Abstract: It is an unavoidable fact that we are in
Afghanistan out of necessity, not choice. Were we to lose and be
forced out of Afghanistan against our will, it would be a shot in
the arm for every jihadist globally; would send out the signal that
we did not have the moral fortitude to see through what we believe
to be a national security emergency; and would suggest that NATO,
in its first great challenge since the end of the Cold War, did not
have what it takes to see a difficult challenge through.
This year in Afghanistan has been the bloodiest for both British
and American forces since the war started in 2001.
Compared with this time last year, there has been a 55 percent
increase in coalition deaths, IED (improvised explosive device)
incidents are up by 80 percent, and there has been a 90 percent
increase in attacks on the Afghan government. On top of this
increase in kinetic activity, Afghanistan's political future is
filled with uncertainty pending the results of the recent
It is possible that the situation in Afghanistan will get worse
before it gets better. It is because of this that we must
repeatedly make it clear why we are there.
Why We Are in Afghanistan
It is an unavoidable fact that we are in Afghanistan out of
necessity, not choice. It was in Afghanistan that the 9/11 attacks
were planned and put into motion, and we are in Afghanistan now to
ensure that it does not again become a launch-pad for terrorist
attacks on the rest of the world.
There are many other laudable aims. It is wonderful when we can
get Afghan girls back into school and when we see the extension of
human rights, but we are primarily there for reasons of national
security. We need to remind the public of that if we are to
maintain public support and the necessary resilience to see this
It is sometimes difficult for us to express what we mean by
winning in Afghanistan, but it is easy to describe what we mean by
losing. Were we to lose and be forced out of Afghanistan against
our will, it would be a shot in the arm for every jihadist
globally. It would send out the signal that we did not have the
moral fortitude to see through what we believe to be a national
security emergency. It would suggest that NATO, in its first great
challenge since the end of the Cold War, did not have what it takes
to see a difficult challenge through.
The European countries in NATO that are failing to engage in
proper burden sharing in Afghanistan might like to reflect on what
the collapse of NATO would mean. They also need to remember that
not only are we in Afghanistan out of necessity; we are also there
as a legal requirement as part of our treaty obligations when
Article 5 of the NATO treaty has been invoked. That is not pointed
out often enough when we discuss Afghanistan.
Quite simply, NATO is failing to deliver its promises. After
NATO's last summit in Strasbourg, 5,000 extra troops were pledged
by European leaders to provide support for the recent elections.
Now that the elections have come and gone, we see that nowhere near
this number of extra troops were sent. European countries sent an
extra 2,300 troops by the elections--but brought another 600 home.
Roughly two-thirds of the promised troops never materialized.
It is time to stop making excuses.
Those countries in NATO that have failed to match the 2 percent
of GDP requirement in respect of their defense spending and that
are failing to play an active and robust role in Afghanistan might
want to reflect on the effect that a world with an isolationist
United States might have on their security. I hope that those in
many capitals--not least the capitals of the European NATO member
states--are reflecting on what life might look like if NATO were to
start to fall apart.
When it comes to what we mean by winning, we have to stand back
and recognize that this is a geopolitical struggle. The reason why
we can define what we mean by winning is that we want to see a
stable Afghanistan, able to manage its own internal and external
security to a degree that stops interference from outside powers
and allows the country to resist the reestablishment of the
terrorist bases and the training camps that were there before.
That is what success means in Afghanistan. We are not trying to
apply, or we should not be trying to apply, a Jeffersonian
democracy to a broken 13th century state--and certainly should not
be expecting it to function within a decade. Unrealistic aims are
likely only to disappoint public opinion and to frustrate those in
Afghanistan who are finding it difficult to build on the
The problems of governance in Afghanistan, including widespread
corruption, must be tackled because they are undermining our
efforts for stability. Focus needs to be placed on empowering local
and district governments. Local solutions for local problems has
been the only wayin most of Afghanistan for thousands of years.
On my last trip to Helmand, I was pleased to find a renewed
shift of emphasis from central government in Kabul to more focus on
provincialand district governments across all of Afghanistan.To
believe that we can have a working democratic, central government
without first having working local governments is naïve,
especially when in many cases we are dealing with tribal codes that
Everything must be done to build the capability of Afghan
security forces. I agree with General Stanley McChrystal's goal of
increasing the size of the Afghan National Army and getting it to
the front line as soon as possible. No resource should be spared to
accomplish this. The international community needs to come together
in this regard. I personally told General McChrystal during my last
visit to Kabul that a Conservative government would be very
sympathetic to a request for more British troops for training the
The Afghan National Police are viewed as incompetent and corrupt
by most of the population and will present the biggest challenge
for the West in terms of capacity building.
