Why the NATO Mission in Afghanistan is Failing
IPRI Journal, Vol. 8, No.1 (Winter 2008), pp 53-69
Afghanistan is North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s first and largest ground operation outside Europe. Its outcome will have important implications for NATO’s post-Cold War role in managing regional threats to international peace and security. This article argues that NATO has thus far failed in its primary mission of securing and reconstructing Afghanistan, despite consistently expanding its military operations, security reforms and reconstruction activities. This failure is caused by the insufficiency of NATO troops available for combat operations in Afghanistan, the flawed nature of NATO-led Afghan reconstruction and security sector reforms, the indigenous sources of Taliban-led militarism in the country, the continued support to Taliban from Pakistan’s tribal regions, and the increasingly hostile Afghan and regional perceptions about NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.

Thus far, NATO has not functioned as a coherent military alliance with a clear mission and objectives in hand and necessary support of governments and people in the region. A security-cum-reconstruction mission led by foreign forces that does not have the required domestic and regional support may not succeed in crushing extremism and terrorism in Afghanistan. Not only does the NATO mission in Afghanistan lack commitment from several of the alliance states for more personnel, money and equipment, it also suffers from a crisis of credibility caused by its failure in realizing the desired goals of reconstruction and security sector reforms.

The battle against Taliban and their extremist affiliates in Afghanistan cannot be won by military means alone. A twin-pronged strategy based on the use of force against the Taliban and their extremist affiliates directly engaged in terrorism, and the pursuit of dialogue with those among the Taliban who are willing to compromise for the sake of legitimate political and economic benefits, has greater chances of success. Given that, NATO has to adopt a flexible approach on the issue, rather than relying upon a single option of using force to combat Taliban-led militarism in the country. Afghanistan’s NATO-led security sector reforms, including the expansion of Afghan national army and police and realization of Afghan reconstruction goals, depend upon how quickly the manifold causes of Afghanistan’s insecurity dilemma are addressed effectively. Full Text