Afghanistan: From adequate to dwindling support
Support for the operation in Afghanistan was fairly strong at the beginning but grew increasingly weaker as time went on, crippling the purposes of the intervention at crucial stages. Launched in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks, when a military operation was seen as required for selfdefense of the US and the international community, the intervention initially attracted broad-based support. The ensuing stability operation also attracted broad-based support at the beginning, as the world public became cognizant of its responsibility to rebuild Afghanistan in order to sever the link between its failed state apparatus and the terrorist elements which flourished in that environment. As the bases of the Afghanistan operation expanded from self-defense and counterterrorism (and limited intentions regarding state-building for the Kabul regime) in the 2001 to 2005 period to costly counterinsurgency in 2006, however, public support from around the world dwindled. The failure of the intervening parties to prevent insurgency by effective stabilization follow-through (see Chapter 10) and the extremely high cost of the ensuing counterinsurgency campaign caused public support for the intervention to decline. The public in donor countries, while sensitive to the link between the ongoing counterinsurgency operation and the ultimate purpose of intervention (i.e., self-defense and the prevention of terrorism) nevertheless remained reluctant to accept the cost, sacrifices and resources necessary to succeed in counterinsurgency. The most critical factor for the public in donor countries was the Afghan government’s competence and legitimacy to govern the country, without which any counterinsurgency efforts would be futile. The intervening states were reluctant from the beginning to provide forces and resources needed for comprehensive state-building and reconstruction, and as the insurgency worsened they began exercising “national caveats” or self-imposed limitations regarding the roles their forces would play as part of the international presence there, ultimately depriving the intervention forces on the ground of the resources needed to fulfill their mission. Such reluctance to accept the costs and risks inherent in an operation may have reflected dwindling public support in the intervening
countries for the operation, but contradicted the proclaimed importance of the interests involved in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which had been to provide self-defense and to protect international security by countering global terrorism and the menace emanating from the presence of both Al Qaeda and nuclear arms in Pakistan. Afghans, too, were disappointed not only with the performance of their own government, but also with the international community, especially when better security and governance was not established. They did not, nonetheless, “give up” on the new political process that the intervention had started to put in place to replace Taliban rule. This underlying support from Afghans toward the new political process and intervention, despite increasing levels of disappointment for them, especially during the 2006 to 2009 period, provides justification for the continued international presence. However, considering the dwindling support among the public of the intervening parties, legitimation of the intervention became a critical factor for sustaining the intervention. The following sections discuss, first, the nature of initial support, followed by the reasons why material support was not forthcoming. Finally, I will discuss the continuous weakening of support caused by the perception among the public in the intervening countries that the goals and purposes the intervening governments put forward were not achievable and could not be effectively pursued with the available means.