The war in Afghanistan has lasted nearly 10 years, making it among the longest wars in United States history. The original mission, to respond to the September 11 terrorist attacks, has shifted into a broader effort against the Taliban. The U.S. attempt to secure a stable Afghan state has been ineffective and out of balance, with military operations dominating while political and diplomatic strategies are marginalized.
The Afghan government remains dependent on U.S. military support and has not been able to take responsibility for managing internal and external threats. Financing this war has required the U.S. to borrow $14 billion per month, draining crucial resources and adding to the deficit. At a time when the U.S. debt is of deep concern, defense savings should be a top priority. Many are fearful that President Obama is wavering on his previously stated timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011.
In the Platform for the Common Good , NETWORK affirms a commitment to conflict resolution through diplomacy instead of military force. We maintain that there is no “military solution” in Afghanistan. The sustained presence of troops will not create peace. We must encourage the Obama administration to follow through with an accelerated withdrawal of troops starting in July of 2011 as part of a transition to Afghan leadership and responsibility. The Afghan government needs to become increasingly less dependent on the U.S., and the U.S. needs to prioritize development and diplomacy in the region.
In order to further these goals, NETWORK urges the President and Congress to:
Engage the international community in diplomatic conflict resolution and strategic development in Afghanistan and the region. The demonstrated complexities of this military campaign and the shifting U.S. mission require a multilateral strategy for Afghanistan. International institutions and coalitions can facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. troops, encourage internal political reconciliation in Afghanistan, support economic development, and enhance other efforts to address complex challenges in the region. In addition to the UN and the NATO-ISAF coalition, the U.S. should look to the International Contact Group on Afghanistan – an established coordinating group on Afghanistan – and should welcome the participation of countries outside the NATO bloc.
Encourage regional dialogue, support, commitment, and cooperation from neighboring countries with shared interests in a stable Afghanistan. Achieving the level of security and stability required for the U.S. to withdraw troops will require the input of other countries in the region. These are actors who stand to benefit from political stability and economic growth in Afghanistan. The U.S. should secure support for the Afghan government in order to mitigate regional impulses to manipulate Afghanistan’s internal politics. This will require cultivating a positive relationship with Pakistan, taking steps to assuage Pakistani anxieties and ensure effective cooperation.
Work with central and provincial governments to ensure a transparent and effective rule of law free of corruption. The Afghan government has been plagued by questions of both legitimacy and capability. These uncertainties create domestic headaches for supportive foreign countries and undermine confidence in Afghanistan’s capability for self-sufficiency. The U.S. should pressure Afghan officials to formulate a strategy for political reform with clear benchmarks and deadlines. Funding may be used strategically as leverage. Goals should include boosting political participation, strengthening accountability mechanisms, and increasing government transparency. The U.S. should push for the implementation of electoral reforms to build confidence in legitimate Afghan governance.
Pursue expanded strategies of humanitarian assistance and broad-based development, including appropriate oversight mechanisms. Funding local agricultural, health, and education projects can ease economic desperation and empower Afghan citizens. These programs enhance citizen morale and improve the reputations of both the Afghan government and foreign actors. Moreover, development provides economic alternatives for Afghans who can lead their country toward peace and stability. Congress should shift funding from defense to civilian-led aid and reconstruction programs that emphasize Afghan community involvement. Also, the U.S. should implement oversight and accountability measures to ensure that money is spent effectively.
Distinguish military operations from development efforts. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) operated by coalition security forces in Afghanistan have blurred the line between security and reconstruction, jeopardizing the perceived neutrality of aid workers. The militarization of aid hampers the work of development, and impedes the delivery of aid by NGOs and other non-military agents. The U.S. should phase out militarized forms of aid and increase capacity for civilian agencies. This will permit military personnel to focus on security, put development professionals in charge of reconstruction, and reduce the risk of aid workers being perceived as legitimate military targets.
Reject increased use of drone weaponry as a replacement for troops. 2010 saw more attacks by unmanned drones and more individuals killed by drones than any previous year. The Obama administration has employed drones as a signature tactic in the region, primarily in Pakistan. However, drones have been shown to be indiscriminate and unreliable, having resulted in hundreds of unintended civilian casualties. These attacks generate popular resentment and undermine the U.S.’s moral standing in the region. The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan should not be subverted by an increase in drone presence.
The United States needs a framework for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and progress in Afghanistan. It is time for this expensive and mismatched military effort to yield to diplomatic and development strategies. We encourage Congress and the President to promote peace with justice, not war without end.