A general view of Erbil in Kurdistan in northern Iraq, November 2016.
Ahmed Jadallah / REUTERS

In February 2010, the United States and its allies launched the largest offensive in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban regime. Its primary goal was to help the struggling Afghan government gain control over Marjah, a remote Taliban stronghold in the southern province of Helmand. It was also a test case for a bold new state-building tactic: delivering security, health services, education, infrastructure, and a handpicked new district governor to the local population as a “government-in-a-box.” The Taliban was driven into the countryside, but the operation soon encountered unexpected problems. The local population mistrusted their dispatched rulers, the inexperienced administration was unable to deliver the public services promised, and reconstruction efforts remained sluggish. The new governor, a stranger to the region who had spent 15 years in Germany, turned out to have a criminal record for stabbing his son. Today, most of the gains made by the U.S. military in

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  • MICHAEL F. HARSCH is Assistant Professor of Practice at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and a Principal Investigator of the project Islands of Stability in Fragile Countries at NYUAD.
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