The Taliban is not just a home-grown Afghan problem, but it will require a partly Afghan solution. If we don't recognise this now, the country will end up in a worse state than Iraqby Peter Bergen / November 23, 2008 / Leave a comment
In the November issue of Prospect, Jason Burke has argued that the west needs to better understand the Afghan origins of the Taliban if it is ever to win the war in Afghanistan. Here, the New America Foundation’s Peter Bergen provides a different perspective on the need for a new strategy in Afghanistan.
Soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, Taliban and al Qaeda leaders were on the run. Now they are running free. In Afghanistan’s eastern provinces, attacks are up by 40 per cent in the last several months, and more American soldiers are now dying in Afghanistan than in Iraq. By 2002, the Taliban were little more than a nuisance; today, they are encircling Kabul and ambushing convoys of supplies on their way to the capital, and have appeared in force in the neighbouring Wardak province. They are beginning to convince the population that international forces are losing control of the country.
One western diplomat in Kabul described Nato operations in the south of the country as “mowing the lawn.” Every year, Nato forces go in and clear out Taliban sanctuaries, only to have to go back the following year and cut back the new growth. This deteriorating situation has, finally, grabbed the attention of American politicians. Both presidential candidates have called for a significant increase in the number of US troops in Afghanistan. But simply throwing more soldiers at the problem won’t help unless the next occupant of the White House abandons our current stopgap approach, and initiates a “strategic reset” of the sort that helped the US military dampen the violence in Iraq.
To begin this reset, the west needs to understand its enemy. Today, the Taliban are not simply an Afghan movement. They are supported by a growing cast of foreign fighters, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Punjabi Pakistanis, and even Europeans, according to General David McKiernan, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, according to US intelligence reports, al Qaeda has regrouped along the porous Afghan-Pakistan border. Pakistan seems unable or unwilling to clamp down on leading militants in its territory, and jihadist attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan have occurred with alarming frequency in the past year. More Pakistani citizens died as a result of militant violence in 2007 than in the previous five years combined.
Controlling the Taliban, in turn, is tied directly to a new approach toward Pakistan.…