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US Policy Afghanistan,What You should Know

Afghanistan, the United States, the Soviet Union, And Illegitimacy
PS 401: Seminar in Political Science
Fall 2016
Marco Palladino
(Work In Progress citations not cited properly due to format of blog- can submit original copy if needed(word doc)

Intervention in a failed state is not an effective counterterrorism tool when it is reliant on military power to prop up a perceived illegitimate government. Additionally, foreign hegemonic forces are often viewed as invaders even if that does not represent the underlying goal of the intervention. This study will focus on the policies implemented by the US and the Soviet Union over the courses of their interventions in Afghanistan, which is at the forefront of America’s failed counter-terrorism campaign in the Middle East and North Africa. Afghanistan has a history of being invaded and pushing invaders out. For example, Greece, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union all invaded Afghanistan at various points in time, but their efforts ultimately ended in a resounding defeat. All these unsuccessful invasion help give Afghanistan the nickname of “The Graveyard of Empires.” This paper seeks to explore what are the likely results of an intervention by foreign hegemonic forces in a failed state to install and maintain an illegitimate government. The methods measured include casualty rates, economic indices, military spending on intervention by hegemonic power and results of such interventions, and various social indices. Examining the long-term effects of war and insurgency will be critical to determine the effectiveness of foreign intervention against terrorism.


The ongoing “War on Terrorism” has been a major foreign policy challenge over the past decade and a half.

A major foreign policy issue in recent years has been the ongoing War on Terror, which is an international effort to destroy groups, organizations, and affiliates that are a threat to the United States or its Allies. The War on Terror began as a response to the 9/11 Attacks by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which includes the United States, France, United Kingdom and Germany. Even though NATO was set up as a military and political alliance during the Cold War era, its focus has shifted towards intervention in numerous failed states and has conducted many aerial bombings in attempting to combat “terrorism” and to implement governmental change.

According to the Global Political Forum, a failed state is “a government that can no longer provide basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty”. Using United Nations data on casualty rates, stability, corruption, and social well-being will determine if the country is moving forward or backward. Military spending will also factor in the results if the amount of money invested was spent wisely and has had a noticeable positive effect on national progression. Is there a lack of diplomacy or willingness to negotiate that could be reducing possible results?

This paper will examine the effects of foreign intervention by hegemonic forces and their role in exacerbating the problems in “failed states” such as Afghanistan. The hypothesis is that a heavy reliance on military intervention in a country to prop up a perceived illegitimate government will have largely negative results. This paper will also look at the robust strategic patterns of the United States and the lack of ensuing results through military intervention in failed states in addition to general campaigns in Afghanistan and their correspondence to the objective of the reduction of terrorism and increasing stability in the nation-state. This paper focuses on Afghanistan, which has been considered the epicenter for global terrorism and had large-scale intervention by foreign hegemonic forces. The result of the intervention in many states has been largely negative for the population in question. The cases study will look at Afghanistan as a whole and the large-scale military intervention by NATO in the last few year’s outcomes. The case study will look at spending habits and how they factor into the successful elevation of suffering and counter-terrorism in a failed state. The final area will be how diplomacy factors into resolving a crisis in a failed state.

Originally part of Iran, Afghanistan received its independence in 1709 after a successful revolt against the Iranian government, then under the leadership of Shah Sultan Husayn, a member of the Safavid dynasty which ruled Iran from 1502-1722. Over the ensuing centuries, Afghanistan was characterized by conflicts with European powers such as Great Britain and the Russian Empire. By 1919, Amanullah Khan was finally able to remove British influence from Afghanistan and began to pursue an independent foreign policy. Over the next few decades, Afghanistan was led by Mohammed Zahir Shah, who ascended to the throne in 1933. Mohammed Zahir Shah shares some similarities with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of neighboring Iran in that he sought to increase economic modernization and secularism within Afghanistan. Additionally, Mohammed Zahir Shah was generally a far less repressive leader than Pahlavi and allowed a much higher level of political freedom overall in Afghanistan than in Iran.

