Search Polybore

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Afghanistan Exit Strategy.

It is the fighting season once again in Afghanistan, for Afghans it has been like this, pretty much every year, for as long as anyone can remember.

Polybore has been following the events in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion of 1979 when as a precocious 7 year old I wrote to Margaret Thatcher to suggest trade sanctions against the USSR in order to put pressure on them to withdraw.

Well Polybore did not have much influence with Thatcher, instead of trade sanctions she suggested that British athletes boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The Soviet Union remained fighting in Afghanistan for 10 years before their withdrawal in 1989.

What are the differences between the Coalition occupation and that of the USSR.

1. The USSR had a much larger force with up to 104,000 troops, currently Coalition forces are expected to reach approx 65,000 after reinforcement this year.
2. Coalition forces have a mandate to reconstruct Afghanistan and to support the Government. The USSR did not have a reconstruction mandate, per say, however they were there to support the Communist Regime that was governing Afghanistan at that time.
3. USSR troops killed by the end of the 10 year occupation numbered 14,427. During the Coalition's 7 year occupation 841 troops have been lost.

It is clear that the Coalition has had some hearts and minds success in Afghanistan when compared to the USSR occupation. With less troops they have sustained far fewer casualties and fighting has been less widespread during the Coalition occupation.

To sustain this success the Afghan people must have confidence in their Government. The danger is that the Coalition will end up propping up an unpopular Government which would alienate Afghans and result in increased support for the Taliban. Evidence of corruption and incompetence by the current Afghan Government is starting to emerge and this does not bode well for the Coalition's mission.

The truth is that there is no exit strategy. Realistically the Coalition are looking at having to be on the ground in Afghanistan for the next 30 to 50 years for there to be any chance of leaving Afghanistan in a state in which it can secure itself against the Taliban. With few countries comitting battle troops to the Coalition, and with Canada contemplating withdrawal beacause of this, the future of Operation Enduring Freedom is in doubt.

Should the people of Afghanistan begin to think that the Coalition may withdraw then the Taliban will become an increasing military threat. They will be able to move with greater support from Afghan villages looking after their future security in the event the Coalition withdraws.


  1. Your analysis of the situation matches my own. We are in Afghanistan for the long term. Until the Afghan people have a government and military force they trust and can rely on there will be a military presence needed. SIGH

  2. I read an interesting article in Prospect magazine by an author who has been closely involved in efforts to reconstruct countries like Afghanistan.

    She says that there is more than enough money from donor countries, but it is being being massively wasted by a vast array of NGOs. The civil service in Afghanistan has dwindled to almost nothing, and the brightest Afghans are being sucked into working for the NGOs because of the vastly greater salaries they can offer.

    There is nobody to run the place. Local militia groups are stepping in to collect taxes.

    Her answer is to provide money directly to the Afghanistan Government and local government, putting in place a very stringent system of accountability for those in charge of spending the money. She suggests ensuring a new generation of good leaders by pumping money into secondary and tertiary education, an area which is currently woefully deprived.

  3. Seems to be quite a mess at times. If only the U.S. weren't so distracted by Iraq, which sucks up so many of its resources. And the U.S. position in Iraq makes it hard for some countries to see clear to committing more troops to Afghanistan.