Background Information

Challenges and Opportunities for
US Strategy in Afghanistan: Some Illustrations
25 July 2011


Evaluating US foreign assistance to Afghanistan
Majority Staff Report, Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, S. Prt. 112-21, 8 June 2011, page 2: “Foreign aid, when misspent, can fuel corruption, distort labor and goods markets, undermine the host government’s ability to exert control over resources, and contribute to insecurity. According to the World Bank, an estimated 97 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) is derived from spending related to the international military and donor community presence. Afghanistan could suffer a severe economic depression when foreign troops leave in 2014 unless the proper planning begins now.”

Cost of war in Afghanistan will be major factor in troop-reduction talks
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post, 30 May 2011: “In the Senate, influential members have said recently that the cost of the war merits a reexamination of the overall U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. “It is fundamentally unsustainable to continue spending $10 billion a month on a massive military operation with no end in sight,” Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said this month.”

The insurgency in Afghanistan’s heartland
International Crisis Group, Asia Report Number 207, 27 June 2011, page ii: “With just three years left before the bulk of international forces withdraw, the window of opportunity to expand security outside Kabul is fast closing. It is unlikely that this can be achieved unless a better balance can be struck between taking the fight to the field and countering the causes of the insurgency.”

Taliban add song to the armory
Hejratullah Ekhtiyar, Asia Times Online, 29 June 2011: “Taliban songs were “a thousand times” better than Afghan TV channels, he [a young man interviewed for this story] said, adding, “The children of this country are fighting for their country. They are our brothers and we listen to their songs unashamedly.” Such comments suggest the Taliban have found a new way to reach out and touch people at a personal level – a tactic the Afghan government and its international allies have largely failed to master, despite the substantial resources that have gone into hearts-and-minds work.”

Afghanistan’s last locavores
Patricia McArdle, Opinion, The New York Times, 19 June 2011: “Sustainable development in Afghanistan has taken a back seat to “quick wins” that can be reported to Congress as indicators of success: tractors that farmers can’t repair and that require diesel fuel they can’t afford; cheaply built schools; and smooth but wafer-thin asphalt, which will never stand up to Afghanistan’s punishing climate without costly annual maintenance.”

Afghanistan: The impossible transition
Gilles Dorronsoro, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Paper, June 2011, page 1: “A combination of two critical problems threatens to undermine the mission of the United States–led coalition in Afghanistan: the failure of the counterinsurgency strategy and a disconnect between political objectives and military operations. If anything, the current strategy is making a political solution less likely, notably because it is antagonizing Pakistan without containing the rise of the armed opposition.”

Among the costs of war: $20B in air conditioning, 25 June 2011: “The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion. That’s more than NASA’s budget. It’s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It’s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.”

SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization] steps out of Central Asia
M. K. Bhadrakumar, Asia Times Online, 18 June 2011: “In sum, the SCO continues to insist that it does not aspire to be a “NATO of the East” or a military alliance. On the other hand, it is set on making NATO (and Pax Americana) simply irrelevant to an entire landmass, which with the induction of India and Pakistan will account for more than half of mankind. NATO may face a piquant situation when it aspires to claim that it is the only global security organization available in the 21st century.”


Could a ‘virtual surge’ fix Afghanistan?
Nathan Hodge, Danger Room,, 20 January 2010: “Afghanistan, like Haiti, is a country in need of a major reboot. Yet despite billions in reconstruction dollars and an influx of civilian development experts, it remains at the bottom of every development and transparency index. But according to Ashraf Ghani, the country’s former finance minister and a onetime presidential contender, Afghanistan doesn’t need an army of consultants and contractors. It needs you and your laptop.”

Rockets to markets
Iqbal Z. Quadir, Huffpost World, 14 January 2010: “With a thoughtfully implemented stimulus program, Afghanis could go from lobbing grenades to exporting pomegranates. Entrepreneurs, armed with local knowledge, would emerge both within and outside of Afghanistan, exporting Afghani goods and importing raw materials. The support for products from the region could be channeled to favor many small producers and traders, ensuring competition and dispersion of revenue.”

Afghanistan: Time to build
Edward Corcoran, Huffpost World, 2 June 2011: “It is time to shift from battering down opponents to working to convince them that they can build better lives for themselves and at the same time stabilize the nation. Promoting stability in weak states is the core strategic challenge for the XXI Century and Afghanistan, for better or worse, has become the test case. It can provide a positive example for developing nations in general and for the Muslim World in particular of how the United States can promote stability in failing states, or it can demonstrate that the United States is simply incapable of providing such leadership.”

Can you help me now? Mobile phones and peacebuilding in Afghanistan
Sheldon Himelfarb, Special Report, US Institute of Peace, November 2010: “Nine years ago, Afghanistan had between 10,000 and 20,000 fixed lines, and mobile telecommunications were virtually nonexistent. Since then the country has seen explosive growth in mobile subscribers, network providers, and physical infrastructure. The total number of subscriptions is approximately 13 million for a total population of roughly 29 million people, and the annual growth rate of subscription is estimated at 53 percent (2009–10).”

How smart economic strategy could strengthen the Afghan counterinsurgency

Leif Rosenberger, Of Interest, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 10 February 2011: “At the moment, Afghan businessmen lack access to physical markets. No matter how productive Afghan farmers become, they are currently incapable of transporting their goods to the marketplace inside Afghanistan or outside the country. Therefore, their increased production simply piles up in larger stockpiles of rotten fruit. By building more roads and railways, Afghan goods will not only flow through Afghanistan, but from Afghanistan.”