by Richard Averna
The significance of failed, failing and weak states prior to September 11, 2001 was primarily considered a humanitarian crisis with associated human rights violations of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Their direct impact on United States’ security and interests was minimal. According to the Brooking index of failed states, lesser developed countries (LCDs), mainly in Africa, Asia, and the Balkans, hold the majority of the world’s failed, failing or weak states (found in Rice & Patrick, 2008). These states have had primarily adverse regional and economic impacts prior to 2001 not directly affecting the United States; therefore, the US had the option to choose where or how or if to intervene. Its choices were loosely based on interests as in the Balkans—Bosnia and Kosovo tied to a greater Western European stability—or in the mist of international criticism as in Somalia, all with mixed results.
At the time, post-2001, some may have considered Afghanistan a failing state or at the very minimum a weak state. On a scale of 10, it ranked 1.65 on the Brooking index of state weakness in the developing world just after Somalia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Afghanistan’s weak, communist-backed government dissolved, Afghanistan experienced significant turmoil. In 1996 the Taliban emerged and gained control over Afghanistan forcing radical Islamic principles on the population and provided sanctuary to Al Qaeda, a transnational terrorist organization. Throughout the 1990s, this collaboration allowed Al Qaeda to freely develop an extensive network for recruiting, funding, training, sustaining and eventually basing its terrorist operation from this safe haven with devastating effects.
Implications of Failed States and Failure in Afghanistan
On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda, without any previous indications observed by United States intelligence agencies, successfully conducted a surprise attacked on US soil destroying the World Trade Center Towers and damaging the Pentagon, killing over 3000. On that day, the significance of failed, failing and weak states became overwhelmingly apparent. Consequently, the importance of transitioning Afghanistan to a politically stable and economically prosperous state free of radical influence is significantly important not only in the context of defeating Islamic terrorism but also in the greater context of alleviating any adverse transnational threat to the world system of states for the near future. Failure in Afghanistan will mean just the opposite. Consider the implications to date.
Implications to the North and East of Afghanistan
While the United States did drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan it was not completely taken out of power or destroyed. The Taliban has continued to operate a shadow government or at least has maintained a very heavy influence in Afghanistan from its sanctuary in the Waziristan region in nearby Pakistan, where it withdrew during the initial US-Coalition combat operations from 2001 and into 2002. From that area, the Taliban has been able to impede post-reconstruction efforts through intimidating the local village tribal leaders and letting them understand that the Americans will leave someday and the Taliban will return and will remember what tribes assisted the US. Through this intimidation and local terrorism against the population, the Taliban has maintained control, destabilizing the US and its allies in their efforts to secure the country. Most recently, the Taliban caused US efforts to train Afghan Army and security forces to slow significantly due to the “insider” threat resulting in mistrust between the US and the host nation. The Taliban continues to move freely between Pakistan and Afghanistan to areas near Kabul (Dorronsoro, 2011). This freedom of movement has significant implications for Pakistan’s stability, for the Indian subcontinent, and for the US since any instability in Pakistan or India—both nuclear powers–would have significant implication for world security. A US premature withdrawal from Afghanistan would most likely result in the reemergence of a politically stronger Taliban Islamic theocracy.
Reintroducing a Cold War term, others like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan may fall “like dominoes” to other terrorist movements emboldened by America’s imprudent withdrawal. As Mr. Dorronsoro (2011) notes, the Taliban has regained control of many of the provinces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Further, “Reports of Central Asian militants operating in Afghanistan’s Northern provinces have correspondingly increased since 2009” (Talking About Talks 2012, 15). The spread of Islamic radicalism to Central Asia from Afghanistan will also affect Russian and China. As stated in this International Crisis Group publication, “The threat posed by transnational links between Central Asia and Afghan insurgents is not strictly limited to Afghanistan bordering states. The nature of the Central Asian region, in which each country has long and usually poorly-policed borders, means that a breakdown in security in Afghanistan, could have a sever knock-on effect” (Talking About Talks 2012, 15).