Beginning in 1955, the Soviet Union provided large amounts of military training and materials to Afghanistan that gradually increased over the next two decades. For example, 1 out of every 3 members of the Afghan military was trained on Soviet soil by the early 1970s. The major political event to note during Mohammed Zahir Shah’s rule was the creation of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in 1965. The PDPA ultimately split into two factions, the Khaliqis led by Noor Taraki, and Parachamists led by Babrak Karmal. The Khaliqis has a base of support in rural areas and among the Pasthuns. The Parachamists primarily had support from urban areas and were the reformist political faction within Afghanistan. In 1973, Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud peacefully overthrew Mohammed Zahir Shah. The Khalq faction never fully recognized Daoud’s leadership, viewing his overthrow of the King as a plot to gain power.

On April 28, 1978, Afghani soldiers supportive of the Khalq faction killed Mohammed Daoud and his family in his presidential palace, thus allowing  Noor Taraki to become Prime Minister and Babrak Karmal to become Deputy Prime Minister. The Carter Administration viewed the overthrow of Daoud as a communist takeover. Internal Afghan politics complicated the US and Soviet influence during this period. Hafizullah Amin, an ally of Taraki received word that Karmal was planning a Paracham plot to overthrow the Taraki regime. Amin executed many Parchasmists to reinforce his power. The overthrow damaged the communist revolution that was attempting to spread across the country. The communist governance was now by the winter of 1978 met with armed insurgency across the country. Amin and Taraki signed a treaty allowing direct Soviet military assistance against any insurgency threatening the regime.

In mid-1979, the Soviets began to sends advisers to Bagram Air Base outside Kabul. In response, the Carter Administration started supplying non-lethal aid to Afghan Mujahideen, a Sunni Islamic insurgent group. Amin believed the Soviet intervention was designed to strengthen Taraki at his expense. As a result, Amin ordered the death of Taraki in October of 1979, earning the ire of the Soviets. Additionally, Islamic fighters were defeating the Afghan army and the Soviets were forced to either lose their foothold in Afghanistan. As such, the Soviets invades Afghanistan on December 26, 1979, and initially sent in motorized divisions and Special Forces. The Soviets killed Amin and installed Barak Karmal as head of Afghanistan. President Carter subsequently stepped up aid to the insurgents and announced his own doctrine to protect Middle Eastern oil supplies from encroaching communism. Washington wanted to make the Soviet occupation as painful and as brief as possible. The Soviet war in Afghanistan ended up lasting 10 years and millions of lives lost. The Soviets spent $50 billion dollars and lost 15,000 men in addition to a strong uprising emerging in Afghanistan, this igniting a civil war.

After the Soviets left in 1989, Afghanistan was destabilized and was characterized by various political groups vying for power. The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group, ultimately took power by 1992. The Taliban would later allow Osama bin Laden to establish training bases in Afghanistan beginning in 1996. Their rationale behind this decision was to make Afghanistan an outpost for Wahabbi Islam and to ultimately attack Iran, which is majority Shi’a and strongly opposed to radical Islamic ideologies.

Afghanistan would subsequently suffer from major social, political, economic, and governmental problems following the 2001 invasion by the United States. The result of the invasion would be the exacerbation of all the problems in Afghanistan from food shortages to increased levels of violence precipitating the region and more complex problems arising. Before the invasion, millions of people were on the edge of starvation and many aid groups had to leave before the invasion because it wasn’t safe. The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is increasing every year. A United Nations Assistance in Afghanistan report states ” During the time covered by this report, 157,987 Afghans were displaced because of the war. This brings the estimated total number of conflict-induced displacement Afghans to 1.2 million.” All this is indicative of 40 years of intervention by NATO in a conflict-prone area increasing casualties and failing to solve the problem through the use of diplomacy.

The paper will use various variables relating to the state of Afghanistan, either progressing further into or out of a “failed state” that help demonstrate government legitimacy. The United State’s relation to that progression or regression will be key in the country. Such variables like civilian deaths per year (graphs/charts, including deaths from violence), drug production levels (estimated # of tons), internal/external displaced populations (note population displacement is hard to calculate and numbers often conservative, Afghans are the 2nd largest refugee population in the world).

The fiscal problems facing the Afghan government include a small GDP and a heavy reliance on foreign money from the United States. Looking at insurgent attacks over the last decade will help paint a picture of future violence. The goal of the gathering of these statistics is to map out where the future of Afghanistan is headed and to provide an overview of the growing problems in the country. In relation to these problems, the United States & Soviet Union’s role in the country may be positive or negative. What has been the effectiveness of the United States at legitimizing through solving these problems? Examining basic areas of spending patterns will support understanding on if investments proved worthwhile long-term (10-15 year period).

