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Research Report

Defining Success in Afghanistan

Frederick W. Kagan
Kimberly Kagan
Jeffrey Dressler
Carl Forsberg
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2011
Pages: 40
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-5)

    Success in Afghanistan is the establishment of a political order, security situation, and indigenous security force that is stable, viable, enduring, and able—with greatly reduced international support—to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe-haven for international terrorists. This objective is the most narrowly-constrained goal the United States and its allies could achieve in Afghanistan that would support their vital national security interests.

    One year after President Barack Obama’s decision to adopt the current strategy and send additional resources to support it, there is reason to have confidence in that strategy even as there are continuing causes for concern.


  2. (pp. 6-12)

    Al Qaeda does not exist in a vacuum like the SPECTRE of James Bond movies. It has always operated in close coordination with allies. The anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s was the crucible in which al Qaeda leaders first bonded with the partners who would shelter them in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden met Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose network is now fighting U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, as both were raising support in Saudi Arabia for the mujahideen in the 1980s. They then fought the Soviets together. When the Soviet Army withdrew in 1989 (for which bin Laden subsequently took unearned credit),...

  3. (pp. 13-18)

    The last eighteen months have witnessed a transformation in almost every aspect of the American and coalition effort in Afghanistan. As late as April 2008, NATO documents on Afghanistan did not recognize the existence of insurgents, referring instead to violent extremists who were destabilizing efforts to turn security responsibilities over to the Afghans and conduct economic development. The NATO declaration on Afghanistan following the Strasbourg Summit in April 2009 formally recognized that an insurgency threatened the NATO mission and undertook to combat that insurgency. The November 2010 declaration following the Lisbon Summit was even clearer: “We will continue to assist...

  4. (pp. 19-23)

    The additional resources and changes in command structures have allowed ISAF to conduct coordinated operations against the insurgents over large areas for the first time. ISAF’s main efforts have been in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces, the most important areas in Afghanistan for the Quetta-based Taliban leadership. In Helmand, the U.S. deployed Marine forces in 2009 to supplement the British and Danish troops already there and to begin clearing operations along the central Helmand River Valley. In February 2010, General McChrystal launched Operation MOSHTARAK, a major effort to clear enemy safe-havens in the district of Marjah, which lies to the west...

  5. (pp. 24-29)

    Much has been made in some circles of Pashtunwali, the traditional code to which Pashtuns are supposed to adhere. Pashtunwali includes rigid traditions of hospitality, which have been interpreted by some Afghans to require defending terrorists who are “guests” from outside attack; honor, which, when injured, demands vengeance; independence, which can be used to justify resistance to anyone who can be labeled an “outsider” whether from the next continent or the next village; and justice (understood since the Pashtuns’ conversion to Islam as the enforcement of shari’a with an admixture of pre-Islamic Afghan judicial traditions). These cultural traditions, which have...