The extent of a politically unstable and economically weak Afghanistan means continued turmoil as well as a resurgent Taliban with a reemergence of a strong radical Islamic terrorism network that certainly will threaten Pakistan and could spread across Central Asian possibly destabilizing portions of Russian and China. Any such destabilization will have a direct impact on European and US security for decades to come. Failure in Afghanistan cannot be an option. Unfortunately, with the reelection of Mr Obama and his decision to depart the region in 2014, compounded by wavering US public support, Pakistan in opposition to US efforts, and Iran balking at US efforts to turn back Iran’s nuclear program, any attempt to reassert US leadership after a withdrawal will be problematic. In addition according to Iranian recent rhetoric, an attack against Syria is an attack against Iran. Iranian support of Syria indicates an emboldened Iran which could encourage, if not shield, an Afghanistan Taliban reemergence. The solution for stability in Afghanistan relies on persistent US diplomatic efforts with long term vision.
Implications to the West of Afghanistan
The US and the world are watching the implications unfold in the likes of ISIS, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups emboldened by the US failure to destroy the Taliban and the impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Further, the recent furor termed the “Arab Spring” was not! Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is slowly spreading throughout the Sahara-Sahel region co-opting other Islamic extremist groups such as Boko Haram as an AQIM franchise to do its bidding as AQIM attempts to establish Islamic States throughout the Middle East and Africa. The current administration must understand this reality. In addition, weak and failing states in the Sahel region have fallen into a significant partnership among terrorist groups—under the umbrella of AQIM—like Boko Haram, Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), Al Shabaab in Somalia, and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.
Organized criminals have positioned themselves in such a way that in this region of North Africa vast local economies in Niger, Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania have turned from licit commerce to illicit activities ranging from drugs and black market activity for such items as tobacco, to kidnapping for ransom and human trafficking. Kidnapping remains a substantial source of revenue for AQIM (Jourde, 2011; Goita, 2011). AQIM is spreading into Libya and other North African states while the current administration continues to believe that flowering of democracy exits in the Middle East and North Africa. The US administration needs to reassess its current position of support both for military and monetary aid in light of the attack on the US Embassy in Libya and the assignation of a US Ambassador.
While there are considerable challenges to combating the extremist threats of AQIM in North Africa, ISIS in the Middle East, and the the probable return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, what is significant is to realize that strengthening state sovereignty is the path to preventing the emergence of such threats. Untangling the influence of Islamic extremists over government officials, such as concerning corruption, and reestablishing legitimate governance capable of providing security with the elements of law and order along with breaking the hold that organized crime has on local economies, will begin to weaken the Taliban, AQIM and the other terrorist organizations. The key to success is for governments to honestly address any grievances the public has, which if the government genuinely moves to resolve, will go a long way to de-legitimize AQIM and other such movements in the region. Strengthening state sovereignty will prevent the rise of such terrorist groups.
The way ahead
Paramount to any feasible success is a significant US diplomatic effort towards a reinvigorated engagement with India and Pakistan. This must be a US State Department priority if the US is to retain any gains from 13 years of war with the Taliban. Further, the United States’ role in helping to facilitate the economic and financial reconstruction of Afghanistan is rooted in three end-states: security, transportation infrastructure, and the long-term development of an extensive mining industry.
Security is fundamental to any success in Afghanistan and without it nothing else matters. The current Afghan National Army is not capable of securing the country. With that said the US has yet to militarily defeat the Taliban and negate the actions of Al-Qaeda, Nibz-e-Ilsami, Al Shabaaha, and now ISIS. Thus it is in the US interest not to withdrawal. Unfortunately this means the US must go back on the offensive and into Waziristan and destroy the Taliban if there is to be any real expectation of an Afghan state and movement towards a national identity. Currently the Taliban controls the eastern provinces along the Afghanistan and Pakistan boarders and moves freely across it controlling movement, trade, migration and illegal activities. Most importantly, the Taliban influences Pakistan, which makes it difficult if not impossible for the US to conduct diplomatic interactions with Pakistan. The stability of Pakistan is important to the US, to India, and to a greater international security (Dorronsoro, 2011; Talking About Talks 2012). The Afghanistan National Army must gain control over the eastern provinces and physically control their border with Pakistan. The US has to continue to build not only the Afghanistan National Army, but an Afghanistan Air force and all the supporting and sustaining logistics for both. These are difficult tasks because the Taliban continually infiltrates the Afghanistan military; however, destroying the Taliban and US persistence in establishing a viable Afghanistan military are “must” accomplishments.
