Renewing America’s Commitment in Afghanistan

With Bush’s international credibility low due to Iraq, the U.S. will have to step up and renew its commitment to bring security back to Afghanistan.

President Bush is currently attending a NATO summit in Riga, Latvia where he has “appealed to NATO allies to provide more troops with fewer national restrictions” for the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan.

The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated dramatically in the past year as Taliban forces and al-Qaeda have strengthened. Insurgent attacks have reached 600 per month, compared to 150 per month last year, and so far this year 3700 to 4000 people have died in “insurgent-related violence.” This year also saw a huge increase in the number of suicide attacks—83 suicide attacks occurred in Afghanistan in 2006 compared to only one in 2001 and one in 2002.

Afghanistan needs a renewed commitment by the United States and NATO. President Bush is right to call for more troops and equipment for the fight in Afghanistan. NATO countries should increase their commitment to Afghanistan both in troop levels and in resources.

Yet the United States may not be able to depend on NATO to step up to this important task. Many NATO countries have opposed further involvement in Afghanistan. NATO is already 20 percent under strength in Afghanistan because countries will not commit more troop levels to the mission. And most NATO countries engaged in Afghanistan have imposed restrictions—or “national caveats”—on what their troops can do, which hinders coordination between countries and undermines fighting capacity.

The mission in Afghanistan is too important to let fail. Getting Afghanistan right is critical to preventing it from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. But the United States will need to increase its own commitment to this troubled mission in order to shore up the strength of the Afghan state. NATO is unlikely to offer President Bush sufficient troops and resources for Afghanistan while his international credibility is low due to failed operations in Iraq.

Afghanistan may continue to suffer as long as United States sticks to its current strategy in Iraq. The United States spends up to $8 billion a month in Iraq and is overstretching U.S. ground troops in Iraq to the breaking point. The Bush administration has continuously diverted crucial resources and forces from Afghanistan to Iraq, allowing the Taliban and terrorist groups to recover from the invasion five years ago, regroup, and now go on the attack.

It is not too late for America to respond. Troop levels in Afghanistan should be doubled to 40,000 from the approximately 20,000 U.S. troops deployed there today. These troops should be sent from Iraq to Afghanistan under NATO leadership as reinforcements. The United States must also provide more equipment and training for Afghan security forces.

Many of the problems in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, will not be solved by military means alone. Greater investment in Afghanistan’s economy and reconstruction is also essential to creating a stable state. The United States and the international community need to commit to a well-funded and well-managed long term economic development effort and the government of Afghanistan should take the lead.

The United States must also increase its diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and the region, and demand that its neighbors not meddle unproductively in its demise. As a first priority, the U.S. government must increase pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the pro-Taliban tribal militants who harbor global terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province.

For more on the Center for American Progress’ stance on Afghanistan, please see:

Experts available for comment on this issues at the Center for American Progress include:

  • Joe Cirincione, Senior Vice President for National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress
  • Caroline Wadhams, National Security Senior Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress
  • Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

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Caroline Wadhams

Senior Fellow