Will more foreign troops bring peace to Afghanistan?

July 25, 2008

APCs of German ISAF in Afghanistan/Fabrizio BenschWith both U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain calling for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, there have been a slew of articles arguing this will at best not work and, at worst, fuel the insurgency.

The Financial Times quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former U.S. national security adviser and prominent supporter of Barack Obama, as saying the United States risks repeating the defeat suffered by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. “It is important for U.S. policy in general and for Obama more specifically to recognise that simply putting more troops into Afghanistan is not the entire solution,” he is quoted as saying.

“We are running the risk of repeating the mistake the Soviet Union made . . . Our strategy is getting in deeper and deeper.”

That theme is echoed in Canada’s Globe and Mail, whose correspondent in Moscow talked to veterans of the disastrous Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1889, which helped lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  “We knew by 1985 that we could not win,” it quotes veteran Ruslan Aushev as saying.  It then took Moscow four more years to extricate hundreds of thousands of troops.

File photo of old Russian tank near KabulIn the Gulf News, Patrick Seale says that trying to force through a military solution on Afghanistan would be a grave mistake which would only radicalise the Muslim world further, while Juan Cole writes in salon.com that Obama could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire by shifting the focus away from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Are these the voices of reason that might temper the new U.S. zeal for taming Afghanistan — hoping to succeed where both the British and the Russians before them failed? Or will they be dismissed as pessimists?

For those with the patience for long-term solutions, here is a detailed piece from the Belfer Center which argues that the solution lies in restoring the autonomy and authority of the Pashtun tribes in both southern Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. “Rather than seeking to extend the reach of the central government, which simply foments insurgency,” it says, “the United States and the international community should be doing everything in their means to empower the tribal elders and restore balance to a tribal/cultural system that has been disintegrating since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.”

At the other end of the scale is a suggestion by U.S. counterinsurgency expert John Nagl that Afghanistan institute a draft to call up Afghans to fight the insurgency. “It was good enough for the United States up until 1973,” said Nagl, an author and former U.S. Army battalion commander now at the Center for a New American Security think tank, according to this Reuters story. “How can it not be good enough for the fifth poorest country in the world which is afflicted by a difficult insurgency?”

No shortage of ideas out there then. But how many can be accommodated with the timespan of a U.S. presidential term, or indeed rushed through by the current U.S. administration, anxious to show a foreign policy success before President George W. Bush leaves office in January?


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Soviet intervention in Afghanistan took place in 1979, by 1985 the Soviets had already realized they cannot win. By then, an exit strategy was planned and it took almost four more years to withdraw from Afghanistan till 1989.
The US had intervened in 2001, it is about time for the US/NATO to clearly set objectives, define a clear course of action and take along all ethnic groups in Afghanistan with them to achieve those objectives. There should be time frames set for every task. No troop surge would be of great benefit, infact it could backfire and be counterproductive. The Afghans will grow frustrated by the presence of foreign troops and also as long as these forces will remain the Taliban elements will always have an excuse for violence. There should be reconciliation with Taliban, foreign fighter if any, should be expelled. Also, the anti-narcotics efforts are to be increased to stem the flow of drugs from Afghnaistan.
Mostly, the Karzai administration needs to show maturity now. Time is running out for Karzai, he has pointed out fingers on Pakistan many times. This has generated anti-Afghan feelings in Pakistan. Both these countries are neighbours and brotherly muslim countries. Their stability is linked to one another. Afghanistan being landlocked, is dependent on Pakistan for trade. Pakistan, so far has done much in order to promote stability and share the burden.
In short, more foreign troops will not bring peace in Afghanistan alone. It will take a firm commitment first by Afghan administration, the Pakistanis, US/NATO and coalation to rebuild the country and its institutions. To educate the Afghans, provide a hope of better future and also reconcile the Taliban. Once a person see hope for a better future, definitely they will lay down arms and re-integrate with the society.

Posted by UMPK | Report as abusive

This blog raises a lot of questions but the first thing for Reuter readers to remember is, is that Zbigniew Brzezinski is and always was a loser as a foreign policy advisor. Having questioned him at a press conference, I was shocked by his ignorance of strategic issues.

Juan Cole is an apologist for Islamofascism. You can find his record at www.DiscoverTheNetwork.org, a database site of www.frontpagemagazine.com, an online column-structured website for which I have ocassionally written.

The Russians lost in Afghanistan when they lost air superiority in terms of losing transport aircraft, helicopters, fighter-bombers, and possibly some large bombers. They could no longer seize the mountain tops and fire on the Mujaheedin below. Without these Spetnaz troops, the average Russian soldier just wasn’t up to the fight.

Resupply became a nightmare and whole convoys where destroyed with a tremendous loss of life and equipment/material. This is not happening in Afghanistan.