There are some limitations to this analysis, however. One such issue is the measurement of insurgent members in Afghanistan. Finding this data is difficult due to the fact that many attacks are unreported because the government of Afghanistan does not have effective record-keeping procedures. As such, the level of casualties is used to help blanket insurgent levels. Looking at micro use-spending habits could also prove difficult to uncover and total spending habits also may be hard to figure out, as a result of how certain projects are classified. Examples could include, weapons programs being tested, use of special forces, the cost of technology, soldiers with PTSD or other medical issues that encompass US Spending in Afghanistan. The numbers keep growing and examining simpler terms would provide a better overview of the situation rather than smaller difficult programs to map out the impacts. Determining the number of munitions dropped by the US in Afghanistan alone is an impossible task for the research to dive into because there is a lot of shock and awe tactics (where large sums of bombs are dropped quickly). The cultural, linguistic, and religious variables that affect Afghanistan will not be included. A 14-week schedule makes an analysis of a wide variety of data difficult at best. The motivation behind the methodology is to look at simpler variables to construct a conceptualization and overview of Afghanistan at present as well as its future. The research is by no means to suggest solid claim of Afghanistan future but merely a roadmap in the direction in which the country is heading.

Literature Review

Carl Von Clausewitz was one of the earliest philosophers who studied the notion of warfare.

The philosophy of war has a long and arduous history ranging from the Ancient Greeks to the modern members of Congress that make military decisions. The literature review will focus on contemporary theorists in the philosophy of war. One of the earliest theorists was Carl Von Clausewitz, a 19th Century Prussian general, and military theorist. Primarily influenced by the Napoleonic Wars and Frederick the Great, Clausewitz focused on the moral and political aspects of war and said that “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” According to Clausewitz, the US war in Afghanistan would be considered an unideal and unjust war due to the fact that the US has been indiscriminate in harming civilians and other non-military targets.

On the other hand, John Keegan has the opposite perspective and is referred to in political science as the anti-Clausewitz. His perspective is that modern wars like Vietnam were not immoral and instead fought the wrong way. Essentially, Keegan is saying that it is not the crusade that was wrong but the way the crusade was carried out. According to Keegan, the War in Afghanistan would be perfectly moral and flawed only due to the fact that the US did not entirely commit itself to fight the war successfully. Keegan would suggest that the US should dramatically expand its presence in Afghanistan and not hold back in its efforts to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion.

it is not the crusade that was wrong but the way the crusade was carried out

Neorealism is another well-known theory in international relations.

Kenneth N. Waltz, Patrick James, and David Fiammenghi are proponents of neorealism. The neorealist theory states that international politics is defined by anarchy, and by the distribution of capabilities. As such, there exists no formal central authority and that every sovereign state is formally equal in this system. The states, in turn, act according to the logic of self-help, meaning they seek their own interest and will not subordinate their interest to the interests of other states. Additionally, the security dilemma in realism states that a situation in which actions by a state intended to intensify its security, such as increasing its military infrastructure or building alliances, can lead other states to respond with similar measures, producing increased tensions that create conflict, even when neither side desires it.

Charles L. Gaster is a proponent of the concept of the security dilemma and illustrated the political consequences of military strategies within individual countries. Gaster stated that “The first focused on military capabilities and implicitly assumed that the basic goals of the Soviet Union were fixed; its central concern was to determine what military capabilities the United States required to deter or defeat the Soviet Union. The second component focused on what I term political consequences the effect of U.S. policy on the basic goals of the Soviet Union and on Soviet views of U.S. resolve. Sharp disagreements about political consequences played an important role in dividing the American cold war debate over military policy.”

Another theory in realism is the prisoners’ dilemma. As described by Robert Jervis and R. Harrison Wagner in a January 1978 World Politics journal article, the prisoners’ dilemma shows why two completely rational individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears to be in their best interests to do so. An example could be the dynamic between Iran and Russia on one hand, and the US on the other hand regarding the Syrian Civil War.

