Afghan Dilemma

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 will see the final farewell of US troops from Afghanistan and with their departure, the NATO mission will collapse. This replicates the situation in Iraq at the end of 2011, when NATO members pulled their troops out after President Obama announced the withdrawal of US troops.

Twenty years ago, I was part of the strategic planning team that wrote the UK response to the suicide attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in America, including 75 British citizens. This work, announced by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons on 16th October 2001, set out how to reintegrate Afghanistan as a responsible member of the international community and highlighted four options to end its self-imposed isolation.

We always envisaged that it would take decades of assistance and billions of dollars of aid to repair the damage caused by 23 years of civil war. The NATO mission that was established by the United Nations (International Security Assistance Force) was seen as a useful vehicle for non-member states like Australia and South Korea to help meet prevent Afghanistan being a haven for international terrorism, by building the Afghan security forces from scratch. It is worth noting that no British troops deployed as part of this force were killed in Afghanistan before the US invasion of Iraq.

The Afghan mission has succeeded in improving mortality rates, children’s education and gender equality, but it has also created an unsustainable dependency culture. The dilemma for the US leadership today is how to wean Kabul off international aid, while avoiding malevolent regimes from filling the vacuum. The effect of the US withdrawal could go two ways; one can easily envisage the Taliban taking retribution on those who benefited from American money and cancelling all the policies that have promoted women in society. My prognosis is that if we don’t want Russia and Iran to increase their influence as they have in Syria, we will have to redeploy British and American troops within three years, just like we did in Iraq when ISIS took hold of the northern part of the country.

Kabul December 2012

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