The Crisis in Afghanistan Deepens

The Taliban is strengthening with increased cash flow and accessible safe havens, but security is still within reach if U.S. acts quickly.

Taliban attacks against Afghan, U.S., and coalition forces in Afghanistan surged by 200 percent in December. Insurgent attacks climbed to 600 per month; a 400 percent increase over the number of attacks in 2005.

The House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold hearings this week to discuss this escalating crisis and hear testimony on current challenges in Afghanistan and strategies for restoring stability.

Afghanistan needs a renewed commitment by the United States and NATO. The Taliban is growing stronger every day, fed by increased cash flows from the opium trade, Arab donors in the Persian Gulf, and a safe harbor in Pakistan. Insurgents have imported tactics from the Iraq war, such as roadside bombings and suicide bombings, into the Afghan theater. Yet with increased troop levels, equipment, and diplomacy, it is possible to bring stability back to the region.

But Afghanistan will likely continue to suffer as long as the United States sticks to its current strategy in Iraq. The United States spends up to $8 billion a month in Iraq and is stretching 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 its 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.

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 must increase its own commitment to this troubled mission in order to shore up the strength of the Afghan state.

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

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Caroline Wadhams

Senior Fellow