Defensive Realism is the theory that aggressive expansion as promoted by offensive neorealists upsets the tendency of states to follow to the balance of power theory, thus decreasing the primary goals of the state, namely ensuring their security. Kenneth N. Waltz considered the founder of defensive realism as a theory, explains his perspective on international relations after the cold war by stating that the “one condition for success is that the game is played under the shadow of the future. Because states coexist in a self-help system, they may, however, have to concern themselves not with maximizing collective gain but with lessening, preserving, or widening the gap in welfare and strength between themselves and others. The contours of the future’s shadow look different in hierarchic and anarchic systems ”

Offensive Realism holds the anarchic nature of the international system responsible for aggressive state behavior in international politics. John Mearsheimer is one of the first who explored this theory in his 2001 book “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.” Offensive Realism depicts powerful states as power-maximizing information control entities, that force others to fight while they are on the sidelines, overbalancing strategies in their ultimate aim to dominate the international system. Contributing theorists include Glen H. Snyder, Eric J. Labs, Fareed Zakaria, Colin Elman, Randall L. Schweller. Steven E. Lobell writes, “According to offensive realism, security in the international system is scarce. Driven by the anarchical nature of the international system, such theorists contend that states seek to maximize their security through maximizing their relative power by expansionist foreign policies, taking advantage of opportunities to gain more power, and weakening potential challengers. The state’s ultimate goal is hegemony. How a state will go about expansion will vary from nation to nation (due to geography, military tradition, etc.)—offensive realism does not predict the same security strategy for every state. ”

Is there an offensive-defensive theory of realism? According to Sean M. Lynn-Jones, “Offensive-defense theory argue that there is an offense-defense balance that determines the relative efficacy of offensive and defensive security strategies. Variations in the offensive-defensive balance, the theory suggests, affects the patterns of intentional politics.”

The Neo-Classical realist perspective is closer to the defensive realistic perspective, the actions of a state in the international system can be explained by systemic variables, the distribution of power capabilities among states, as well as cognitive variables, such as the perception of systemic pressures, other states’ intentions, or threats and domestic variables such as state institutions, elites, and social actors within society, affecting the power and freedom of action of the decision-makers in foreign policy. While holding true to the neorealist concept of balance of power, neoclassical realism further adds that states’ mistrust and inability to perceive one another accurately, or state leaders’ inability to mobilize state power and public support can result in an under expansion or under balancing behavior leading to imbalances within the international system, the rise and fall of great powers, and war.

Gideon Rose states that “Neoclassical Realism argues that the scope and ambition of a country’s foreign policy are driven first and foremost by the country’s relative material power. Yet it contends that the impact of power capabilities on foreign policy is indirect and complex because systemic pressures must be translated through intervening unit-level variables such as decision-makers’ perceptions and state structure.”

Noam Chomsky is a critic of the idea of American Exceptionalism.

Relative material power brings the discussion to the United States with its exceptional power over other nations. American Exceptionalism is the idea that American is unique and superior to other nations, Marilyn B. Young, a Harvard scholar on American Foreign Relations, says “There’s an arrogance born of power”. In here view America has become very deceptive in how a leader in government talk about, how the military reacts to war and the lack of transparency in some areas. Noam Chomsky depicts the United States as a country which goal of its foreign policy is to create more open societies where the United States can expand control of politics and the market.

In contrast, Neo-Conservatives think that the military is there for the United States to use it. Essentially we have the power so we need to use it to push our way into practice by force. Senior officials in the Bush Administration such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are prominent followers of this ideology which is an extension of American Exceptionalism. Former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick is another neoconservative who criticized the foreign policy of Jimmy Carter, who endorsed de-escalation of the Cold War.

Another component of neoconservatism is the Bush Doctrine, which holds the idea of a preemptive attack on perceived enemies of the US. William Kristol, a supporter of the Bush Doctrine, wrote in 2002 that the “world is a mess. And, I think, it’s very much to Bush’s credit that he’s gotten serious about dealing with it. … The danger is not that we’re going to do too much. The danger is that we’re going to do too little. ” Neo-Conservatives hold true the idea of policing the world as a way to ensure political peace and stability and would argue that intervention in Afghanistan by the US is an appropriate step for this goal.

