-communist coup and, in 1979, the USSR invaded and began their communist takeover of Afghanistan.
The invasion prompted an unprecedented rise of Islamic fundamentalism in resistance to the government and Islam was seemingly the only thing that could unite the Afghan people in this time of turmoil. The USSR remained in Afghanistan for nine more years (1980-1989) and, after intense resistance from the “mujahideen” (funded by U.S, China, Saudi Arabia), more than half of the Afghan population is said to have been displaced to neighboring Pakistan and Iran. This conflict spearheaded and created radical Islamists such as Ahmad Massoud who the Wall Street Journal labeled “The Afghan Who Won the Cold War” and a Saudi-Islamist, Osama Bin Laden, who made his first journey to Afghanistan in 1984 to aid the anti-Soviet forces and would later spearhead the worst reported terrorist attack against America.
What followed the Soviet exit in 1989, due to a lack of initiative to continue to war, was yet another power void that was waiting to be filled. What differentiated this instance from previous power vacuums is that this one was filled internally by a new fundamentalist group known as the Taliban. The Taliban won Afghanis over with the promise of peace after years of war, famine, and drought and, after a Taliban assembled coup in 1992, Islamic law was restored and opium production and a large swath of rights for women were abolished. What followed this newfound institution of Islamic law was an increase in national resentment against foreign powers and, after increased tensions between the Clinton administration and Bin Laden, a pure hatred of western influence was formed which fueled the largest terrorist attack in American history.
Afghanistan, the once shadow state of countless empires throughout history had now, in the 1990’s, resorted to radicalism as a means of governance and a method to uphold traditional Islamic values. On October 15th, 1999 The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1267, effectively creating an Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee which acknowledged the two groups as terrorist organizations and imposed sanctions on their funding, travel, and arms shipments which reinforced the United States’ position that the Taliban were not legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. The resolution, along with President Clinton’s support of Ahmad Massoud’s “Northern Alliance” (anti-Taliban coalition) and a coordinated bombing effort against jihadists following the al-Qaeda bombings of several U.S embassies in Africa in 1998, prompted a strong resentment of western intervention and a re-emerging of hatred for foreign powers in Afghanistan as the world entered the 21st century.
January 20th, 2001 was seemingly the final straw for Afghanistan, when George W. Bush, known as one of “the most Christian Presidents” was inaugurated and made it a part of his campaign platform to increase the military budget by $20 billion over a five year period and vehemently supported Israel in the Middle East, a sworn enemy of Afghanistan. These conflicts of interest between the already tension-filled U.S. and Afghanistan, where Christians face some of the worst persecution on Earth, prompted the Taliban to murder eight international aid workers who were accused of spreading Christianity. On September 4th, 2001, Osama Bin Laden killed the Northern Alliance leader and bitter enemy of the Taliban, Ahmad Massoud, which would give an assurance of protection from the Taliban after the coming attacks on the U.S.
A week later, on September 11th, 2001, 26 al-Qaeda members, led by Bin Laden, flew planes into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania – killing thousands of innocent Americans. This act of aggression, motivated by America’s support of Israel and our aggressive policy against Islamic fundamentalism, (among other things) inclined Bush, after failed attempts to negotiate with the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, to target the more than 20 terrorist networks in Afghanistan, including Bin Laden’s terrorist network. This targeting, with help from Canada, Australia, Germany, France and the Northern Alliance was and is known as “Operation Enduring Freedom”.
As years went by and troops steadily increased, our operation in Afghanistan began to mirror that of the Anglo-Afghan war of the 19th century; one of inefficiency and more deaths than palpable results. By May 2003, U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed “most of Afghanistan is now secure and that US-led forces had moved from major combat operations to stabilization” and, in 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected President and the new “Islamic Republic” adopted a constitution. In 2009, by the end of the Bush Presidency, the troop count was pushing 65 thousand and support of the war was reaching new lows, and the Taliban’s lifeline, opium, where 90% of the world’s heroin and morphine was exclusively produced. This statistic, along with the attacks on 9/11, sets this “empire” apart from the others: the U.S. had an authentic national security interest in Afghanistan rather than a “convenient colony”, ours was:
- Root out Bin Laden’s radical extremist networks to prevent the future staging of an attack on the American homeland.
- Combat the national and international opioid/heroin epidemic.