The Coalition forces rule the air and the ground below, which is why the Taliban and Al Qaeda have taken such immense losses in every major battle, and most minor ones. You need to read the daily reports from the Multi-National Forces press service to learn of what is happening there.

The Taliban will never be integrated back into a sane and civil Afghani society. Their way of life is to deal in death and domination, from shooting women in the head, to beheading teachers, hanging students, raping women, blowing up schools and govt offices, etc.

Also, the Taliban want and need the opium trade to finance their operations so why should they, as the first poster says, join in “efforts” … “to stem the flow of drugs from Afghanistan”?

As a journalist in South Vietnam during the war, I saw that a central government could win the “hearts and minds” of their people, with the help of Americans and other countries experienced in this type of political and psychological warfare.

The Viet Cong lost they claims to legitimacy when they failed to provide the people they conquerored with land reform, medical relief, markets, and agricultural developments which would change their lives for the better. I saw the success of our efforts there, esp. in the Dai Tam agricultural experimental facility where new and more productive versions of rice were being developed, and with the introduction of chemical fertilizers, rich production exploded in the Mekong Delta.

All this greatly improved the life of the average Vietnamese, and they were glad that the US and other groups were there to do this. We can do this in Afghanistan, but the Taliban must be militarily defeated, as well as psychologically defeated, and this can come about if the central government goes on the offensive.

Pakistan will always be a hellhole of terrorism and criminal gangs. The terrain is among the harshest on earth, so groups hiding along the border will never be completely eliminated, but we sure can kill a helluva lot of them. Eventually most will get the message that they are going to die, and they will achieve nothing.

I heard this from former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers and officers that I interviewed in So. Vietnam.

It will take a lot of time, lives, and materials to stabilize Afghanistan, but it can and must be done. Eventually Pakistan will also come to realize that they must stabilize their own country, even if it means wiping out specific groups and locations.

Karzai is the man to help keep Afghanistan together. Whether Mushareff and the present leader will be able to work together to calm down their country remains to be seen. But Pakistan cannot be allowed to get out of control. The going is gonna be rough and bloody, but it needs to be done, plus good civil action programs to bring jobs to destitute areas.

Otherwise, it will be Al Qaeda and the Taliban or tribes with nukes, and nobody in their right mind wants this.

Posted by Max Friedman | Report as abusive

More troops to Afghanistan will not help unless and until al-Qaeda and other terrorist outfits are eliminated in Pakistan.

More troops could be helpful if they intended to attack the epicenter of international terrorism and extremism that is called Pakistan, which is more or less in the hands of al-Qaeda who calls the shots in that entity. It is just a matter of time that al-Qaeda proclaim the Islamic Emirate of Pakistan, which is without any doubt the biggest security threat in the world.

Posted by kabura | Report as abusive

Putting more military power in Afghanistan as the history has shown will not work and even will backfire more stronger then what you see today. The best solution for Afghan problem is to talk to the oposition specially Hezb-i-Islami-Afghanistan led by Engineer Hekmatyar who also controls 60% of the Talib fighters. Karzi government with backing of 60 countries in the past 7 years have shown that they cannot do anything to bring peace to Afghanistan while filling their own pockets with the international money and drug sales. Let us not forget that Russia and Iran and China will never allow the US and Nato to stay behind their walls, and as they have started to supply the Taliban with new modern arms, they will put more in Taliban’s hand and pull the US/Nato more deeper into the fight so they can keep them busy in Afghanistan to take revenage and also have time to implement their policies else where in the world. We do see the effects of those activities daily in the international world as well as inside the US. One thing I know about Afghans is that they will fight to the last man in order to free their land from occupation, and if the US and its allies are ready for this, Afghanistan mountains are waiting for them. They can try their luck just like the Brits and Russians and we will see who will win.

Posted by David M. Abedi | Report as abusive

More troops work if they are used effectively.

Afghanistan is at risk, because people like General Petraeus and his philosophy are scarce commodities. NATO, Pentagon and intelligence bureaucrats, many masquerading in military uniforms, have consistently ignored and depreciated counterinsurgency warfare. Successful career development worldwide requires resumes applying advanced technologies for conventional warfare in Europe and on blue water seas to third world small wars. Counterinsurgency warfare receives scant attention for being low tech, labor intensive and unspectacular.

When General Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne in Iraq in April 2003 he said, “Now the hard part begins”. However, he had only two stars and did not co-author Army’s counterinsurgency field manual until 2006. The Marine Corps, not Army, has unpopular distinction for embracing the culture of counterinsurgency warfare. As Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace had the watch for internal political battles allowing General Petraeus prominence. Seldom would such a gifted, experienced soldier obtain significance needed within ossified intelligence and defense bureaucracies to implement proven counterinsurgency tactics.