Current Problems Facing Afghanistan
The decade-long Soviet intervention in Afghanistan left 15,000 Soviet military personnel and nearly a million Afghani civilians dead. The war was a proxy for the United States against the Soviets in which the United States used “our gold and their blood” (referring to Afghani civilians). During the war, the CIA encouraged Islamic extremists to join in the war to defend Islam against an invasion by the “godless Communists.”. Much of the weapons in Afghanistan today were paid for by either the United States or the Soviet Union and left there an estimated total of 45 billion dollars in arms/ammunition. The mass amounts of weapons would aid the conflict of the civil war that plagued Afghanistan from 1989 to 1996. The Taliban came to power in the ruins of the civil war and ruled Afghanistan as an Islamic state based largely on the ideology of Wahhabism. Bin Laden would later find refuge there where he helped the government fight off the Soviets in the 1980s and was largely viewed as an honorable man within Afghanistan due to the fact that he successfully repelled a foreign imperialist invader who sought to install an illegitimate government into power.

The United States invaded Afghanistan on October 7th, 2001 in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban government did not provide any material support or personnel (mostly Saudi Nationals) for the attacks on 9/11, though they allowed Osama Bin Laden to have a safe haven. The Taliban refused to release Bin Laden to the United States and said they would give him to a neutral 3rd party. The United States rejected their offer. The Taliban also asked for evidence and the US declined their request. According to the UN and aids groups, prior to the invasion, it was thought there would be a mass famine where millions would starve because of Afghanistan’s dependence on foreign food. After the United States bombed Afghanistan for 2 months, the Taliban government ultimately surrendered in December of 2001. The United States would install a government that Afghani civilians view as illegitimate, corrupt, and weak. Displacement of the population is one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan and the Middle East from war and conflict.

Afghanistan has one of the worst population displacements problems in the world. Afghans make up the 2nd largest refugee population in the world and it is estimated that 3.7 million Afghans have been displaced by the conflict in the last decade or so. That is a daunting number no government or institution can handle alone to manage. One million are estimated to have fled to Iran, another 1.5 million into Pakistan. From a 2014 report, 700,000 are expected to be displaced in Afghanistan itself. Every year the numbers get worse and worse, more death and more casualties beating the last year. There is a variety of reason for this but many civilians die in either ground engagements or through IEDs that are leftover or part of the current war. The surge under President Obama, which was the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, did not make Afghanistan safer and their withdrawal has not reduced the casualties rates. Killing members of Taliban have only created more instability and turned various areas of the country into a devastated war zone. In this climate, these policies undermine government legitimacy constantly because the government cannot provide basic necessities. Additionally, this policy has the government of Afghanistan largely taking orders from NATO and the US,  which have large cultural differences and questionable understanding of the country. For example, Afghanistan is predominantly Muslim (~85-93% Sunni and ~7-15% Shi’a) and the main languages spoken are various dialects of Farsi (an Iranian-based language which is not widely taught in the West).

Heroin usage and production is a major problem facing Afghanistan, as it produces 80-90% of the world’s supply of Heroin. The Taliban profits nearly a billion dollars a year from the trade, namely by exporting opioids to other countries. It is estimated that there are around 1.6 million drug users in Afghan cities and another 3 million in the countryside. Unfortunately, the opium production has helped fuel severe problems with addiction to opium which has worsened the situation in Afghanistan. In 2001, The Taliban government issued a fatwa forbidding heroin use, which essentially put a stop to the problems of its use in Afghanistan. The US invasion that same year and the subsequent installation of Hamid Karzai as the Afghan President saw the prior ban go away and thus opium production skyrocket starting in 2002.

The US invasion had multiple coalitions of groups such as the Northern Alliance in Northern Afghanistan and the Puston Warlords in the South-East who also played a major role in the trafficking in Heroin which would result in it’s come back largely in Afghanistan. The whole story isn’t told there, “The drug trade accounted for most of its tax revenues, almost all its export income, and much of its employment. In this context, opium eradication proved to be an act of economic suicide that brought an already weakened society to the brink of collapse. Indeed, a 2001 U.N. survey found that the ban had “resulted in a severe loss of income for an estimated 3.3 million people,” 15% of the population, including 80,000 farmers, 480,000 laborers, and their millions of dependents”.  As such, banning opium, which was largely pushed by Westerners, was a severe miscalculation on the part of the Taliban-led government. Ideally, it would have been smarter to have a transition period meant to phase out opium production and allow those whose livelihood depends on its production to developing alternative sources of income.After the invasion in 2001, the Taliban went back to selling heroin to fund the insurgency but there are other segments that sell and control opium distribution.

