Published On: Wed, Mar 5th, 2014

Fighting Afghan Terrorism, Without Troops

Fighting Afghan Terrorism, Without Troops


 Fighting Afghan Terrorism, Without Troops
Staff Sgt. Thomas Taylor patrolled a village near Kandahar, Afghanistan, on March 1.

The White House is preparing for a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan, even though that seems risky. If the U.S. and NATO pull all troops out of Afghanistan, what else can the international community do to minimize the risk of a terrorist resurgence?

Adjusting the War on Terror to Fit the Times

 Celeste Ward Gventer

Celeste Ward Gventer is the associate director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Having no troops or bases in Afghanistan would limit U.S. operational flexibility in tracking and interdicting terrorist threats there. American forces now enjoy proximity, relative freedom of action and manifold intelligence, communications and transportation assets. Common sense and physics suggest that these advantages will be eroded if no American forces remain in country.

But we do not yet know the future scope of the terrorist threat from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The operational requirement is thus probably not a straight-line projection from the past. Much will depend on how the region adapts to the departure of U.S. and NATO forces.

Incentives for regional cooperation have grown. The Taliban may be less welcoming of Al Qaeda. And air strikes will still be possible.

Some operations may be unnecessary or less urgent when no U.S. troops remain. Not all radical groups in Afghanistan have global goals. The presence of Western forces may have aided these groups’ recruiting and offered their members reachable targets. But they will not necessarily morph into future threats to U.S. interests or the homeland.

Al Qaeda is still a factor there, but the organization has dispersed around the globe. Some worry that Taliban elements could retake the government and again provide Al Qaeda sanctuary. But much has changed since Sept. 11, 2001.

The United States knows much more now than it did 13 years ago. If radical groups seized the country, the United States could threaten (and be prepared to inflict) grievous consequences for harboring Al Qaeda and its fellow travelers. The Taliban knows much more now, too; they may not make the same mistake twice. In any case, it is not yet time to play a funeral dirge for the Kabul government.

The politics of the region are also evolving as states prepare for NATO’s departure. There are signs that India and Pakistan, which have long played out their bitter rivalry in Afghanistan, may see a mutual interest in stabilizing that country. India has shored up its relationship with Afghanistan, and is likely to play a greater role there. U.S. relations with Pakistan are mending, and U.S.–India cooperation continues to grow. Regional harmony may not suddenly break out, but there are incentives for cooperation.

If all U.S. troops depart Afghanistan, the terrorist threat will evolve in ways not yet clear. It may not disappear, and the United States would have to rely on longer-range and sea-based assets to deal with urgent threats. But inconvenience may have the salutary effect of making strikes more selective. In the longer term, the stabilization of Afghanistan will require painstaking diplomatic work. There are no easy answers, but there may be no other choices.

Rely on Iran and Pakistan for Help

 Haleh Esfandiari

Haleh Esfandiari is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Assuming President Karzai will not sign the bilateral security agreement and President Obama makes good on his threat to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the security situation in Afghanistan will deteriorate rapidly. The Taliban will celebrate and, along with other insurgent groups, will launch attacks against vulnerable targets in small, provincial towns and gradually consolidate their power.

If the nuclear deal between Iran and the U.S. advances according to plan, the Iranians can use their influence in Afghanistan and with a number of the warlords in a positive way.

Kabul and the big cities may be spared large attacks because the Taliban lacks the means for a major operation like the Tet offensive the North Vietnamese carried out in 1968. But even Kabul may not be spared acts of terrorism and assassination like those we have witnessed sporadically in Afghanistan and almost daily in Iraq. There are also warlords who will take advantage of a weaker central government to settle old scores, establish territorial control and seek to increase their weight and influence.

The United States and its allies, unable to fully end such violence even with a massive military presence, will hardly be able to control it once they leave. The U.S. will have to rely on Iran and Pakistan to contain the Taliban, at least along their borders. If the nuclear deal between Iran and the U.S. advances according to plan, the Iranians can use their considerable influence in Afghanistan and with a number of the warlords in a positive way. It will be in Pakistan’s interest, too, to prevent disorder in a neighboring country; and the U.S. should assist it to do so.

