Fixing Afghanistan

A little more than six years into the U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan, we have reached a critical juncture, Caroline Wadhams and Lawrence J. Korb argue in a new report, “The Forgotten Front.” The executive summary highlights five steps:

1. Build Afghan Government Capacity

The Afghan government is unable to provide rule of law and services or meet its greatest threats because it is plagued with widespread corruption, an ineffective Ministry of Interior and police force, little to no control over the international community’s actions within its borders, and declining legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan population.

In a counterinsurgency strategy, strengthening the government is one of the most crucial elements for success—to defeat the insurgency, the population must see that it is in their best interest to support a government. This will only occur if the government provides rule of law, public services, and security.

The United States should support the creation and implementation of a judicial sector strategy to address the absence of rule of law, support efforts to curtail corruption, reform the Afghan police force and Ministry of Interior, and make the Afghan government a true partner in this approach.

2. Increase Security

Security has deteriorated since 2005, and the insurgency is strengthening due to an insufficient number of international and Afghan troop levels, a lack of equipment, a misguided military strategy, a disjointed coalition, a growing recruiting pool for the insurgency, and a safe haven in Pakistan.

The United States should increase troop levels by approximately 20,000 by redeploying troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, shifting the military strategy fully to a counterinsurgency framework, reducing civilian casualties, strengthening the Afghan National Army, and unifying NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and the United States’ separate Operation Enduring Freedom under one NATO command. All of these actions must be coordinated with civilian actors and integrated with other aspects of a counterinsurgency strategy.

3. Jumpstart Reconstruction

Reconstruction goals have not been met since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan due to inadequate coordination and implementation of a nationwide reconstruction strategy, insufficient funding, mismanagement of reconstruction monies, corruption, sidelining of the Afghan government, and growing insecurity. The United States, the Afghan government, and the international community must utilize more effectively existing development frameworks, increase U.S. assistance for reconstruction and development projects by $1 billion contingent on increased accountability and transparency of U.S. funds, allocate more funding through Afghan government trust funds, place the Afghan government in the lead of reconstruction, reform Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and provide more assistance on the local level and to other areas of the country besides the south.

4. Reduce Opium Production

Opium production has hit all time highs in Afghanistan; Afghanistan now supplies 93 percent of the world’s opium. The current counternarcotics strategy, as pushed by the United States, is working at cross-purposes with counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism objectives by focusing too heavily on the farmers and not the traffickers or leaders of the drug trade. The overall drug strategy must be reevaluated, higher-end actors in the drug trade must be targeted, aerial eradication must be taken off the table, and alternative livelihood programs should be increased.

5. Remove the Terrorist Safe Haven in Pakistan

The Afghan insurgency and Al Qaeda have reconstituted themselves in the borderlands of Pakistan. The historical isolation and weakness of the Pakistani government in these areas are the central reasons that the haven has emerged. However, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s accommodation of extremist elements and miscalculated approach in the tribal areas, and an outdated U.S. policy toward Pakistan, have further contributed to the sanctuary’s growth.

The United States must put much greater pressure on the government of Pakistan to disrupt the Taliban’s and Al Qaeda’s command and control, change the scope of U.S. assistance toward Pakistan, increase efforts to facilitate a political dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan, focus on economic development and strengthening governance in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and promote democracy in Pakistan.

The United States must work with the Afghan government and its international allies to implement a fundamental strategy shift in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By utilizing a counterinsurgency frame- work to focus on the five challenges addressed above, the United States and the international community can turn the situation around in Afghanistan.

Needless to say, none of those steps is even remotely easy and many are at cross purposes. The opium economy, in particular, will be almost impossible to destroy without undermining the government, increasing terrorist activity, and undermining reconstruction. And the Pakistan situation got much stickier with the weekend’s declaration of de facto martial law.

The full report [PDF format] is here.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Democracy, Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Cernig says:

    Hi James,

    Somehow I doubt this will convince the loyal base that we lefties were correct all along about Iraq being a distraction and Pakistan being a bigger threat than Iran.

    Still, maybe Steven Taylor could comment on the opium issue – is a widespread move to marijuana planting the answer? It’s less cash per pound, but grows more poundage per acre for less labor and actually has a legal market (in hemp fabrics, legal use in parts of the US and in other nations etc.)

    Regards, C

  2. James Joyner says:

    Somehow I doubt this will convince the loyal base that we lefties were correct all along about Iraq being a distraction and Pakistan being a bigger threat than Iran.

    Not sure whether this shows that. The regional players are so interrelated that cause and effect are hard to isolate.

    Certainly, Iraq has been both a resource drain and created political constraints with the other players, especially Pakistan. OTOH, I’m not sure what we’d realistically have done differently. Mushy has seemed the least worst option for years now and it’s not all that clear that has changed. (For a dissenting view, see Joshua Kurlantzick’ piece in TNR.)

    I don’t know that Pakistan is a threat so much as a problem. Iran’s regime is hostile to the USA in a way that Pakistan’s regime — or any plausible successor regime — is not. But Pakistan has more moving parts.

  3. Jim Henley says:

    Wadhams and Korb show no imagination. If we give the Afghans the power to translate themselves bodily to other planets on a whim they will have access to the wealth of the universe entire, and can defuse intergroup tensions by spending less time with each other. Plus, who’s going to sit at home growing dope when they can travel the universe?

    Now I’ll admit there may be problems with my plan, but it’s at least as feasible as the one from Wadhams and Korb.

  4. Cernig says:


    I don’t know that Pakistan is a threat so much as a problem. Iran’s regime is hostile to the USA in a way that Pakistan’s regime — or any plausible successor regime — is not.

    I beg to differ, and have for a quite some time.

    Regards, C

  5. graywolf says:

    Afghanistan has always been a mess and will always be a mess.
    Iraq is twice as big, has huge oil reserves and sits in the single most geo-strategic position in the region.

    To move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan is akin to the NYPD redeploying from Manhattan to Staten Island.

    Besides, I’ve seen enough of this guy Korb on TV to realize that he’s no friend of America.