President Obama will be deciding soon, whether and how many more American troops he will be sending to Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan has been long and arduous, and the eventual outcome, the exit strategy, still remains unclear.
The war has become a huge domestic liability for politicians in the US, Canada and the UK as well as other countries that have sent their armed forces even if they are not engaged in combat. There have been many deaths and even more troops injured, and the electorate in these countries have become sceptical towards the mission in Afghanistan. People are asking: why are soldiers of our countries fighting in Afghanistan? Politicians seem sometimes unable to give a coherent reason, and that is proving to be damaging.
The war in Afghanistan has been and is much more defensible than the war in Iraq. After all, Taleban had given a place for Al-Qaeda to plan, operate, co-ordiante and execute attacks on western targets, including 9/11. While I have had some doubts on the efficacy of military operations, and since then I have become more of a pacifist than before, I thought and still hold the war justified. It could be construed as a defensive war: there were threats, imminent and dangerous, emanating from Afghanistan.
If the Afghanistn war was about removing Al-Qaeda, then it should not be too difficult to convince the electorate of its merit. And the governments should have stuck to that justification, instead of being sucked into a steady ‘mission creep’, where the war aims have expanded beyond the militarily achievable in the medium term. The Afghan mission must be and remain first and foremost about security and establishing a functioning state in Afghanistan.
The reason for this process of mission creep – building a stable democratic state that respects rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan, which are laudable in themselves – can be traced back to Iraq. The Iraq war was indefensible, in that the original grounds for starting a war, the weapons of mass destruction, did not exist. Since the war in Iraq went horribly wrong in terms of its justification and planning, new reasons for it had to be invented after the event. Instead of an imminent threat Iraq posed with its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, the war needed to be justified by some other reason: bringing democracy to Iraq.
The war in Afghanistan must come to an end. The mission should be communicated better, but the message also needs to be simplified. The governments owe that to their electorate, the Afghans, and also to the soldiers they have sent to battle.