The 2008 election of President Obama gave hope for an end to the Afghanistan war as, under Bush, his increase of troops led to an increase of capable Afghan security forces, “enrollment in elementary and secondary education steadily increasing, life expectancy rising from 42 years in 2004 to 60 years in 2010”, and the toppling of the central Taliban government. Obama began his Presidency with steadily increasing troops in his effort to win the “good war”. (Picture #1) Then in 2009, he unveiled a “new strategy” for Afghanistan and Pakistan which would include an additional 4,000 US troops to train Afghan security forces and police. These steps would assist in the fight against terrorism and opioid production. Following his aggressive increase in soldiers, Obama announced in 2011, debatably at the time of most conflict, that the U.S. would be withdrawing troops and in 2012, as NATO announced the removal of troops by the year 2014. These preemptive decisions were likely the result of increased American and international dissent to the continuous war and that the removal of troops in 2011 would increase Obama’s chances of re-election in 2012. This removal as mentioned earlier, once again mirrors the Afghani intervention of the past as well as the creation of a new power void, increasing opium production to an all-time high (Picture #3) and, in 2015, the Taliban re-took the important province of Kunduz and re-gained influence across the nation. Although the Obama administration followed in Bush’s unpopular, yet successful (Picture #2), footsteps of intervention, he capitulated to public demand and ultimately obstructed our overarching objectives there. However, with a new functioning democratic system as a result of increased international funds and remaining soldiers, the Trump administration had the opportunity now to increase stability, close the power void, and protect our national security interests.
Donald Trump arrived at the oval office in 2017 to a stabilizing an increasingly globalized and democratic Afghanistan, but one of continued turmoil that is directly correlated with the opium trade crippling the country. A survey in 2016 found that 7-11% of Afghani’s were addicted to opioids, primarily crippling rural communities and giving Afghanistan the highest rate of opioid use in the world. This statistic is one of the consequences of the lowest troop numbers since the war began in 2001 (Picture #1). Another byproduct of lower troop numbers is a 40% opium increase in 2016 which allows for the funding of the Afghan terrorist networks. President Trump’s proposed solution is to add an additional 4,000 soldiers to the already 8,300 currently stationed there; a move the current Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, welcomes with open arms, as reflected in his quote from 2017:
“More U.S. and NATO support, will help Afghanistan overhaul its air force and double its special forces.”
President Ghani is taking all the proper steps to increase security, decrease corruption and globalize the country which includes in 2016, joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) and promoting an optimistic “4 step plan” coordinated with the Department of Defense for years to come:
1. Restructure and realign the force in 2017 to set conditions for offensive operations;
2. Continue building offensive capability in 2018 through ASSF (Afghan Special Security Forces) growth while disrupting insurgent strongholds, setting conditions for major offensive operations;
3. Execute large-scale offensive operations in 2019, targeting areas necessitating increased Afghan Government presence and control
4. Realign the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense/Security Forces) to protect these expanded population centers, which represent 80 percent of the Afghan population.
However, this plan needs to be reinforced by the U.S. because, as of February, only 60% of Afghanistan is currently controlled by the central government and, as Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center puts it:
“You can enhance important training and advising programs for Afghan troops and provide a measure of reassurance to an Afghan military with low morale, which worries that U.S. forces will abandon the country.”
Kugelman’s view is backed up by the fact that more than 23,000 American troops have been wounded or killed in action and will not have been in vain, and any hypothetical increase under Trump would be to boost morale and support of currently stationed soldiers who are distressed by statistics like these; and it will also help advance Ghani’s plan to train the already 300,000 deployed ASSF/ANDSF troops. Additionally, 4,000 new soldiers would continue to resolve flaws in Afghanistan’s blooming democracy, such as, the controversial presidential election in 2014 when the U.S. helped moderate an agreement which incorporated a new system in which the audited vote produced the President and the “Chief Executive”, which is given to the losing candidate. This “unity government”, initiated by the U.S, helped pave the way for the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan history.
Historical standards give the indication that Afghanistan has always been resistant to dominating empires and recently, has incorporated radicalism in response to increased western resentment entering the 21st century. U.S. foreign policy has been primarily indecisive and has largely followed the public’s assent and dissent of the continuous war that is seemingly pointless. What distinguishes the U.S. from previous empires is our ability to identify our interest in Afghanistan which includes defending national security and combating the international opium crisis. President Trump has the opportunity to make this 17 year war worth fighting for and, for the first time, the core of the U.S. national security team is made up almost entirely of Afghanistan war veterans: Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford and Chief of Staff John Kelly. As of late, headlines pertaining to Afghanistan and the Taliban are not optimistic. American soldiers are being slaughtered every day and if the U.S. does not commit to finishing the “good war” and safeguarding Afghanistan, the world will face a re-surfacing of something far uglier than the modern day Taliban. Speculation holds that if all goes according to plan and Trump’s troop increases are improved under the yet to be confirmed SOS head, Mike Pompeo, we will hopefully withdraw from Afghanistan within a decade given the proper circumstances. If Americans support further development in Afghanistan and a curbing of the Afghani fueled “Public Health Emergency” of opioids in America, they will support the President and his experienced team in coordination with the competent Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, in adding more soldiers in the fight to stabilize, modernize and globalize Afghanistan.
Patrick Cannon is a Lead Editor at the DailyLead.