The U.S. can, if necessary, use drones from its air bases in Central Asia to attack Taliban targets in Afghanistan. Lacking troops on the ground, the U.S. must also focus on containment, preventing internal disorder from spilling across Afghanistan’s borders and the export of this violence elsewhere. The U.S. must also help whoever succeeds Karzai as president to set up a government that is representative, committed to the rule of law and free of corruption; and it must remain vigilant against terrorist attacks on the home front.

Afghan Stability Is in India’s Interest

 Javid Ahmad

Javid Ahmad is a program coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He is on Twitter.

After months of U.S.-Afghan brinkmanship, many now consider an American withdrawal from Afghanistan inevitable. Washington’s “zero option,” however, does not represent the end of international engagement in Afghanistan. For regional stability, India should assume a more active role to ensure a stable post-2014 Afghanistan and to minimize the risk of terrorist resurgence.

Washington’s ‘zero option’ would not end international engagement. Other nations, especially India, should step up.

India should have no problem with deepening its economic and security links with Afghanistan. Building on its long-term investments in Afghanistan’s development, India can consider providing technical assistance in sectors like mining, textiles and information technology that could expand employment and foreign investments. India’s increased role in building Afghanistan’s economy can make the country an integral part of a Central Asian trading corridor.

Aside from the economics, Indian leaders are aware of the security landscape. A complete pullout of American and NATO forces would leave a vacuum to be filled by Pakistan-backed militant groups, which would imperil India’s internal security. To avoid this outcome, India can consider heightening its military cooperation with the Afghan government. This can be done by providing Afghan forces with military hardware, artillery and armored vehicles; training Afghan intelligence operatives in gathering technical intelligence; bolstering the ability of the nascent Afghan air force by supplying necessary spare parts to operate its small fleet of helicopters; and deploying advisory teams to train the technical and maintenance personnel of the Afghan forces.

But there will be obstacles. India’s efforts in Afghanistan could further Pakistan’s many deep-seated insecurities about India’s role there. But it’s not all about Pakistan – and Pakistan should keep this in mind. India’s assistance would be aimed at sustaining the Afghan government to stay operational after 2014 and to ensure regional stability. India’s assistance will go through the Afghan government, and not through any Afghan factions, leaving little room for suspicions. Afghanistan does not choose sides in its ties with India and Pakistan, and, as it does with India, the Afghan government can also work with Pakistan in security and other sectors. Pakistan can consider matching India’s broad support for the nation, rather than betting on one faction or the insurgency.

India had a spike in terrorism in the early 1990s after the Soviets left Afghanistan, including the hijacking of an Indian airliner in 1999 to Kandahar. A terrorist resurgence in Afghanistan could again hurt India. It’s a perilous moment, but full of opportunity as well – a chance for India to ensure Afghan sovereignty and stability, in the interest of both nations.

To Stem the Violence, Rethink Global Drug Laws

 Ernest Drucker

Ernest Drucker, a professor emeritus in the department of family and social medicine and the Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a senior research associate and scholar in residence at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

As we exit one war in Afghanistan, it may be time to take on another one – the war on drugs. The case of Afghanistan illustrates how a commodity that almost anybody can grow anywhere can easily become a major source of income for some of the poorest people in the world, producing irresistible economic opportunities. That these commodities also happen to spread death and social carnage in their wake – like the estimated 130,000 murders in Mexico in a decade – is generally blamed on the drugs themselves and those who use them. But it is the billionaire entrepreneurs who operate this lucrative trade, often in collusion with government, who are the source of the violence. And it is exactly because lawmakers have made drugs illegal that the drug business has such economic allure and is so lethal. The economic potential is why so many regimes around the world have chosen to perpetuate the industry, to their own advantage.

It is exactly because lawmakers have made drugs illegal that the drug business has such economic allure and is so lethal.

