Afghanistan: Stabilization and counterinsurgency performance
The performance of the Afghanistan intervention was characterized by failure in stability operations, resulting, as in the case of Iraq, in the need for counterinsurgency operations. Despite the forceful arguments presented in launching the intervention for self-defense and the prevention of terrorism, its objectives were not backed up by adequate resources. In addition, the initial rationale for and the conduct of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF ), with its focus on a small force, continued to influence the way in which the later counterterrorist and stability operations were conducted. Inadequate attention to stability operations especially in the first few years based on the idea of the “light-footprint” approach, ambivalence about “state-building” and untimely preoccupation with Iraq significantly narrowed the chances that Afghanistan could establish a legitimate and functional government. The Taliban were quick to take advantage of the relatively scant presence of US and international forces in areas outside Kabul over several years between 2002 and 2006, as well as popular discontent at the lack of progress in reconstruction/development, absence of effective administrative apparatus and the deteriorating legitimacy of the Afghan government. Instability in Pakistan along the Afghan border, where both Al Qaeda and the Taliban had established headquarters since American and coalition action in Afghanistan in 2001, was also strongly linked to instability in Afghanistan. Contradictions among the different bases of legitimacy for the intervention had a negative impact on performance. The assumption of the intervening nations that the various high-minded objectives they had set could be achieved at low cost and without serious risks or sacrifices undermined the effectiveness of the operations. Some operations that were logically and realistically linked and required coordination —notably counterterrorism and counterinsurgency-were understood to be quite separate. The US in particular failed to associate its narrower focus on counterterrorism with the broader tasks of counterinsurgency and statebuilding. Europe, for its part, initially underestimated the pivotal tasks of counterinsurgency, preferring to present the mission focus as reconstruc-
tion operations. Conduct of the intervention also suffered from poorly coordinated provision of international aid, and insufficient attention to establishing the rule of law, curbing corruption and dismantling the narcotics trade. When, moving into unstable areas in Afghanistan, the insurgents began to return from their sanctuary in Pakistan and establish a grip once more, stabilization as a whole became even harder to attain, setting in motion a vicious circle in which stabilization failure further strengthened the insurgency and made it harder for donors to justify pouring in more resources. The 2009 Surge was intended to reverse the situation by an increase in capabilities and a shift in counterinsurgency strategy. However, poor governance, as evidenced by the fraudulent election of August 2009, created difficult conditions for either state-building or counterinsurgency, complicating also efforts to prevent further terrorism beyond 2009. The following sections look first at the failures of operations in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region in the initial phase of OEF and the broad-ranging implications those failures were to have for later operations. An examination of stabilization follows, covering the ethical elements of state-building, democratization, reconstruction and democratic peace. The discussion then moves on to each of the power-political elementsprevention of terrorism, counterinsurgency, counter-narcotics and dealing with failed states-and finally, the 2009 Afghan Surge.