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Lessons from Afghanistan

April 27th, 2003

This NYT report on the mess in Afghanistan is worth reading when we are thinking about likely developments in Iraq. The situation in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban was, in important respects, considerably more promising than in Iraq. There was not too much trouble in producing a government with wide support, or at least acquiescence, and there was broad pro-American sentiment. All that was needed for a successful outcome was a reasonably comprehensive effort at peacekeeping and nationbuilding.

Instead, apparently to keep a clear field of fire in the hunt for Taliban/Al Qaeda, the Pentagon confined the international peacekeeping force to Kabul and allied itself with local warlords, inevitably becoming the enemy of its clients’ enemies. The result, two years later, is that Afghanistan is in much the same position as it was before the Taliban took over – warlords ruling the provinces and a government whose writ doesn’t run outside the capital, and not even within it at night. The time when US forces can pull out without inducing collapse looks further off now than it did when Kabul fell.

One consequence is that not even the relatively modest sums promised as aid have been delivered. As I recall, the US even forgot its budget allocation until the need to cover bases for the Iraq war focused the mind of the Administration.

This ought to have been comparatively easy, and it’s been comprehensively botched. Watching the mess that was made in Afghanistan was one of the factors that led me to oppose the war with Iraq. Nothing that has happened since the fall of Baghdad has led me to revise my assessment on this score.

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