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The Perils of Ignoring Ideology in Afghanistan

18/10/2010

If NATO is to truly draw down forces this upcoming summer and consider combat troop withdrawal before the end of the next U.S. presidential term, then long-term counter radicalisation approaches must be applied to current counterinsurgency operations.

Thus far, counterinsurgency in Afghanistan has only appeared to yield short-term success. In other words, if “poof” NATO were to be gone, then Afghanistan would be susceptible to more Taliban control, tribal warfare, and government that would hardly reach past Kabul. These effects may not threaten the West but are a far cry from Patraeus’ definition of success.

In David Kilcullen’s unclassified 2009 report “Measuring Progress in Afghanistan” (which counterinsurgency commanders herald today in Iraq), he suggests NATO units apply standardised meaningful and simple metrics to assess counterinsurgency progress in any particular area. But out of his scores of suggested measurable observations—such as unsolicited reporting on the enemy from the indigenous population, price dipping of exotic vegetables, locations of where politicians sleep, business formation, and loan repayments—only one appears to indicate a long-term success story: anti-insurgent lashkar formation.

As U.S. troops witnessed in Iraq and NATO troops witness throughout Afghanistan, counterinsurgency’s ‘clear, hold, and build’ strategy only works as long as foreign troops or the local government monopolises violence enough to earn enduring security and a justice system towards which citizens gravitate. But the Afghan government suffers from deep-seated corruption and no defined plan to make Afghanistan what it has never been before: a stable nation state.

So, if the NATO’s goal is to stop or staunch Taliban growth, then instead of focusing just on classic counterinsurgency metrics of success to determine Afghan stability, analysis should focus on popular inoculation to Taliban ideology. This could materialise in the form of self-initiated rhetoric against Taliban influence, active anti-Taliban (even if they are also anti-government) militias, village self-defence neighbourhood watch efforts, a nationwide counter-Taliban narrative campaign, or moderate Taliban uprising against the extremist elements.

If the Kabul government is unwilling or unable to take the security reigns from NATO in quick time, longer-term counter-radicalisation metrics should take precedence over short-term stabilisation measurements.