The leaders of these multibillion-dollar exporting regimes don’t care about the collateral damage: If the illicit drug trade fosters addiction, violence and corruption and spreads infectious diseases like AIDS – that’s someone else’s problem. Further, the market for pharmaceutical drugs now blends seamlessly with the stream of illicit drugs, turning vital medications like painkillers into the principal causes of drug-related deaths. In the U.S. now, 57 percent of our nearly 40,000 drug-related deaths each year are associated with prescription pharmaceuticals.

In addition, these drug markets also undermine global security, compromising all borders and corrupting their guardians. If you want to smuggle a dirty bomb into the U.S., you could always conceal it in the tons of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and other drugs that regularly enter the country. We must break this deadly link between drug trafficking and national insecurity before it does us even greater harm.

The U.S. military’s departure from Afghanistan will give the global community an opportunity to re-imagine international drug policy – with Afghanistan as a test case. To fight drug abuse as a public health problem, we could buy the country’s entire opium crop and use it for medications and safe addiction treatment. This could cut demand and undermine the drug trade that supports Afghan warlords.

As NATO and the U.S. end their complicity in the Afghanistan heroin trade, world leaders can begin to renegotiate a global regime based on public health outcomes and impacts on human rights. And unlike the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that’s a war we can actually win.

An Effective Military and Good Government

 Ali Ahmad Jalali

Ali Ahmad Jalali is a distinguished professor at the Near East South Asia Strategic Center for Strategic Studies in the National Defense University in Washington. He served as the interior minister of Afghanistan from January 2003 to October 2005.

The presence of U.S. and NATO military forces in Afghanistan is considered only one of many factors that contribute to stability and prevent the terrorist resurgence in the country. As we consider the future of Afghanistan without those troops, we should keep in mind what an international presence can do and what it cannot do.

Their continued presence helps to develop the Afghan national security forces and serves as a deterrent to the return of global terror groups. It may also foster international funding for Afghan troops. Further, the presence symbolizes continued international commitment to Afghanistan, building hope among Afghans and encouraging the armed opposition and its supporters to seek political settlement of the conflict. For all these reasons, many hope that a bilateral security agreement can still be reached, to avoid an abrupt and total pullout.

Foreign troops alone cannot bring peace and stability. Afghanistan needs a legitimate government and a stronger national security force.

However, foreign troops and money alone cannot bring substantive changes toward peace and stability to the country. Afghanistan also needs a legitimate and effective government committed to the rule of law, social justice and human security. Similarly, without major improvements in the operational, logistics, intelligence and communication capacity of the Afghan national security forces, the presence of U.S. and NATO troops cannot change the situation drastically. The insurgency and terrorism in Afghanistan is a regional problem. Meaningful cooperation from Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, will go a long way toward stemming the terrorist and extremist groups in Afghanistan.

With the withdrawal of the international military forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the gap between the assumed level of threat and the Afghan security forces’ capacity to meet them is expected to be wide and real. We must strive to narrow that gap by lowering the level of the security threat and improving the capacity to respond to threats.

The first steps may include the emergence of a legitimate and effective government following the April presidential election; progress toward reconciliation with the Taliban; and cooperation from Pakistan to target the terrorists bases and stem cross-border attacks. The second set of measures would include international financial support to Afghan security forces and the economic sustainability of Afghanistan; improved capacity of the Afghan forces; and reducing the shock of immediate economic decline after the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Although there is no good substitute for the residual presence of international troops in Afghanistan, make no mistake: The presence has not been the sole means of stabilization. It has supported the true key to stability, good governance. During the past 50 years, insurgencies have most often failed to defeat effective governments. More often, governments defeat themselves. Afghanistan can avoid that fate, even without U.S. and NATO troops.

The Afghans Are Already Dealing With the Taliban

 Adrian Bonenberger

Adrian Bonenberger was an infantry officer in the Army between 2005 and 2012, where he deployed twice to Afghanistan. He is the author of “Afghan Post,” a memoir. He is on Twitter.

The most dangerous area of Afghanistan has been the eastern border with Pakistan. It’s where we saw the most combat.

Afghans have done what they can to avoid bloodshed. They’ve struck deals with the Taliban and fought when necessary, achieving equilibrium in the process.

