Incremental Peace in Afghanistan
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How can political and military strategies be integrated to support a peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan?
This article considers the challenges of managing the contribution of the United States military to an integrated strategy. It is primarily informed by Lieutenant General Lute’s experience of the Obama administrations (2009–17), drawn from a conversation with Michael Semple in early 2018.
Contrasting interpretations of stabilisation led to a flawed strategy: degrading the Taliban’s military capability while building the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). This strategic equation was based on inaccurate analysis of both variables – the Taliban and the ANSF. The efficacy of the 2009 US military surge was undermined by deploying troops to the wrong areas for the wrong reasons, and by a lack of complementary political action. Decision-making at key moments of political-military tension was often driven by US domestic political priorities.
Inconsistency was exemplified by the killing of Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in 2016, rather than seeing him as a potential interlocutor in dialogue. President Obama made some specific commitments to advance a political solution, for example facilitating the opening of the Taliban Political Commission in Qatar. But following the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, it was increasingly hard for him to prioritise political action.