The Obama administration will soon release its much anticipated strategy on Afghanistan. Congress must subject this plan to comprehensive oversight and scrutiny in order to ensure the United States has a clear and comprehensive plan for advancing stability in Afghanistan and the broader region. Before it approves any additional funding for the war, Congress should require the Obama administration to outline a clear set of objectives with accompanying metrics and an implementation strategy that does the following:
- Establishes a flexible timeframe for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
- Ensures that the mission is shared with our international allies.
- Presses Pakistan to battle extremists within its borders.
- Requires good governance and internal reforms in Afghanistan.
- Plans for how the war will be funded.
The international community has a stake in fostering stability in Afghanistan and South Asia, and the United States is playing an important leadership role in addressing the security threats. The region is host to two nuclear powers and several terrorist networks with a global reach, and addressing these threats to global stability is vital. U.S. objectives should be to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a launching pad for international terrorism and to prevent a power vacuum in Afghanistan that would further destabilize Pakistan and the region. We believe that any strategy moving forward requires these five critical elements:
Set a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces
Ultimately, Afghans must take control of their own destiny. A flexible timeframe for U.S. military engagement is necessary; the United States and NATO should aim to turnover security in certain areas to the Afghan Security Forces beginning in 2011 and have all Afghan forces in the lead within four years, or the 12-year mark of our engagement. Throughout this time period, the United States must continue to prioritize the training of Afghan National Army and Police.
Maintain the international nature of the mission
The United States cannot advance stability in Afghanistan alone, nor should it have to. Instability in Afghanistan and the region affects the globe, and all countries must take responsibility for the mission. Currently, more than 40 countries are contributing to the NATO mission, but support for the mission in NATO countries is deteriorating. Canada and the Netherlands have decided to withdraw within the next two years, and attacks on United Nations employees have caused them to relocate hundreds of personnel outside of the country.
The U.S. administration must reassure allies through consultation and concrete steps that it has a viable strategy to address their concerns, especially corrupt Afghan leadership and the sustainability of Afghan security forces. It must also highlight the shifts in strategy that have already occurred, which were major points of disagreement with our European partners, related to civilian casualties and the absence of a regional strategy.
Insist that the Pakistani government battle extremists within its borders
Pakistan has served as a partner in the hunt for Al Qaeda and has recently undertaken some effective military actions against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. However, it has not yet taken sufficient steps to counter those militant actors within their territory that threaten regional security but do not directly target the Pakistani state. Its concern about threat posed by its neighbor India and the short-term nature of U.S. interests in the region have prevented it from undertaking any full-scale divestiture of ties to groups attacking coalition and Afghan troops like Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura in Balochistan or the network of Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani.
The United States should work with international allies to have a coordinated effort to shape Pakistan’s calculations and actions in order to reduce official support that it extends to militant groups, while playing a behind-the-scenes role in decreasing tensions between India and Pakistan.
Press reform and require good governance in the Afghan government.
The United States cannot defend an Afghan government that has little support from the Afghan people and continues to pursue policies of cronyism and self-enrichment. The majority of the Afghan people see their government as corrupt and predatory, and they possess few levers with which to hold these officials accountable. The Afghan constitution—which was developed in late 2001—created a strong central government in the form of the presidency and a weak parliament, and local governing structures have been weak and neglected. By supporting the re-entrenchment of former warlords in government positions and pouring aid money into Afghanistan with inadequate monitoring, the international community has played a critical role in enabling this corruption.
Moreover, the absence of effective local and national-level justice systems has ultimately allowed for a “culture of impunity” in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency has taken advantage of this situation by offering quick arbitration where none exists, thereby increasing their support in certain communities. The international community needs to pressure its Afghan partners to follow through on recent commitments to tackle corruption, and reform its own practices in order to provide the Afghan government with the political support necessary to confront well-entrenched figures. Ultimately the justice vacuum will only be solved when the Afghan government and its international supporters show the political will to demand and enforce its provision.
Pay for the mission
The United States currently spends more than $3.6 billion a month in Afghanistan, and these troop increases will raise monthly costs to at least $6 billion. The Bush administration hid the costs of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq by hiding the expenses in congressional supplementals, outside of the normal budgeting process. The nation’s debt is now approximately $12 trillion. The United States cannot push the cost of the war to future generations, and should not use the deficit to finance the conflict.
Recent articles by the Center for American Progress on Afghanistan and the region:
- How to Make Afghanistan a “Just War,” by Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite and Brian Katulis.
- Using U.S. Leverage to Strengthen Afghan Governance, by Brian Katulis.
- Our Faustian Bargains in Afghanistan, Caroline Wadhams, Colin Cookman, and Christina Misunas.
- Don’t Put All the Security Eggs in the Al Qaeda Basket, by Caroline Wadhams and Colin Cookman.
- The Wrong Question, by Caroline Wadhams.