The American-led coalition has already drawn down to near zero there. The region is Afghan-patrolled and Afghan-administered. Certain areas of that border have already reverted to Taliban rule. The Afghan security forces have struck deals there and elsewhere with the Taliban when possible, and fought when necessary, achieving equilibrium in the process. These terms of “peace” would be unacceptable to us, but Afghans on both sides have done what they can to avoid bloodshed, given the chance.

Maybe the Afghans were always more capable of dealing with the Taliban than we were. We’ve been so focused on giving them M-4s and Humvees and teaching them to fight like we did in World War II, it comes as a surprise that, left to their own devices, Afghans are finding more effective solutions than we ever did.

Afghanistan won’t revert to terrorism when the U.S. leaves because it already has. And in certain ways, it’s as if we were never there to begin with.

Patience to Deal With Perceptions

 Fawzia Koofi

Fawzia Koofi , a candidate for the Afghan presidential elections in 2014, is the author of “The Favored Daughter,” a memoir.

The fight against terrorism is a war of perceptions. For example, the Afghan people fought the former Soviet Union but it was the violent extremists who took credit for defeating the super power. And it was this perception that made Afghanistan so attractive to Al Qaeda and other extremist Taliban allies in the region and beyond.

Some foreign military presence in Afghanistan will let the Afghan people know that the extremists’ perceptions are wrong, and that the international community is still committed to their country.

Now imagine the morale boost violent extremists and other terrorist groups will gain when the U.S., along with more than 50 other countries, withdraw from Afghanistan when all the shared achievements made since 2001 remain fragile. They will feel elated and invincible convinced they have defeated not only the U.S. but the entire world. It will be further confirmation for the Taliban and regional terrorist groups that violence is the path to success and power.

The current political instability and delay over signing the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States adds to the extremists’ perception of their strength and inevitable victory.

But some foreign military presence in Afghanistan to support the Afghan National Security Forces, who are a natural ally in a hostile region, will let the Afghan people know that the extremists’ perceptions are wrong, and that the international community is still committed to their country. And with support for Afghan civil society, human rights and women’s groups, and the shared achievements made since 2001, Afghanistan can stay on the path of moderation and democracy.

To achieve this though, patience is required, something that is hard to come by in Washington and in Kabul these days.

A Longer Term Counterterrorism Strategy

 Gülnur Aybet

Gülnur Aybet is a professor of international relations and head of the department at Özyeğin University, Istanbul. She is the co-author of “NATO in Search of a Vision” and heads a partnership between her university and NATO in which information and advice are shared among academics and NATO officials.

Renewed terror attacks take time to plan. Therefore, there may not be an immediate surge of terrorism once the NATO combat troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. But to meet the challenges presented by potential local ethnic conflicts and the Taliban, which remains a strong presence, the West’s counterterrorism strategy has to be a more long-term approach.

A counterterrorism strategy focused on drone strikes will alienate societies against the West. Economic and development assistance and regional cooperation is a better approach.

Any terror threat will adapt to changing circumstances in the region. One of these is a possible sweep of new governments throughout Central Asia replacing the present long-reigning aging leaders. If this happens, these governments will have to be briefed on counterterrorism, and NATO can do this by stepping up the 2002 Individual Partnership Action Plans with Central Asian states, which was a post 9/11 imperative but dropped off NATO’s priority list as the focus shifted to operational solutions such as drone strikes.

While drones are said to decrease the frequency and lethality of terrorist attacks — particularly I.E.D. and suicide attacks — they inflict long-term damage, which alienates societies against the West. NATO and the U.S. need to find new innovative ways to combat hybrid warfare that blends conventional, asymmetric, irregular, terrorist, criminal and cyber capabilities.

The West must continue to provide development assistance, invest in societies and state building, and move the labor force away from the illegal economy of drug and arms trade. It is important that this is done not under Western leadership alone but in concert with regional actors, including Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India and China. Meanwhile, security cooperation, particularly with Pakistan, will be essential in troubled regions like Balochistan and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan with its close ties to the Taliban.

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