Afghan Forces Cannot Go It Alone
Afghan Forces Cannot Go It Alone
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
Op-Ed / Asia

Afghan Forces Cannot Go It Alone

The biggest misconception about the Afghan war is that the conflict is ending. President Barack Obama encouraged this view in his 2013 State of the Union address, declaring: "By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over." He repeated a similar claim on Veterans Day. If the president was reading the Pentagon's reports to Congress, it's easy to see how he got the wrong idea. The U.S. military's assessment is that violence has fallen and "Afghan security forces are now successfully providing security for their own people."

Such rhetoric paves the way for a U.S. exit, but it doesn't help Afghans. If local forces were successfully securing their people, we would not be seeing more civilian deaths. In fact, the United Nations reports that civilian casualties rose 16 percent in the first eight months of 2013.

Fierce battles this year also saw local security forces endure record casualties. Across the country, the UN found a rise in violence—up 11 percent this summer. Other analyses by Western experts show even greater escalation.

This reality on the ground refutes the Pentagon's picture of a war that is cooling down. I've been studying transitional areas for the International Crisis Group as we prepare a report on the insurgency, and have found that security worsened in many places as foreign troops pulled back. The situation has calmed in some locations, but local elders warn that insurgents still control large parts of the countryside and may be waiting for a better time to attack.

Why does this matter? President Hamid Karzai must sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States. The Afghan government may not have the firepower to stand without a deal in the short term. Also, the United States and other NATO countries need to stay engaged on security issues after 2014. Afghan forces have a fighting chance, but they need significant help—helicopters, logistics, and many other kinds of assistance—to keep the insurgents at bay.

Podcast / Asia

The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s foreign relations and what the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul says about the threat from transnational militants in Afghanistan a year into Taliban rule.

On 31 July, a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul. Zawahiri appears to have been living in a house maintained by the family of powerful Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. His death came almost a year after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban routed the former Afghan security forces and seized power. The Taliban’s uncompromising rule over the past year has seen girls denied their right to education, many other rights and freedoms curtailed and power tightly guarded within the Taliban movement. The Afghan economy has collapsed, owing in large part to the U.S. and other countries’ freezing Afghan Central Bank assets, keeping sanctions against the Taliban in place and denying the country non-humanitarian aid. Levels of violence across the country are mostly down, but Afghans’ plight is desperate, with a grave humanitarian crisis set to worsen over the winter. The Taliban’s apparent harbouring of Zawahiri seems unlikely to smooth relations between the new authorities in Kabul and the outside world. 

This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s broader foreign relations after Zawahiri’s killing. They discuss what his presence and death in Kabul mean for U.S. policy and what they say about the threat posed by transnational militants sheltering in Afghanistan. They look into how countries in the region are seeking to protect their interests in Afghanistan, including by engaging with the de facto Taliban authorities, and how those countries – particularly Pakistan, which has faced an uptick of violence in the past year – view the danger from foreign militants in Afghanistan. They also look in depth at Washington’s goals in Afghanistan a year after the withdrawal and what balance it should strike between engaging the Taliban or seeking to isolate them. Just over a year after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover, they reflect back on Washington’s decision to pull out troops. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Afghanistan, check out Crisis Group’s recent report Afghanistan’s Security Challenges under the Taliban.


Program Director, Asia
Senior Consultant, Afghanistan

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