Afghanistan is the longest-running war in American history. The American Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II, combined, all lasted about 17 years and a bit, while the US war in Afghanistan — alone— has endured 18 years.
After 9/11 — which massacred around 3,000 people — the US launched an operation in Afghanistan. Now, after 18 years, the Afghan war needs a new effective US strategy to come to an end — at least 139,000 Afghans and roughly 2,400 US service members have died in this war, and yet, the insurgents today are better equipped and control more areas than ever before.
What US Must Do to End the War in Afghanistan
During the past 18 years, though ‘winning’ the war in one of the world's most politically complex countries was tough, it was not impossible. Active diplomacy, of course, could have allowed for consensus among the regional players against terrorism, and eliminated terrorists. However, while the US fought against the Taliban, some powers strengthened them and prolonged the war.
Despite all this, the US has the opportunity to prevent the war from becoming a never-ending one, and for this, the US must play a role on various fronts.
Since the establishment of the Communist regime in 1978, the regional countries Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and China have been deeply engaged in Afghan affairs. Peace without the cooperation of these countries was a dream, but the countries were continuously ignored. The US did not make a successful regional policy that could garner the support of these regional powers. Peace can be achieved by the combined efforts of these countries and the US.
Need to Destroy Taliban ‘Havens’
The Taliban still enjoys outside sanctuaries, where they have training centers, functional communication systems, and medical facilities. The Taliban's central leadership and its decision-makers are in safe havens, giving direction for the insurgency from there. Crushing the insurgency will certainly not be possible without eradication of these sanctuaries around the border. The US must change the perception of the regional powers that are backing the Taliban, and deter them from supporting terrorists.
Moreover, the Taliban controls mostly the mountainous hinterland where the government’s role is feeble, and a robust tribal system exists.
The people here are the worst victims of the war, and while they have shown resistance to the Taliban, they’ve been silenced by violence. Supporting the anti-Taliban uprising and involving local tribes in counterinsurgency operations, could enormously diminish the conflict in rural Afghanistan.
US Strategies in Afghanistan Which Are Clearly Not Working
It is crucial to know the psychology and intent of those who wish to overthrow Taliban control. The announcements of withdrawal and ending combat, have always lengthened the conflict in Afghanistan. The Americans call the withdrawal the ‘end of the war’, but the Taliban perceives it as a defeat of the US. In May 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defense Secretary, claimed that most of Afghanistan was ‘secure’, and announced an end to ‘major combat activity’.
After that, an overwhelmed Taliban rose once again and started attacking. Barack Obama constantly repeated the dates for withdrawal, which decreased the fear of failure among the Taliban and encouraged them to continue the war.
More recently, the Taliban increased violence when Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, before the results of the negotiation had emerged.
The insurgents have started celebrating the war ‘victory’, and claimed that the US was on the verge of defeat. These kinds of statements (of withdrawal) will need to avoided in the future; the US should tell the Taliban that their troops will not leave until complete peace is achieved.
Need to Ban Jihadist Textbooks
In Afghanistan, a vast amount of jihadist literature is easily available in city bookshops. These books are also used as part of the curriculum under the Taliban-controlled areas. The literature describes all non-Muslims, particularly foreign forces in the country, as the ‘enemy’ of Afghan Muslims. Banning these textbooks and fanatical literature is crucial in the peace-making process.
The Taliban also has the extensive support of the students of several madrassas and the orthodox community.
However, this support diminished after a number of Islamic religious scholars denounced the war in Afghanistan. Consequently, the clerics who were vocal against the insurgency, have been targeted by the Taliban, and as many as 410 of them have been killed in Kandahar and Badakhshan Provinces alone.
Offering space for pro-peace Islamic scholars in media, politics, and giving them a substantial role against the war, can vastly decrease the remaining support of the Taliban within the religious circle.
Terror-Funding & Narcotics Trade Must Be Stopped
The Taliban has received a significant amount of money from narcotics trade and jihadist-funding from wealthy Muslims around the Middle-East and mainly from the Gulf states. This system would collapse if the terror-funding and narcotics were crushed.
Finally, the collateral damage in Afghanistan— as in any war — has largely been ordinary folk, and these numbers continue to rise.
Even this year, the Afghan government and foreign forces have killed more civilians than terrorists. Preventing collateral damage is not possible in a war situation. The war has not only fostered hatred against the government but also increased the support of the Taliban — even among the most victimized of people. After losing loved ones, some have even joined the Taliban, either for refuge or to extract revenge (from the forces / government).
These are some measures which could facilitate the end of the prolonged war.
(Hizbullah Khan is a political analyst who writes about South Asian political and security issues. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)