Remembering the Forgotten War in Afghanistan

A new independent study concludes that Afghanistan is descending into violence and risks becoming a failed state.

An independent study of Afghanistan, co-chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and former U.N. ambassador Thomas Pickering, released today has concluded that the country is indeed the forgotten front in the fight against global terrorism and risks becoming a failed state if more is not done to stabilize the country soon.

This assessment confirms the conclusions of the Center for American Progress’ own recent report on Afghanistan, The Forgotten Front, which highlighted the deteriorating security situation and a failing mission in Afghanistan and called for a dramatic shift in U.S. policy that would result in devoting greater resources and military manpower to Afghanistan.

The Center’s report established two central goals for the mission in Afghanistan: denying sanctuary to Al Qaeda and its affiliates and building a stable and secure state that is not threatened by internal conflict and does not threaten its neighbors. Yet, the authors of the report, Caroline Wadhams and Lawrence Korb, argued that these objectives were under threat due to deteriorating security, weak governance, a booming opium trade, and stalled reconstruction in Afghanistan, as well as insurgent safehavens in Pakistan.

The new Jones-Pickering study echoed these views, citing “resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges, and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country” as evidence that any progress seen in the last six years in the country is fragile and endangered by the current shortsighted policies of the Bush administration.

The Jones-Pickering report’s conclusions are nothing new. For the past two years, security in Afghanistan has been deteriorating. The stakes there are too high to risk failure, but success is within reach if the United States is willing to boost efforts to build a stable state.

Yet the Bush administration consistently neglects the mission in Afghanistan and fails to understand what it will take to succeed. Last week, Bush reluctantly agreed to send a mere 3,200 more troops to the country on a temporary basis, while Defense Sec. Robert Gates told the Associated Press, "I would say that the security situation is good.” Further understating the problems, he continued, “We want to make sure it gets better, and I think there’s still a need to coordinate civil reconstruction, the economic development side of it."

Gates glosses over the truth in Afghanistan. As the Center’s report demonstrates, suicide and roadside bombings were at unprecedented levels in 2007; last year was the deadliest on record for U.S. and foreign troops; the Taliban have reformulated and taken control of vast expanses of southern Afghanistan; and Al Qaeda has reestablished its command and control, its funding sources, and its training camps in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan needs at least 20,000 more troops, in addition to support from the United States for reconstruction and stabilization efforts. The United States must escalate efforts to strengthen rule of law, combat the drug trade, support locally led development projects such as the National Solidarity Program, and create a reliable police force—while allowing the Afghan government to take the lead.

Renewed attention to the mission in Afghanistan in Congress and from several other reports due to be released today should serve as a wake-up call to the Bush administration about this forgotten front. The United States must increase its own commitment and oversight to this troubled mission in order to shore up the strength of the Afghan state, regardless of the commitments made by other NATO countries and the international community. Getting Afghanistan right is critical to preventing it from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. This is the war we cannot afford to lose. It is the central front in fighting terrorism.

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