Security Capacity building (interim governance)
Afghanistan must establish local security institutions−police forces and first responders. This will be a significant effort because it encompasses the entire rebuilding of Afghanistan’s enduring institutions, as well as recruiting, educating, training, manning, equipping, and sustaining the entire country’s military and civil structure. From the US Department of Defense prospective such security building is done under the military effort know as Security Force Assistance (SFA). The end state of SFA is to enable the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) to provide security of and external defense for Afghanistan, which ensures that the Afghan Military is completely self-sufficient in the development and conduct of its own training programs at unit and individual levels.
Security Cooperation (transition to a sovereign country)
Finally, even after a country is capable of securing its sovereignty, engagements must continue in all areas. For example, in the military area, cooperation occurs in the form of Theater Engagement Plans or Programs (TEPP). For the US TEPP is coordinated and integrated with the State Department by Combatant Commands. In the Middle East, the US Central Command has that responsibility in concert with US embassies in the region. It encompasses foreign military sales, military officer exchanges to each country’s military colleges, and joint exercise programs designed to build cooperation and interoperability between and among the forces, and to enhance regional security overall (Mattis 2012). Examples of these programs are embedded in exercises such as Flintlock, Cutlass Express, and African Endeavor and in security programs such as the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program. Similar efforts must be part of the long term strategy with Afghanistan.
Transportation infrastructure in Afghanistan is lacking and greatly needed for the fledgling Karzi government and all future Afghanistan governments in order to penetrate the remote regions of the country, secure the Afghanistan population, provide effective governance, and develop the country’s economy. Much like Germany in its industrial age, transportation infrastructure greatly facilitated economic and political unification, and improved transportation infrastructure within Afghanistan could do the same. Road, rail, and a modern international airport, along with multiple intrastate municipal airports, would greatly serve to link every region within the state. This physical linkage can also serve as a catalyst to a national identity or at least a locally recognized nationhood.
Development of an extensive mining industry would well Afghanistan’s economic development. Recently a New York Times article reported that the “United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan far beyond the previous know reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy. These newly found deposits include huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium” (Risen, 13 June 2010). While such an economic endeavor may take years to develop at least it represents a start to a major economic effort for Afghanistan in which the US could facilitate this industry by establishing the financial investment and marketing to bring to Afghanistan those international corporations who have the technology and capital to make it happen. An impediment and definitely a competitor to any new economic development is the current narcotics trade; however, if done correctly the mining industry could start a transition of local areas, communities, and provinces away from poppy growing by providing jobs and by sending capital back into these local areas which will in turn spur the establishment of various small businesses in support of the growing mining industry. Additionally, Afghanistan needs to create provincial community and technical junior colleges focused on providing the needed workforce for the mining industry and infrastructure expansion.
The US is not going to build an Afghan nation; however, by state building focused on physical infrastructure and assisting with developing its mining industry, an Afghanistan “industrial age” could be a catalyst to making it a nation. If Afghanistan’s security cannot be attained and sustained any effort to create a stable state will fail in the long term. Finally, a U.S. withdrawal now will, as in Iraq, have long term and serious security implications for the the U.S., for the region, and for America’s Western allies.
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LTC Richard Averna, (USA Ret) is a former Infantry Officer with extensive experience in the Middle East, Africa and Central Europe. He has a BA in Political Science from the University of Nebraska, an MA in Diplomacy from Norwich University and is a US Army War College graduate. He is currently a senior military analyst with the US Army Center for Lessons Learned.