01/31/2008 10:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Three Independent Reports Conclude Efforts in Afghanistan are Failing and Call for Urgent Action

The United States faces no more important foreign policy challenge than Afghanistan. Yet rather than finish the job the Bush administration diverted our attention from those who attacked us on 9/11, to Iraq. Six years ago, America was fighting and winning in Afghanistan. Now, we face a rejuvenated Taliban insurgency, and country on the brink of becoming a failed state, and a safe haven for Al Qaeda.

Yesterday, three important non-partisan reports were released - each concluding that the situation in Afghanistan is gravely deteriorating. All three studies agree that the United States has been distracted by the war in Iraq and as a result has neglected the growing crisis in Afghanistan. Each has solid policy proposals for the way forward - conclusions that should compel the Bush administration to change course and to renew the true intentions and values of the United States.

* The Jones-Pickering report calls for the U.S. to treat Iraq and Afghanistan as separate wars and to increase the U.S. commitment to the mission, replacing a "light footprint" with the "right footprint."
* The Atlantic Council study concludes that the U.S. must adopt a comprehensive plan to "save Afghanistan," bringing in regional powers and overcoming a "security stalemate."
* The National Defense University report states that success in Afghanistan is not possible without a political strategy to complement the military plan and a new and different focus on eliminating the drug trade.


Afghanistan has been neglected and is now in danger of collapse. "The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country. The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans." [Center for the Study of the Presidency, 1/30/08]

We need to make a greater commitment to Afghanistan.
"The 'light footprint' in Afghanistan needs to be replaced with the 'right footprint' by the U.S. and its allies. It is time to re-vitalize and re-double our efforts toward stabilizing Afghanistan and re-think our economic and military strategies to ensure that the level of our commitment is commensurate with the threat posed by possible failure in Afghanistan." [Center for the Study of the Presidency, 1/30/08]

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars must be treated as two separate missions. "...Afghanistan and its long-term problems would be better addressed by decoupling funding and related programs from those for Iraq. Doing so would enable more coherence and focus on the increasingly important Afghanistan (and related Pakistan) issues, both for the Congress and the Executive branch as well as in dealing with other governments and international organizations to achieve needed improvement in coordination, collaboration, and efficacy of efforts in the interrelated military, economic and reconstruction spheres. Decoupling these two conflicts likely will improve the overall U.S. approach to fighting global terrorism. While the fates of these two countries are connected - and a failure in Iraq would influence Afghanistan and vice versa - tying together Afghanistan and Iraq also creates the false impression that they consist of the same mission, while in reality the challenges in these countries differ significantly from one another." [Center for the Study of the Presidency, 1/30/08]

We need to bring together representatives of the various countries and organizations dealing with Afghanistan, to form a coherent strategy. "It is clear that one of the key challenges that the mission in Afghanistan now faces is the lack of a common strategic vision that will reinvigorate our efforts under unified attainable goals. This process has to be done comprehensively - involving both military and civilian aspects of the mission as equals - and in a cooperative fashion among the U.S., NATO, the UN, the EU, and the Afghan government... For that purpose, the Study Group proposes to establish an Eminent Persons Group to develop a long-term, coherent international strategy for Afghanistan and a strategic communications plan to garner strong public support for that strategy." [Center for the Study of the Presidency, 1/30/08]

A special envoy that is solely focused on the Afghanistan mission, is central to success in Afghanistan.
"...a more unified management structure within the U.S. government would create a more unified approach toward the international community and Afghanistan. Therefore, in addition to decoupling the funding mechanisms, we recommend that a Special Envoy to Afghanistan position be established within the U.S. government, charged with coordinating and orchestrating all aspects of U.S. policies towards Afghanistan." [Center for the Study of the Presidency, 1/30/08]


