Time for the heavy lifting
By Peter Bergen It’s time to table fancy counterinsurgency doctrines about "connecting the Afghan people to the government" — Afghans have never had, and don’t expect much, in the way of services from their government, and it’s time now to focus on something much more basic: security. The last government to provide Afghans with real ...
By Peter Bergen
By Peter Bergen
It’s time to table fancy counterinsurgency doctrines about "connecting the Afghan people to the government" — Afghans have never had, and don’t expect much, in the way of services from their government, and it’s time now to focus on something much more basic: security. The last government to provide Afghans with real security was… the Taliban. When they ruled the country before 9/11, security came at a tremendous price: a brutal, theocratic regime that bankrupted the country and was a pariah on the world stage.
But in the context of Afghan history, the Taliban bringing security was decisively important, since what had immediately preceded their iron rule was a nightmarish civil war during which you could be robbed or killed at will by gangs of roving ethnic and tribal militias.
The United States learned the lesson of the paramounce of security in Iraq with some success starting in 2007. But the U.S. seems to have developed instant amnesia about this issue in Afghanistan. A glaring symbol of the collapse of security in the country is the 300-mile Kabul-to-Kandahar highway, economically and politically the most important road in the country, which is now too dangerous to drive on.
Who will then provide security? The Afghan army is relatively small and generally ineffective. The police are worse. The plans to ramp up the size and efficacy of those forces are, of course, a key part of the American exit strategy from the country. But that training mission is going to take years. Nor are NATO allies going to add significantly more troops. Indeed, a number of NATO countries are already heading to the exits.
That means that it now falls to the United States to do the heavy lifting in Afghanistan, and if the United States is serious about securing the country and rolling back the Taliban, the President really doesn’t have much choice but to put significant numbers of more troops on the ground. That way, he can start winning the war: win back the American public, roll back the Taliban — who at the leadership level have melded ideologically and tactically with al Qaeda — and provide real security to the Afghan people.
Peter Bergen, the editor of the AfPak Channel, is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and at New York University’s Center on Law and Security, and the author of The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader. He is CNN’s national security analyst.
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.