The sooner we get the Afghan security forces trained and on the
front line the sooner we can get our own troops home. One very
senior military officer told me that if he had a choice between
more helicopters or more trained ANA soldiers, he would choose the
latter--no counterinsurgency has ever been won without doing
Filling the Political Gap
Of course, no one believes that we can have a purely military
victory in Afghanistan. As has been pointed out, we will have to
deal with those who are reconcilable, even from among those who may
have fought against us in the past, and we may have to recognize
that some will be irreconcilable--and the only way to deal with
them will be in a military fashion. Much as we would like everybody
to be reasonable, we need to recognize that some will be utterly
unreasonable; they have chosen to confront us, so we will have no
option but to confront them.
Because of General McChrystal's much-anticipated report on the
way ahead in Afghanistan, there has been a lot of talk of sending
more ground troops to Afghanistan on top of the recent increase in
U.S. troops in the south. Unless we have identified a more
comprehensive political solution for Afghanistan, any increase in
troop numbers would merely maintain the status quo, which is
arguably an increasingly dysfunctional state apparatus surrounded
by a burgeoning insurgency. Deploying more troops in isolation can
only have a short-term and localized effect. They can win the
tactical battle; they can buy politicians time; but ultimately,
unless something fills the gap they have created, their sacrifices
and efforts risk being in vain.
The surge worked in Iraq because it was fundamentally more than
just an increase in troops. It was part of a bigger solution,
designed to suit conditions on the ground and built around a
revitalized political process which included the reengagement of
the Sunni minority. After all, the aim of any counterinsurgency
campaign is to allow those with grievances to address their
grievances through a political process rather than through
violence. To get this result, we will need a sound political plan
moving alongside any military plan.
The Central Importance of Pakistan
We cannot achieve stability and security in Afghanistan until we
disrupt the Taliban/al-Qaeda network attacking from Pakistan.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have to be viewed as a single entity--a
single issue. We must give Pakistan every support we possibly can
financially, politically, and militarily because a collapse in
Pakistan would make what we want to see in the region utterly
impossible. If we think we have problems with a broken state such
as Afghanistan, we should try a broken Pakistan nuclearly armed and
with a vastly greater population.
Pakistan already has deep-rooted political problems and very
deep-seated economic problems. It has problems with its
relationship with India, and the situation is still very tense,
which causes the country to keep a large proportion of its armed
forces facing in that direction. Now we are asking Pakistan to do
more in the North West Frontier and the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas, or FATA, which is a tall order. Other countries in
the region and traditional allies of Pakistan should also ask what
they can do to help on that particular front.
Just across the border, Pakistan is facing an existential threat
from Islamist extremism. Unfortunately for Pakistan, and for the
West, this is a threat against which they are ill equipped to
fight. The Pakistani armed forces are trained, resourced, and
manned for state-on-state warfare against a perceived threat from
Roughly 65 percent of the Pakistani military is Punjabi, yet the
area along the border where they are operating is predominately
Pashtun. For all intents and purposes, the Pakistani military are
foreigners in the FATA, and their presence can at times exacerbate
things. While we must help train and equip the Pakistani military
for counterinsurgency operations, we must do all we can to build
Pakistani capacity in the round, especially in the policing sectors
and the Frontier Corps in FATA.
Let us make no mistake: We are engaged in a crucial and historic
struggle in Afghanistan. It is a geopolitical necessity. It is a
national security imperative.
It is vital that we maintain the public's trust if we are to
have the will and resilience to see it through. It is the ultimate
asymmetry: Maintaining democratic support is not a handicap our
As William Hague put it recently, "We are in Afghanistan not to
occupy it, but to help make it safe and secure, so that it can be
governed by Afghans for Afghans. These efforts require the taking
of difficult decisions to turn the war around."
We need to find the will to see it through. That is the test,
and time is short.
Dr. Liam Fox has been a Member of
Parliament since 1992 and was appointed Shadow Defense Secretary in
2005. He has served as Shadow Foreign Secretary, Shadow Health
Secretary, and Co-Chairman of the opposition Conservative Party and
was a Foreign Office Minister in the last Conservative government.
Dr. Fox established his think tank, The Atlantic Bridge, in 2003
and is a leading advocate of increased defense spending within the
NATO alliance and a key opponent of defense integration within the