After six-and-a-half years of war and the biggest NATO operation in history, Afghanistan remains in the throes of insurgency and President Hamid Karzai’s government is perilously weak. There is little prospect of a swift victory; even the most optimistic assessments point to the necessity of a long-term international presence.
In ECFR’s latest report, we call on European leaders to renew their commitment to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, to boost troop numbers, and to support Afghan-led negotiations with the Taliban.
Across Europe, the increasing unpopularity of the Afghan intervention has sapped governments’ commitment to pursuing the war and reconstruction. The European Commission’s reconstruction assistance is set to fall from an average of 200 million per year to 150 million euros – little more than Canada’s contribution. And the operational restrictions imposed on European forces have severely hampered NATO’s ability to fight the insurgency.
Afghanistan is not lost. Working with the Afghan government, Europe can help turn the tide. But it will require a new approach.
Since the hundreds of thousands of troops required for a traditional stabilisation mission will never be available, it is all the more important that the troops we do have are used flexibly and that deficiencies in key areas are addressed.
We believe that Europe should send more troops and remove many of the restrictions limiting their operational effectiveness. In particular, more European trainers for the Afghan army and police are needed.
Meanwhile, the United States needs recast its counter-insurgency strategy — putting the population’s security first, minimizing civilian casualties, and re-doubling efforts to persuade individual Taliban commanders to defect to the government’s side.
What Europe has should have learnt from its experience of warfare, negotiations with the Taliban are now unavoidable and we must help the Karzai government convince them that peace is more profitable than war. To succeed in Afghanistan, both war and words are needed and Europe needs to be able to do both.
Click here to read the full report “Afghanistan: Europe’s Forgotten War”.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.