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Last Updated: 01/30/2007
Rescuing Afghanistan from Terror: Recommendations for Recovery
Al Santoli

The undetermined question: where will Afghanistan go next? Taking a step forward – Al Santoli provides a solution oriented analysis of the insurgency in Afghanistan. Treading through a mud thick of strife, other options must be considered to overcome the increasing number of attacks on civilians and foreign parties and the ever-growing opium industry.


Five years after the perceived defeat of Taliban forces, the Afghan people are tragically descending back into terror. The West, rushing into Iraq, underestimated the tenacity of Afghan militants and their backers in Pakistan. This was compounded by a failed Afghan central government and a massive opium trade. As a result, Afghanistan and adjoining Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan remain the spiritual heartland of Islamic militancy and the staging ground for al Qaeda international training and operations. More than merely a regional tragedy, the Taliban’s reemergence profoundly jeopardizes international security. In order to rescue Afghanistan, there is a consensus building among NATO, US and Afghan military and civic leaders that a new strategy that must be rapidly implemented. A new plan should not only emphasize military security, but also integrate social and economic development at the grassroots level.


In post-election Washington, attention has focused on the failure of the Iraq occupation to impose stability in the Middle East. Lost in media furor is a more serious consequence unfolding in Afghanistan. Iraq is a political and economic crisis that will have dramatic effects on world events far beyond its borders. More dangerously, Afghanistan is the international centre of Wahabbi Islamic fanaticism that created the Taliban. Afghanistan is complicated by the destabilizing factor of the opium trade, which not only leads the world in spreading the nightmare of drug addiction. It is also the source of substantial funding for terrorist and militant operations.

On a global scale, the definition of Western democracy and the perception of US military superiority have been damaged beyond Osama bin Laden’s wildest dreams. This has not only created more casualties among the US military, but with their uniformed allies as well. In all countries where al Qaeda-inspired insurgent campaigns persist, there is an increased campaign of violence against international humanitarian relief and development workers, as well as against local schoolteachers and humanitarian volunteers. Due to the rapidly declining security situation, it is now imperative that coherent intergovernmental agency strategies and cooperation between private non-governmental organizations, as well as US and allied security forces, must be effectively coordinated. The emphasis should be to empower the majority of Afghans, who seek better lives, through effective policing, social equity and economic development.



According to the United Nations sponsored Joint Coordinating and Monitoring Board, in 2006, Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have increased four-fold over 2005, reaching 600 incidents per month, and causing over 3,700 deaths thus far. At the onset of the Afghan winter, in mid-September 2006, the BBC and the Associated Press reported NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, British General David Richards, warned that a majority of Afghans would likely switch their allegiance to resurgent Taliban militants if their lives show no visible improvements in the next six months. Gen. Richards, who commands NATO's 32,000 troops, told the AP that he would like to have about 2,500 additional troops to form a reserve battalion to help speed up reconstruction and development efforts. He warned that in the south of the country, if social and economic projects are not improved, around out 70 percent of Afghans could switch their allegiance from NATO to the Taliban. "They will say, 'we do not want the Taliban but then we would rather have that austere and unpleasant life than another five years of fighting,"' Richards stated.

In November 2006, in a report “Afghanistan Five Years Later,” the U.S. Institute of Peace stated that the West and the Karzai government are “losing a battle of confidence among the Afghan people. The report cited three new trends to support these concerns: 1) an increase in Iraq-like suicide bombings; 2) the unprecedented rise in hostility among ordinary Afghans toward Westerners; and 3) the expanding number of Afghans “sitting on the fence” on whether to support the government or the Taliban.



In both Iraq and Afghanistan the worst flaws of US policy and campaign strategies from the Vietnam War are being repeated. Most detrimental among them are the support of a corrupt and inefficient central government and the quantification of military success through “body counts” of estimated enemy casualties. Government corruption from the capital, Kabul, down to the province seats have embittered most Afghans who have heard much about the billions of dollars in Western aid promised or delivered but have seen little improvement in their own lives. Across the spectrum, honourable US and Allied military commanders have advocated increased integration of social and economic development programs to enhance communities’ livelihood opportunities.


The Taliban and al Qaeda thrive on chaos, hopelessness and hatred caused by the lack of any possible improvement in the foreseeable future. The traditional and emotional desire for revenge is also a primary recruitment tool for the Taliban. The Kabul government is also blamed for acquiescence in NATO bombing campaigns that have killed numerous civilians. The insult added to this tragedy is the continual habit of US military and political spokespersons to reflexively insist that all casualties are strictly militants and are proof of growing stability and great victories over terror. In increasing incidents, the trust of Allied forces has been broken and sympathy for Taliban grows. In fear of popular revolts against its legitimacy, the central Afghan government has been compelled to contradict Allied claims that no civilians were affected by the aerial bombings.



NATO has claimed Taliban militants are adopting the suicide attacks commonly used by insurgents in Iraq, launching 78 suicide bombings across Afghanistan through September 2006, which have killed close to 200 people. There were only two suicide attacks in 2003, six in 2004 and 21 in 2005.

At a November 15, 2006 hearing before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples stated that Al Qaeda’s influence and the number of operatives in Afghanistan are rapidly growing. A new generation of fighters are operating out of new bases along the Pakistan border and using techniques learned in Iraq. “The direct link between Iraq and Afghanistan is Al Qaeda,” stated Hayden. “The lessons learned in Iraq are being applied in Afghanistan.” These include roadside bombs and suicide bombers, which had not been seen in Afghanistan before the Iraq war.