Prior to the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), opium production in Afghanistan and Pakistan was directed to small regional markets. There was no local production of heroin. The CIA helped design the Afghan Narcotics economy to fund the Taliban and launder money during the War against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Currently, the problems of heroin fuel the insurgency and corrupt the government while increasing drug usage both inside and outside the country. The US would later spend 7.6 billion to eradicate opium in Afghanistan and in every measurable way they have failed. Instead, it helps fuel the insurgency by upsetting locals and fueled government corruption. Again undermining the legitimacy of the government while pushing cultivation practices that they have helped start in the first place. That 7.6 billion wasted in opium eradication is just the tip of the iceberg with unsustainable spending patterns.

The financial problems facing the Afghan government, such as a small GDP and reliance on foreign money from the United States and others present serious problems. The reliance of foreign money make long-term success difficult and, if foreign money is withdrawn from the economy, the government would collapse. Corruption is also a major problem in Afghanistan. Many hands are taking money out of the government coffers for personal gain. The corruption isn’t something that is only on the local level but stretches all the way to the top. It’s difficult to measure the level of corruption but there are key findings to support the idea that the Afghan government has serious corruption problems which undermine the government as an institution and waste precious money needed to support the Afghan people. In 2012, nearly half of Afghan citizens paid a bribe while requesting a public service and the total cost of bribes paid to public officials amounted to $3.9 billion US dollars. This corresponds to an increase of 40 percent between 2009 and 2012. So the government abuses its position which increases the cost for the people who pay taxes and then pay again to get something done. A snapshot of Afghan culture is that bribery is embedded in social practices, with patronage and bribery being an acceptable part of Afghan culture. These practices of bribery are also in other regions without government.

Non-governmental groups like village associations and the Taliban have patronage systems. Bribery usually occurring in government to change police or judicial results or provide governmental services faster. The bribes can undermine government institutions which are flooded with money. Examples of government corruption can be to keep a family or relative from going to jail by paying the judge or police off. An instance of corruption is the people put in power, namely family relatives, for example, the director of Education was put in power because of his relatives but could not read or write.

These problems are worsened by the uncertainty of how long the US will stay and fight. If one thinks they’re leaving next week or not here to stay then obviously you’re going to abuse the money that comes in. You have elections where they have large accusations of voter fraud and reinforcement of the idea that Afghanistan looks like a “tin-pot dictatorship”. It costs somewhere around $12 billion dollars a year to train Afghan security forces and neither the US nor the Afghan government can sustain that figure. So in no way is the situation an economically manageable one, especially with record numbers of security forces being killed and high levels of desertions. “Between October 2013 and September 2014, more than 1,300 Afghan army troops were killed in action and 6,200 were wounded”. Senior US Officers have called that “unsustainable”. Desertion is a problem but there are poor numbers on this so it’s just important to mention it as a problem. The Taliban have been killing more and more people in the security forces and expanding their territory.

Growing insurgency problem across the countries level of violence grows worse.US Policy may appear to be helping reinforce insurgency numbers. The basic premise of counter-insurgency strategy is you’re only as good as the government you represent. The government that represents Afghanistan lacks legitimacy with Afghan people and it can’t even hold the Taliban at bay. While the US in for example in 2011, was killing 360 insurgent leaders in a 90 day period using Special Forces, there were more attacks against coalition forces and no reduction in overall violence. Basically, it goes back to the old adage of “if you hit me, I hit you.” Abdul Hakim Mujahidin, the Taliban Envoy to the UN from 1998 to 2001 said” They consider that the continuance of the war in this country is not for the benefit of their people. But in practice, they are using their military against the Taliban. They are forcing the Taliban to respond militarily”. Osama Bin Laden was not part of the Taliban but Al Qaeda and his objective were to drive the US into Afghanistan to shatter will at home and push US and Allies to get out of the Islamic world. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history and the US government has still been unable to ensure Al Qaeda’s come back into Afghanistan. Some reports show drone strikes are counterproductive and other say they are. It’s hard to tell productive ones from unproductive ones when they target high-ranking leaders but when they kill innocent civilians or low-level combatants they can help fuel an insurgency.

