What Was the US Role in Afghanistan?
Operation Enduring Freedom was initiated by the United States against the Taliban. It began covertly, with CIA teams working closely with Northern Alliance and Pashtun anti-Taliban forces against them.
President George W. Bush calls for a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan at his speech at Virginia Military Institute; however, Congress only allocated about $38 billion between 2001 and 2009 in reconstruction assistance – something which proved essential in stabilizing Afghanistan.
Rebuilding Afghanistan’s infrastructure
Two decades of war since the 1979 Soviet invasion ravaged Afghanistan’s state institutions, armed forces, and economy; leaving its people living with far lower standards of living than their counterparts in developed nations. Although America has invested significant resources to rebuild Afghanistan’s society and economy, this undertaking remains ongoing.
American government objectives in Afghanistan were straightforward from its inception: eliminating al-Qaeda and deny terrorists safe haven in Afghanistan while also helping establish legitimate and capable Afghan civilian government that won over public trust. Achievement of each goal marked an important milestone toward withdrawing U.S. forces and ending this conflict.
Numerous U.S. soldiers and civilians have traveled through Afghanistan over time in order to build infrastructure and enable economic development, alongside teachers, engineers, doctors, scholars and explorers from across America. Peace Corps volunteers served there while the CIA Office of Security provided security. President Spiro Agnew visited Kabul as part of his 10-nation Asian tour and gave its King a small piece of lunar rock from their Apollo 10 astronaut team: Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan presented it during their 1962 visit.
Today, Afghanistan’s economy is steadily recovering while its national army and police force continue to gain strength. Schools have reopened across many areas with girls back in classrooms where female teachers are taking place; hospital care is improving as more hospitals and clinics reopen; children are receiving vital vaccinations that support healthy lives; all are testaments of progress for Afghanistan today.
Communications networks in Afghanistan are being repaired, and 19 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) now operate across the country to assist Afghans. PRTs are funded by the US, UK and New Zealand governments with additional support from Germany; their work involves repairing buildings, retraining Afghan managers and workers as well as technical assistance; they also train police forces and revamp legal systems which have seen major reform in recent months.
Supporting a new democracy
On September 11th 2001, four U.S. airliners were hijacked, drawing instant attention to Afghanistan where some of the 19 terrorists who had boarded those jets had trained. Officials in President George W. Bush’s administration quickly formed a strategy for ousting and then dismantling Taliban and al-Qaeda; some officials even discussed taking action in Iraq where longstanding plans to topple Saddam Hussein had recently been reviewed.
United States support of Mujahideen fighters that overthrew the Soviet-backed government in April 1992 was crucial, yet by 1996 when the Taliban seized Kabul, their aid had ended and rebel alliance had dispersed into various factions and commanders. Under their regime was established a harsh interpretation of Islamic Sharia law which included restrictions on female education as well as hand amputation or even execution for minor offenses.
U.S. officials sought to avoid repeating the open-ended conflict that had defined Afghanistan for two decades by forging a broad-based national government. But their attempts were undermined by ethnic divisions entrenched within warlordism-ridden Afghanistan; Tajik ministers could easily be identified by portraits adorned with images of Ahmad Shah Massoud – commonly known as the Lion of Panjshir who led Northern Alliance and was assassinated just days prior to 9/11 by Al Qaeda hit men.
Once the American-backed government was finally installed in 2004, they quickly established themselves within Kabul but struggled to expand beyond it. Due to this fact, ISAF remained limited due to fears that Afghanistan would drain U.S. resources or divert attention away from fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq.
An effective counterinsurgency campaign that could both debilitate the insurgency and build a state capable of protecting its territory from Taliban remnants would require significant increases in U.S. forces and an intense operation lasting years, yet even this level of commitment might not be reached unless America directly confronts Taliban refuges within Pakistan more aggressively.
Supporting civil society
America spent billions during the early years of war to rebuild Afghanistan’s government and civil society, providing basic services like water, electricity and sanitation as well as financing school building, textbook printing, teacher training programs for the elderly and accelerated learning programs for over-aged. All these efforts provided hope for Afghanistan’s future generations who had been denied education due to Taliban control since it descended into chaos and became a haven for terrorist organizations.
As the conflict progressed, American’s original purpose began to shift. Al-Qaeda leadership fled from Afghanistan and their mission became focused around specific goals such as eliminating al-Qaeda, decimating Taliban movements that supported it, building Afghan security forces capable of denigrating terrorist safe havens within Afghan territory and helping civilian governments gain trust of the people – each goal achieved was thought to bring closer US withdrawal.
At the same time, the Obama administration was grappling with an important decision: Should the US invest so heavily in Afghanistan or withdraw completely? Disengagement would involve swiftly decreasing military forces and cutting aid dramatically – this strategy risks destabilization due to state collapse or even local extremism.
An effective plan for withdrawing from a country should incorporate all its aspects. A regional approach requires soliciting cooperation from neighboring regions, who may oppose peace processes that fail to address their own concerns while potentially aiding radical Sunni Islamist terrorists that seek to destabilize them.
An aggressive unilateral approach can also prove problematic; given the needs of nation building at home, Washington may not want to escalate the conflict significantly at this time. While Islamist terrorism remains an existential threat, mobilizing resources and willpower for another long, high-intensity counterinsurgency campaign appears beyond their means at this time.
Supporting the rule of law
From its inception, efforts to strengthen Afghanistan’s state justice system have encountered substantial difficulties. State institutions have displayed corruption, been resistant to reform, and depended heavily on patronage; while U.S.-funded rule of law programs have failed to deliver as expected despite having ample resources and knowledge at their disposal; rather than lacking resources or being overwhelmed with knowledge this issue lies with resistance from within and an uneasy linkage between state officials and armed actors who oversee an parallel legal system.
Once the Taliban regime fell, a broad coalition of local and international partners joined forces to build a post-Taliban Afghan society that promoted democracy and civil society while rebuilding infrastructure and reinstating government services such as security forces and formal justice sectors. The United States provided considerable funding towards these efforts by registering millions of voters, providing election observers, supporting community development councils that helped address local community concerns such as water sanitation and child education; USAID even assisted with setting up 24 schools, printing textbooks, and training teachers as part of this national school system initiative.
As part of efforts to strengthen state justice systems, several implementers of U.S. rule of law assistance, the Afghan Ministry of Justice, and local partners initiated an initiative of harmonization between nonstate justice mechanisms (such as informal courts) and state justice systems; through incorporation and training. This aimed at aligning their principles more closely with that of an idealized conception of state justice that protects human rights while upholding rule of law principles.
This approach to engaging nonstate actors was notable for its pragmatic nature, especially compared to earlier efforts which prioritized replicating Western-style judiciary. Yet this facade masked the reality that U.S. policymakers were not interested in engaging nonstate justice mechanisms as an effort to create an alternative legal order; rather they saw them simply as cogs in an imperfect counterinsurgency strategy. Perhaps the most thoughtful and compelling effort at engaging constructively with nonstate justice came not from America but instead via a major UN report which recommended creating hybrid models with cost effective alternatives established alongside formal state justice systems. Read More