James Forsyth

Failure in Afghanistan would have terrible consequences

Failure in Afghanistan would have terrible consequences
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Max Boot and Fred and Kimberly Kagan’s report on Afghanistan in The Weekly Standard is well worth reading in full. The three authors played key roles in making the case for the surge that has helped to transform Iraq and their comparisons of the two countries are instructive and suggest that the situation is less dire in Afghanistan than is often portrayed.

One thing that is hampering the effort in Afghanistan is coordinating the various members of the coalition. Aside from the caveats issue, there are simple problems that could—and should—be resolved. For instance, take the situation at ISAF headquarters:

‘most Americans stay in Afghanistan for at least a year, most other NATO soldiers are on four- to six-month rotations, making it almost impossible to achieve any coherence or continuity. Even NATO officers privately admit that the resulting arrangement is, as one of them put it, "partially dysfunctional." Their American counterparts are more scathing. "You couldn't pay someone to come up with a more screwed-up structure than we have here," one colonel in Kabul told us.’

Some people in Whitehall and Washington are beginning to whisper that there can never be success in Afghanistan and so the coalition might as well quietly pull back. But as the authors point out the consequences of leaving would be appalling:

“A victory for the insurgents in Afghanistan would have baleful consequences on many levels. It would, first of all, be a major morale-boost to the terrorists and a devastating blow to American prestige and credibility. The mujahedeen victory over the Red Army led to the rise of al Qaeda and hastened the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There is no doubt that al Qaeda would trumpet an insurgent victory in Afghanistan today as the defeat of another superpower by the jihadists. An insurgent victory would also surely lead to the establishment of major terrorist base camps in Afghanistan of the kind that existed prior to September 11, 2001. Finally, an insurgent victory in Afghanistan would significantly undermine the government in Pakistan. Many of the groups fighting in the Pashtun belt of Afghanistan and Pakistan are as eager to topple the government in Islamabad as the one in Kabul, and victory on one side of the border would accelerate their efforts on the other side.”

Maintaining public support for a generation-long commitment in Afghanistan is going to be very hard. But the consequences of defeat are so dire, that politicians have to be prepared to make the case for it to the electorate.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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