What has the US Invested For Afghanistan’s Success?
The United States is spending too much money on Afghanistan, so much so that the numbers are often unknown or hard to pin down. Many different sources provide different estimates for costs on different things, but to figure out the total and cost year by year is simply too long of a process. For instances, some institution will say the cost of Iraq X and others Y. From Pew, it was shown that the US is spending around $16-17 billion dollars a year on counter-terrorism. What exactly does that cover? Again hard to pin down what exactly all these funds are being spent on. You also have heightened violence which is going to require more mobilization of the military to things like Veterans health which are extremely costly. These costs are often stuck with other wars. Here are some estimates on the spent money in key areas, reconstruction, $110 billion dollars, the largest portion of that is $60 billion being spent on training Afghan security forces.But this may not be accurate because many costs are left out of such reports so it’s better to give a bulk total of 4 to 6 trillion on the costs then try to micro-manage every cost exactly into the bill. Again this is unsustainable spending and if the US pulls out tomorrow and loses everything much of that investment could prove worthless, which is why many are reluctant to do so.

At the same times it getting harder for members of Congress to justify trillions of dollars spent for a deteriorating situation. The government gives aid to Pakistan and sometimes that aid is used to train the Taliban and other groups while fighting against Al Qaeda. Pakistan has received military aid from the US since 1948. Since 2001, the US has given Pakistan roughly $2 billion per year in military and assistance some of which has been used to support insurgent groups.This aid has gone up and down and appears to have no effect on reduction of violence in Afghanistan or Pakistan. These failures undermine the US influence in Muslim countries and appear to not give the Afghan government more legitimacy. Instead, it is akin to throwing money down a drain and hoping that something sticks.

American Exceptionalism
American Exceptionalism is the idea that America is unique, just and always on the side of good. The idea of American Exceptionalism date back to the founders, but has become largely ingrained in American Society and Politics in the 21st century following World War II. The American Military is a manifestation of this Exceptionalism and when it does something with the use of force it is always to protect our Democratic system and protect our national interests. An example of this is the perception of the Iraq where US citizens perceived the invasion of Iraq to be freeing the people of Iraq and keeping the world safe for democracy. The truth tends to be different from the perception by the American public. There is the problem of Amnesia, where people forget what the US had done wrong like people will say the government did that in the past or not remember it at all.

People also preach the perceived values of the US even if their false and the idea the US has the right to break the rules to enforce the appropriate world order. This type of clouded perception of US intervention has helped lead to two costly wars, namely, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Idea that the US was on the side of right when it invaded allowed it to label others as the bad guys versus the good guys which is one of the biggest reason for the strategic blunder. The biggest mistake the Bush Administration admits too is not differentiating the Taliban from Al Qaeda. That mistake has helped continue years of bloodshed which looks like a result of that clouded perception by the US mindset and no victory coming closer. Again this idea of American Exceptionalism is a weakness Osama Bin Laden used to push the US to invade Afghanistan and undermine its legitimacy has a hegemonic power.

The United States repeated and made the same mistakes the Soviets did in Afghanistan such as invading the country and installing/propping up an illegitimate government. There is also a large disillusion that the problems could be solved in a few months where it would appear they cannot t be solved in 16 years. Both the Bush Administration and the Soviet Union thought they would have victory in Afghanistan relatively quickly, but long-term insurgency never seemed to be defeated completely. They would kill tens of thousands and there would be a battle the next day. There was also this feeling that once the Soviets got in, the fight was about “National Prestige”(Vietnam Syndrome)(much like American Exceptionalism). If they left they would shame their country, so the Soviets stayed for 10 years and then got kicked out. There was a very large disconnect between the Afghan culture, language and the invaders (US/Soviet). There continues to be a problem that stems very much from Afghanistan, Jihad to protect Islam whether or not it’s true it is an idea that has spread. There was the idea that both the Soviet Union and the US had about creating stability even though their actions did the opposite (referencing actions of Soviets in the 1980s vs the US today). In Afghanistan, they were almost always high casualties largely taken by poor farmers who felt they were defending their country or pro-government forces caught between tribal disputes. There is still consistent aid and travel by the Taliban in and out of Pakistan. There is also the problems of people deserting the Afghan army which the hegemony supports. Both countries become involved in a war they thought they won in weeks but ended up turning into something like the Sopranos where everyone is killing everyone and the hegemony is caught in the middle.

Possible Options To Increase The Legitimacy Of The Government Of Afghanistan
*Gain control of opium production and put it under some form of governmental control. The government needs the money and many of them are already involved in the opium trade it’s a legal barrier of just legitimizing it to gain more secure control of the country. It always puts a lot of people to work and helps many people to make a living, after Afghan is more built up its possible to move it away from there after large improvements are made.

