Afghan Forces Cannot Go It Alone
Afghan Forces Cannot Go It Alone
Op-Ed / Asia 1 minutes

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.

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