chapter  9
21 Pages

Afghanistan: from self- defense to state- building

The simultaneous terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 triggered the use of force by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, toppling the Taliban regime and “disrupting” the Al Qaeda network. While Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF ) continued to pursue remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, an international multi-agency stability operation under United Nations auspices designed to support the post-Taliban Afghan government was organized. When, a few years later, the Taliban revived, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF; initially a multinational force commanded by individual nations and later led by NATO) came to involve counterinsurgency operations, especially in the southern and eastern provinces. This chapter will discuss the bases of the intervention in Afghanistan, followed by two chapters taking up the performance of that operation and support toward it, respectively. The Afghanistan operation was distinguished by the expansion of the bases of intervention from a narrow focus on individual and collective self-defense and counterterrorism, combined with a “light-footprint”1 approach to state-building in the initial stages, to a more expansive focus over time involving counterinsurgency. For the initial military operation, the OEF initially had but one ethical basis: the right of self-defense against what was deemed a challenge to sovereignty by a non-state party through irregular use of force. Such an act of international terrorism was also defined as a threat to international peace.2 The later stability operation in Afghanistan, which comprised the ISAF and political and socio-development assistance provided by the broader international community, by contrast, had multiple ethical bases. First was support for state-building in Afghanistan-the construction of a legitimate, representative and effective Afghan state. Democratization and reconstruction were also recognized as formal bases of the operation. The Bush administration later rationalized the expansive task of “nationbuilding” by referring to the “democratic peace” thesis, which constituted a de facto ethical basis. The power-political bases of the Afghan operation included, most importantly, prevention of further terrorist acts perpetuated from

Afghanistan. This rationale was to be fundamental to other core rationales. Further, after expansion of the ISAF to areas beyond Kabul, the NATO-led mission engaged in counterinsurgency operations, especially in the southern provinces, against Taliban re-infiltration of the provinces. The narcotics problem was another basis, and counter-narcotics operations/activities also became increasingly connected to the counterinsurgency effort. Hence, the stability operation in Afghanistan was aimed at the creation of a set of political, security, economic and social conditions in Afghanistan that would prevent Al Qaeda and the Taliban from returning to and again entrenching themselves in Afghanistan. As the state failure of Afghanistan came to be seen as a menace to the creation of such conditions, addressing the problems of state failure provided another basis for various stability-related efforts there. Another important power-political basis of the stability operation in Afghanistan was, despite the apparent contradiction with arguments for expanding the operation to state-building, the assumption of the low cost of these operations. Initially, the operation was planned to take only a “light-footprint” approach to security and state-building, but it soon became clear that this would mean that a significantly smaller level of resources would be provided by the international community than would be necessary to secure the whole country and enable a robust program of development/state-building. The resource deprivation resulting from this approach would only worsen once the Iraq War began. The increasing gap between available resources and the realities on the ground jeopardized the US and NATO pledge that they would successfully defeat the insurgency and the credibility of the mission. The need to re-establish credibility, then, formed another power-political basis. In this context, the Obama administration’s March 2009 “Afghan Surge”—the increase at this stage of the troop level by 17,000, and with a shift in strategy for their deployment, and a range of changes in regional strategies-became the basis on which to re-legitimate intervention in Afghanistan. This was achieved by reinforcing the core purpose of the intervention, which had been to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Al Qaeda terrorist network and its extremist allies. Thus, while the original rationale of counterterrorism was re-emphasized, it was understood that those operations would be accompanied by counterinsurgency operations, with renewed focus on population security and enhanced assistance for governance, counter-narcotics programs and security sector reform, in a more comprehensive effort to enhance the legitimacy of the Afghan government. The new strategy was extended to Pakistan as well. That extension was followed by another increase in troop levels by 30,000 US troops and 7,000 troops from other NATO nations in December 2009. As such, this move reflected the recognition by the administration that Afghanistan, coupled with Pakistan, posed a greater danger to security than Iraq, and formed the true frontlines in the fight against terrorism.