A Prescription for Sustainable Security

03/24/2009 12:11 pm 12:11:44 | Updated May 25, 2011

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers

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As the war in Afghanistan rages on into its eighth year, American and coalition forces face increasingly dangerous and unstable conditions. 2008 was the deadliest year for American and coalition forces, with nearly 300 soldiers killed in combat. Seventy-four troops have already been killed in 2009. Last month, President Obama approved an increase of 17,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan by next summer. "This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," he said. Today, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a new report, Sustainable Security in Afghanistan, calling for a significant increase in funding, manpower, and attention to the embattled country. "Two paramount national security interests of the United States are to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists and to ensure the deteriorating security situation there does not envelop the surrounding region in a broader power struggle," the report's authors -- Lawrence Korb, Caroline Wadhams, Colin Cookman, and Sean Duggan -- write. "Doing so will require a prolonged U.S. engagement using all elements of U.S. national power -- diplomatic, economic, and military -- in a sustained effort that could last as long as another 10 years."

SHORT-TERM GOAL -- MORE MANPOWER: "Ever since the United States began planning to invade Iraq in early 2002, Afghanistan became the 'Forgotten Front' for U.S. policymakers -- an under-resourced, under-manned, and under-analyzed 'economy of force' operation." A Dutch Major General who commands 23,000 NATO troops in southern Afghanistan recently said he is "out of troops" to provide security for the region. CAP recommends adding 15,000 U.S. troops to the 17,000 ordered by Obama and calls for an 30,000 allied troops -- a total of 100,000 soldiers. "This increase must include troops for combat as well as mentor teams for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police to fill critical gaps in the training effort. ... Together with the 32,000 coalition troops already there, this increase will bring international forces to about 100,000 -- a nearly 300 percent increase over the average force level for the period from 2002 to 2007." A military increase is not itself sufficient, however. "I am absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means," Obama said last month. Obama has indicated he plans to deploy more than 300 American civilian diplomats, civilian specialists, and reconstruction advisors. "This is a good start," the CAP report notes. "Effectively employing all elements of U.S. national power will require a restructuring of the U.S. national security apparatus and a renewed focus on our diplomatic and economic assets that have been allowed to atrophy in favor of more direct but ultimately unsustainable military-centric policy responses."

INTERMEDIATE GOAL -- BOLSTER GOVERNMENT: "No matter how many resources the United States and its allies commit to Afghanistan, the mission is bound to fail if the Afghan government does not become accountable," the report states. The United States must work to make the Afghan government a true partner by protecting its elections, aggressively rooting out corruption, and strengthening the rule of law. Doing so will require a boost in monetary aid to the country. Only 7 percent of the $170 billion allocated for Afghanistan in FY2009 is dedicated to foreign aid and diplomatic operations, "with the remaining 93 percent alloted to Department of Defense operations." "This imbalance must be corrected," CAP writes. The new report calls for $25 billion to be redirected from the savings earned by scaling down the Iraq war to the Afghanistan budget, "and up to $5 billion per year should be redirected to increase U.S. foreign aid and diplomatic operations -- roughly twice the amount of foreign and diplomatic aid that has been provided to Afghanistan in any year since 2002." The U.S. must also build up the Afghan National Army to 134,000 troops as quickly as possible, from its current 80,000 troops, and expand the Afghan National Police to a 150,000-strong force. Finally, the U.S. must add to its anti-narcotics campaign a "counterinsurgency strategy that seeks to expand and strengthen an effective local justice system and economic infrastructure."

The CAP report concludes that the long-term policy objectives, over 10 years, are to establish a stable Afghanistan "that can provide for the basic needs of its own people in order to allow for the eventual withdrawal of international combat troops." President Obama emphasized the need for an "exit strategy" during an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday. He said that the U.S. cannot rely solely on a military approach, looking instead to a "comprehensive" strategy. "And there's gotta be an exit strategy. There's gotta be a sense that this is not perpetual drift," Obama added. Indeed, "perpetual drift" is a good description for how the Afghanistan war has been waged since 2003, when the Bush administration diverted resources and attention from al Qaeda's base to invade Iraq. Korb and Wadhams, in a Nov. 2007 report, warned that the "window of opportunity to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan" was "closing rapidly." CAP's latest report lays out the ways that the Obama administration can pick up the reins dropped by Bush and lead the war in Afghanistan to a successful close.