Hayden also stated that with the levels of violence rapidly escalating, the Karzai government “is nowhere to be seen” in many rural areas inhabited by millions of Afghans. Their lives have not improved since the US invasion of 2001.

As a result of the increased terror threat, thousands of Afghan civilians are fleeing the south and eastern areas of the country. On November 20, Pamela Constable reported in the Washington Post that although the persecutions of social workers, teachers and women have savagely escalated in recent months, some tribal elders call the Taliban, “brothers”, and believe the greatest threat to their communities to be the Karzai government and Allied forces. A farmer in Helmand Province, where fierce fighting has waged throughout 2006, told Constable, “The [Allied] bombing has destroyed hundreds of shops and many vineyards, but it has not driven the Taliban away. We know the local Taliban. They are fighting against corruption and abuses.”



In October 2006, the Taliban leadership based in Pakistan issued a new policy, ordering the murder of schoolteachers working in cooperation with the Afghanistan government or international humanitarian organizations. The policy: teachers are to first receive a warning from Taliban cadre; then a beating; and if they continue teaching they must be killed. The Associated Press reported on December 9, that as an example of these rules, Taliban gunmen in Konar province murdered two teachers, who were sisters, and three of their family members. The Taliban rules also mandate violent opposition to international aid projects, including clinics, schools and roads. The new rules codify Taliban policy of rule through destabilization and destroying any form of coherent government that would benefit ordinary citizens.

The violent hostility toward international or local humanitarian volunteers has been a major factor in an absence of education projects in the countryside and in many cities outside of Kabul. While civilian international organizations have no means of protection, international military forces do not have the experience of the duration of deployment to conduct sustainable community-building programs. It also underscores the lack of compatibility between civilian NGOs who do not wish to be associated with military operations and seek openness with the local community, and military professionals whose job is to search for the Taliban and suspect that any members of a community may be agents of terrorist organizations.



Afghanistan provides the world with more than 90 percent of the opium that fuels addiction worldwide. In 2006, then Afghan opium crops, which are located in the provinces where the heaviest fighting with the Taliban took place, increased more than 26 percent over the previous year, despite the US sponsored drug eradication program. The land under opium cultivation grew by over 60 percent, with a total of 5,644 tons of opium produced. US Marine General James Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO describes opium production as, “the Achilles heal of Afghanistan.” Among the most lucrative beneficiaries of the drug trade are the terror organizations and neighbouring intelligence services that support the extremist organizations.


It is necessary that the Afghan people of all tribes work together to defeat the return of the Pakistan-based Taliban. For the West to assist this urgent task, a more effective community-based approach to provide the practical hope for the social and economic recovery of the Afghan people of all tribes is desperately needed before spring. Beginning in March or April, the snow-covered high mountain logistics routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan reopen and the Taliban will intensify a resupply of weapons and ammunition for more aggressive military campaigns. Countermeasures through strengthening communities, as the means to building trust with supportive security and developmental teams is an urgent imperative during the next six months.


1. Working groups comprised of military and civilian organizations need to cooperate, with respect for the operational cultures of all participants, in support of local Afghan community leaders. This consortium should include humanitarian organizations, military civil affairs and special operations forces, USAID, State Department and other US government agencies along with similar NATO, United Nations and other international organizations.

2. US military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), intended to be multi-agency civil affairs units working to rebuild rural communities, have been plagued by training, structural incompatibility, inter-agency rivalries and chain of command deficiencies. The military personnel in these teams require proper training on the culture, history and current leadership of the provinces and districts where they will be operating. The State Department, USAID, Department of Agriculture and other agencies must have enough competent professionals available to serve on each team. Private non-governmental organizations and military commanders must prepare properly for synchronization of each element’s skills and organizational cultures. The military chain of command in each province must be synchronized so that commanders of operational units and commanders of PRTs have proper coordination and avoid competition or needless rivalries.


3. Military civil affairs, which emphasize short-term infrastructure projects, such as roads and clean water, are important but not long-term solutions. NGOs with the ability to sustain 5 to 10 year programs that create self-sustaining livelihood opportunities are key elements to building peace.

4. Charity and emergency intervention will not lead to sustainable peace or terrorism deterrence. Human dignity through self-reliance is the key to stability and rebuilding communities. Above all, to overcome the poverty, the lure of the opium trade and the hopelessness that the al Qaeda thrive on, traditional livelihood systems must be re-established and alternative economic infrastructures, including international marketing opportunities, must be created.

5. All educational projects should somehow tie into eventual economic development, especially utilizing the available natural resources, cooperatives and entrepreneurial training. Emphasis on education should not merely focus on women. Men must also have expanded opportunities to provide for their families. Without such opportunity, it will be difficult to prevent men without jobs or hope from joining militant organizations. And women’s schools, although built quickly with enthusiasm, are targets for destruction if the elders and religious leaders in a community are not properly prepared to accept their presence.

6. It is essential to work with local province and tribal security forces rather than impose a national army presence where inter-tribal rivalries can create additional conflict.

Al Santoli is President and founder of the non-profit Asia America Initiative. He is also the editor of the weekly e-publications China in Focus and Asia in Focus.