Afghanistan: How to define failure

The recent report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) on the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is bad news for those who believe in a military solution to the conflict. The report offers further evidence that the U.S.-led counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan has been unable to defeat or weaken the Taliban.

For the year 2013, the United Nations has reported an 11% increase in violent attacks and security incidents during the summer months, and a 14% increase in civilian casualties for the year as a whole. The U.S. military claims lowers numbers, but most analysts consider the UN figures more reliable. Unpublished assessments estimate a 15-to-20% increase in violent attacks for 2013, according to the ICG.

Violence appears to have escalated in the early months of 2014 as well. An Oxfam statement, quoted by ICG, reports “clear signs that armed opposition groups have gained ground in rural areas where security responsibilities have been transferred to the [Afghan security forces]. …  Security has deteriorated in some provinces and areas that were previously considered safe.”

Whatever the exact numbers, the trends show continued and probably increased levels of violent insurgency in Afghanistan. Little or no success has been achieved in suppressing what General David Petraeus described in 2011 as “an industrial strength insurgency.”

This after 13 years of U.S. and allied military effort, including the ‘surge’ of American forces under the Obama administration that brought U.S. troop levels to 100,000. This after the buildup of Afghan security forces to an estimated 345,000 troops by January of this year. This after estimated U.S. expenditures in Afghanistan of $641 billion through fiscal year 2013. This after tens of thousands of soldiers, insurgents and civilians have lost their lives.

After all that cost and effort, the Taliban is stronger than ever, and insecurity reigns through much of Afghanistan. That’s how you define failure.

2 thoughts on “Afghanistan: How to define failure

  1. Dear Prof. Cortright,
    Thank you for your great analysis.
    I am also wondering if you let me know your opinion about the ways which Taliban can be weakened in Afghanistan?
    Best Regards,

  2. After reading this, my biggest worries have been confirmed. For the first time in the history of mankind, waging war has not solved anything (not that it ever truly has; but sort of amicable solutions have been reached at more quickly in the past). I strongly believe that the whole world is going about solving the terrorism issue all wrong. I am not saying that we should accept terror by any/all means but if we do not want to be dealing with it ’till the end of time, we need to accept that the armed conflict way won’t solve it and start working on other avenues that breach to the heart of the issue. Case in point; my country Kenya; we are fighting the Al Shabaab, as a Peace Student, i feel that the military way should be for defense not for offense. I am worried that if we do not change our approach and tactics towards solving this terrorism problem we will end up at it for years God forbid decades. I would really like to discuss this with you at length Prof. Cortright. You have always been at the forefront of ringing the bell and alerting the major stakeholders and the world at large that the path they are on is not the right one and bring back a sense of logic and making everyone see the reality in which things truly are. With that said, i think the season for a fresh and new look as to the how of solving the terror problem is fast approaching…

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