Application of counterinsurgency tactics would increase momentum among local religious, tribal and political leaders to reject the Taliban and accept national government. The objective would be to help them make pragmatic, consistent decisions recognizing utility of aligning with Kabul. Afghan and NATO combined units would clear Taliban from marginal regions, remain militarily present, and allow reconstruction teams entry. Locals would assume authority as behavior confirmed commitment to national goals. In rebellious regions attacks would disrupt Taliban units planning offensives, until regular presence expanded from adjacent pacific areas.

Posted by Nolan Nelson | Report as abusive

The aggressive stance by Mr. Obama with respect to Pakistan raises some big questions: Is he going to end the war in Iraq and start a much bigger, far more dangerous and longer lasting war in Pakistan? Does he know that nuclear-armed Pakistan, a nation of 165 million people with about a million-man military, will be a far bigger challenge than Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran? Is he willing to radicalize moderate Muslims, destabilize Pakistan, and unwittingly aid the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in their quest to establish their extreme version of Islamic rule? Is Mr. Obama prepared for this local war in FATA to become a regional or global war? These are some of the troubling questions that Obama’s foreign policy team must ponder before undertaking any new adventures in Afghanistan or Pakistan. If elected, the answers to these questions and resulting policies will make or break the Obama presidency.

Posted by Riaz Haq | Report as abusive

there is no doubt that afghanistan needs more boots on the ground until afghans become able to deter his enemy either militarily or politically. there is also no doubt of more dollars in rebuilding afghanistan for afghans together with the american confirmation aloud to the neighbouring countries that afghanistan will be left alone to govern its terrority and foreign policy. that will work well from the afghan’s perspective.

Posted by shams | Report as abusive

British and Russians were no less powerful than the Americans in their own times and yet failed to subdue the Afghans. In certain respects they were in a better position to win in Afghanistan than the American. British had much more influence and control of the areas in the surrounding region and Russia was next door to Afghanistan and yet they failed. What makes America think that they will win this war which they are fighting on the opposite side of the earth from their homeland?
Let us forget about the recent American experience against a less formidable enemy in Iraq for the time being. America has used considerable force in Afghanistan for past seven years or so but what have they achieved so far? I reckon practically nothing.
My friendly advice to America will be to learn from the experience of others in Afghanistan and their own experience of wars in distant parts of the world and to read the writing on the wall.
An Afghan doesn’t have much to lose in this world and firmly believes he has much to gain in the life hereafter if he fights for his cause and dies. As it is, he has been seen to be more at peace with himself when he is at war. The war particularly now has become a way of life for the generation of Afghans that is fighting America for the freedom of their country following in the footsteps of their forefathers.
What should America do against an enemy such as this? Use more force? No! More force will only result in greater resistance to the foreign occupation and cause more deaths and mayhem on both sides than is now the case.
If the objectives of America in the Muslim world are indeed what it professes to be and not what the conspiracy theories claim then the solution to not only the Afghan problem but also to the Iraq problem, Iran problem, Pakistan problem, Palestine problem and all other such problems is a simple one. America should just review its foreign policy in the Muslim world and make it more just and equitable for all the countries in this region including Israel. Do this and you will see how the whole problem of terrorism gets dissolved in to thin air without the use of napalm and cluster bombs.
Will President Bush ever contemplate doing this? No! He is too much committed to win by force in Afghanistan before the expiry of his term in office. Will the next President of America do it? He may or he may not depend on whether he happens to be a ‘philosopher king’ or not. A ‘philosopher king’ was considered to be an ideal ruler by Socrates some 2,400 years ago. Anyway, even if he happens to be a ‘philosopher king’ he may have other compulsions and pressures from other quarters (which I needn’t name being so obvious) not to act this way. He may not be able to withstand or counter such pressures from such quarters because if it wasn’t for their support and consent he wouldn’t be sitting on his throne in the white house.
So for America to have a just and equitable foreign policy in the Muslim world it has got have a President who is not only a ‘philosopher king’ but who is also capable of winning the election without the help from any quarter representing the selfish vested interests of some country of the region.
In a nutshell I will say it is not more boots in Afghanistan but more wisdom on the part of America that will make some difference.
Till such a thing happens, I suppose, all we can do is pray for God’s mercy on all of us.