The consequences of present inattention to Afghanistan are severe. "Afghanistan remains a dangerously neglected conflict in a Washington transfixed by Iraq and by European publics indifferent at best and opposed to engagement at worst (where Afghanistan is blurred in the public mind with Iraq)... what is happening in Afghanistan and beyond its borders can have even greater strategic long-term consequences than the struggle in Iraq. Failure would be disastrous for Europe, North America, and the region. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are already breeding grounds for insurgency and terrorism, potentially worse than before September 11th." [Atlantic Council, 1/30/08]

Efforts to secure the country have stagnated, and efforts to improve civil capacity have had few results. "On the security side, a stalemate of sorts has taken hold. NATO and Afghan forces cannot be beaten by the insurgency or by the Taliban. Neither can our forces eliminate the Taliban by military means as long as they have sanctuary in Pakistan. Hence, the future of Afghanistan will be determined by progress or failure in the civil sector... However, civil sector reform is in serious trouble. Little coordination exists among the many disparate international organizations and agencies active in Afghanistan. Legal and judicial reform (including reducing corruption), and control of narcotics are interdependent efforts and must receive the highest priority." [Atlantic Council, 1/30/08]

A comprehensive plan is urgently needed to secure the peace in Afghanistan. "The focus of their [the Coalition's] efforts should be to develop a plan that improves security and safety; weeds out corruption; establishes a fair and just legal system; puts in place an effective and legitimate police force; Creates jobs and, crucially, reverses the epidemic in opium production through a sound and innovative set of policies that controls the cultivation of poppies by providing incentives to alternative crop cultivation and punishing producers of opium." [Atlantic Council, 1/30/08]

NATO and Coalition forces should support the appointment of a UN High Representative to Afghanistan. "The High Representative must use his stature, gravitas, and authority to cajole, convince or even coerce better coordination and integration of the international effort with the Karzai government. To ensure the international legitimacy of the commissioner and to enhance coordination, his mandate should be approved by the UN Security Council to permit him to oversee and implement the proposed comprehensive campaign plan." [Atlantic Council, 1/30/08]

Regional involvement is necessary if there is to be any chance at stabilizing the country.
"Unless those parties interested in saving Afghanistan understand that a regional approach is essential, the stalemate will continue. Bringing in interested parties and neighbors could be done through a meeting or conference that could include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (of which Russia and China are key members); India; Iran; and of course Pakistan." [Atlantic Council, 1/30/08]


Afghanistan requires not just a military strategy but a comprehensive political strategy. "It is our assertion that the current Afghan government and its allies, principally NATO and the United States, are not winning the battle in the civil sector to create crucial judicial, legal and police reforms essential to governance and are losing the fight in curtailing corruption and drug production and creating employment opportunities. While NATO and other forces are capable of coping with the current military and security threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents-- although conditions in the south are deteriorating--unless or until civil reforms are put in place, tactical success will not bring political or strategic victory."

The consequences of failing in Afghanistan may be greater than Iraq. "At the strategic level, what happens in Afghanistan and beyond its borders can have even greater long-term consequences than how the struggle to bring a measure of stability and order to Iraq turns out. Failure would be disastrous for the United States and the region." The report calls for "comprehensive action across all sectors of society to prevent that country from becoming a failed state." [NDU, 1/30/08]

Attempts to halt the drug trade, a crucial source of funding for Afghanistan's terrorists and insurgents, have suffered due to reconstruction failures. "As stabilization and reconstruction falters, drug production grows. The stark alternative of elimination and eradication of poppy growth will backfire. Destruction of poppies throughout the country, even if sustainable, would create massive economic disruption and hardship and no doubt recruit many more volunteers for the insurgency." [NDU, 1/30/08]

The United States should adopt new methods for eliminating the poppy trade as a source of terrorist funding.
"Ours is called 'Project Plant-Rite' and is ready for immediate implementation. Project Plant-Rite would consist of five off-the-shelf programs developed by American farmers and agricultural experts. These programs could be started immediately and used as models or prototypes for a larger effort. We propose that the ongoing assessment effort incorporate the state of agricultural reform and how projects like the ones proposed can make a difference (or where they may be redundant)." [NDU, 1/30/08]