When it comes to the fight in Afghanistan, the Western discussion has focused on timelines and troop numbers. Less central to the conversation has been the ultimate aim of the mission and its achievability. As a result, a gap has opened between what Washington says it wants (at least what it says it wants right now) and the actual resources given to the mission.
The gains that the United States and its allies have made in Afghanistan since 2001 are under threat. Al Qaeda training camps are operating in the country. The Taliban is gaining momentum and threatening increasing numbers of cities. As The New York Times reported this week, UN officials “rated the threat level in about half of the country’s administrative districts as either ‘high’ or ‘extreme,’ more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.” The Long War Journal concurs, noting that, according to its data, “the Taliban now controls 35 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts and contests another 35.” In those areas and beyond, Afghans who work with their own government and the international community are facing death threats; indeed, the Taliban has stated outright that journalists now are in its cross hairs. The murder of Toorpaki Ulfat, a UN worker in southern Afghanistan, was only the latest assassination to take place in broad daylight.
The Taliban’s recent overrun of the northern city of Kunduz may have been surprising to American audiences, but the Taliban gains had been coming for months. The national unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah has been hampered by infighting between the two leaders. Not helping has been the corrosive corruption in the public and private sectors that the men have pledged to fight. As of yet, the Afghan government has failed to settle on a defense minister, among other posts. As Kabul’s internal battles continue, the power vacuum in the country increases. As it does, the government has shown itself more likely to rely on strongmen forces such as the Afghan local police—given the lack of other options—in order to keep the country from falling under Taliban control.
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