Posted by Kabir Das | Report as abusive

i sincerely dont think that sending more trops in afganistan will solve the pupose of restoring peace in afganistan.the solution lies in integrating the efforts towards uniting the different tribes which are poles apart and then locating the exact problem and finding the solutions.i personally feels that all the major powers of their times, be it RUSSIA,BRITAIN OR NOW AMERICA;are more interested in showing their MIGHT by invading afganistan rather than the GENUINE NEED of solving the exact problem existing their. ” WHO NEED A WAR WHEN MATTERS CAN BE SOLVED AMICABLY. but feels like america is making good use of ” DEPLETING WEAPONS ARSENAL ” by making use in afganistan. GOOD GOOING AMERICA. ” POWER CORRUPTS ‘

Posted by hitesh | Report as abusive

I think one of the problems and a major one at that is the lack of communication between Americans and Afghans.
The only language American know to speak is ‘force’. And the only language that Afghans don’t understand is ‘force’. This situation makes it incumbent on America to use some other language which Afghans may understand better.

Mr. Shams according to you: there is no doubt that afghanistan needs more boots on the ground until afghans become able to deter his enemy either militarily or politically.

May I ask you and who that enemy may be ???

Posted by Kabir Das | Report as abusive

With the fate of the western world at risk there should be alot of concern. At the same time, with the fate of Christianity at risk, God help us if we don’t get serious with Pakistan and let them know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that they will eliminate the terrorist in their country, or we will. At the same time, we need to let the government of Afghanistan know that they will step up to the task of governing their country and stop catering to the “poppy growers”. If they cannot agree and start taking the appropriate actions that region could serve as a “nuclear curtain” against the Russians, who are prophesied to march south. In other words, make it a radio-active waste land. Does anyone remember how many troops the Soviet Union sent into Afghanistan? I could be wrong, but I think it was 80,000 at first and in the hundreds of thousands later as they were attacked by roadside explosive devices, “RPG”(rocket propelled gernade[Soviet]) and “LAW”(light anti-tank weapon [U.S.]) attacks. In the U.S. Army, we were too busy practicing “interlocking fire” in hopes of stopping an army that out-numbered 5 to 1, if they tried to roll across Europe, to pay real close attention. Can you imagine how, at that time, I was real confused as to why we kept having to go to Ft. Irwin, CA. (The Mojave Desert)for months at a time to practice “Desert Warfare”?

Posted by Mike Emory | Report as abusive

Your comment is awaiting moderation? What’s that all about? Moderated with whom or by whom? Man, if I can’t express myself here, provided I’m not using profanity, sending pictures of myself walking around with my pants hanging down around my knees, or wearing a towel or wave cap around my head threatening to kill every American or policeman I see, what is there to moderate? I’m wondering if I should feel “offwended” or have I lapsed into a “Rip Van Winkle” and am just waking up to find out that Barak Hussien O’roadside-boma has already been elected as president of what used to be the United States of America? We’ll have debate on these matters or we’ll have revolution!

Posted by Mike Emory | Report as abusive

Dear Editors,
I guess I’m supposed feel very grateful that so far I’m 2 for 3 in having my comments posted.!? I’m not a college graduate in journalism, an indoctrination better referred to, in my opinion, as advocates of socialism or “obamanism” these days. I just feel that my best comment was not chosen to be posted. In your liberaly taught, infinate wisdom can you explain to me how the ignorant, the uneducated, the brain-damaged from drug use or parental (1960’s) drug use (normally some type of hippie-want-to-be) afflicted Americans will know that they don’t fit in with mainstream America? You’d think that for all that money that your parents spent for a piece of paper that says your smart you’d realize that even those who edit are under scrutiny in a socialist or islamic government.

Posted by Mike Emory | Report as abusive

I would like to send a comment to Mr. Kabir and Mr. Hitesh. Where are you? What country are you in right now? Afghanistan? Are you here in America? Why are you here now instead of Afghanistan or where ever you came from? Well, it seems to me, now that you’ve spent so much time here in the home of the free and land of the brave and have converted to Christianity, the religion of our founders, and that you’re an expert on what America should do, that you should go to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Maylaysia and and negotiate a peace treaty for us with the radical islamic terrorist. When you’re finished come on back to the good ole U.S.A. and let the average American decide if your head should be separated from your body by a noose!

Posted by Mike Emory | Report as abusive

Nice Topic…

Posted by Mack | Report as abusive

Mr. Mike Emory:
It would have saved you lot of effort and time to write what you wrote had you first ascertained which country I belong to and where am I right now. Well, be it known to you that I am a Pakistani and live in Pakistan. Now please go ahead and advise me accordingly.
However, before you do that please do let me know if you
a. have ever been outside your country.
b. know anyother language other than English.
c. have ever read any foreign news paper.
d. know about anyother religion other than Christianity.
Will look forward to your response. Have a nice day or night as the case may be.

Posted by Kabir Das | Report as abusive

Mr. Mike Emory:
You seem to have left this post without completing the discussion. Is it because:
a. You got convinced of my view point.
b. The few questions that I asked you were too tough or embarrasing for you to answer.

Posted by Kabir Das | Report as abusive