* Make peace with large portions of the Taliban and allow them to govern more legitimately (in the eyes in the Afghan people). This policy is difficult to implement and will require much work, negotiation, and large term forward-thinking on the part of policymakers in the US.

*Reduce bombing campaigns to be more strategic and at all costs reduce refugee populations

* Figure a way to build large housing developments in a cost-effective manner and again working with the Taliban to make a safer country long term. These policies would help alleviate problems of population displacement and allow the people of Afghanistan to live in safety.

*Work heavily with Iran, Russia, Pakistan, and other neighboring countries to improve stability within the Middle East. Some of the ways include increased military cooperation, political planning, and population management. Another solution is to partition Afghanistan between Iran and Pakistan. Iran would gain the primarily Shi’a Western regions of Afghanistan, whereas Pakistan would get the Sunni-dominated regions in Eastern Afghanistan. The key to this proposal is to implement it democratically through an UN-sponsored referendum. If this step is not done democratically, it can further embolden insurgents and make the already difficult situation in Afghanistan much worse.

*Governance should be looked at a provincial level rather than a Federal state (small self-governing provinces). Tribalism playing a role here.
*There needs to be a transition from a strategy of killing Taliban and Al Qaeda Leaders to legitimizing Afghan government, as key counter-insurgency means.

*Increase and incorporate region cultural understand, natural, economic and political problems as the heart of counter-insurgency.

What does Trump mean for the future of Afghanistan?
President Donald Trump has made many negative and inaccurate statements about Islam, which does not do any good to help the image of the legitimacy of the Afghan government. Trump is appointing neoconservatives which are generally more hawkish than Neo-liberals such as President Obama or Bill Clinton. A more hawkish approach would be to increasing militarizing the situation by increasing bomb campaigns which will likely worsen the situation. Trump’s view of the conflict with terrorism as an ideologically struggle against where the enemy is 110% evil echoes the same problems the Bush Administration pushed where they failed (even Obama), a reasonable understanding of the situation is crucial to success. Trump seems to display a profoundly ignorant understanding of the conflict.

Trump has also spoken in favor of a hardened US policy towards Iran for the nuclear reason, which is largely rooted in ignorance and misunderstandings of the sorts. If a war was launched against Iran, it would ensure that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups become stronger than ever. Iran borders Afghanistan and conflict in the area would make both countries less safe. Trump’s dislike for NATO could mean the United States occupies Afghanistan alone and increases the requirements for more troop deployments. Trump embodies the idea of American Exceptionalism in a negative way. Trump’s position on Russia was formerly stable, but his advisers pushed him away from that stance into a more confrontational one due to the issue of Syria. Trump has already reneged on many campaign promises so it’s hard to tell what the policy will be but he has surrounded himself with the people who lead the country into Iraq.

The United States and NATO need to refocus on why they are in Afghanistan and the plans for the future. If they plan to continue fighting heavily in Afghanistan they need a new long-term strategy. The United States needs to increase accountability with aid and better keep track of resources in order to maximize efficiency. Increasingly high casualties taken by civilians and security forces undermine government legitimacy. A record number of refugees destabilize the region where countries like Iran, Pakistan, and others taken in millions of refugees. The new administration coming in needs to make sure it uses forces to find a political solution and not to defeat the insurgency because ultimately Afghanistan will be solved by a political solution whether it be dividing Afghanistan up or other solutions like negotiating heavily with the Taliban. If the government wants to become more legitimate curbing corruption is a major hill to climb as well as developing a proper narcotics strategy that makes sure the Afghan people are put first. Poor results have been shown to develop with high levels of violence, high population displacement, high corruption, and war. Perhaps it’s impossible given the problems to remove the label from Afghanistan of Failed State under the next administration.

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Afghan opium production 1994-2015 UNODC

Afghan Poppy picture

Civil Deaths Afghan 2009-2017

Generally Estimated War Funding 2001-20015

Internal Displacement Numbers

Total Displacement Table 1

Marco Palladino
Senior Completing Under Graduate in Political Science Minor in Sustainability at MU Competition is for the Weak. Jobs are for the sick. Hammers, Nails, One Tool, One Solution. Homo Homini Lupus.


  1. Great article! Interestingly enough, all of the predictions regarding Trump in this article came to pass. Whoever wrote this is highly intelligent and really knows their stuff.


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