Hardened US Military Stance Worsens Situation In Afghanistan

Afghanistan, particularly Kabul, is being fought over by IS and Taliban as they compete for international notoriety. IS carried out an attack in Kabul on an army post on January 29, killing 11 soldiers. Six people were killed in an attack on January 24 when a suicide bomber attacked a Save the Children office in Jalalabad. Meanwhile, the Taliban have carried out two of their own attacks between January 20 and January 27 with casualties totalling at 122.

The wave of attacks has put pressure on the Afghan government and its alliance with the US. Confidence had been expressed by both that a more aggressive military stance had decreased violence in the area and pushed back Taliban militants from urban areas. Taliban have stated that the recent attacks were a message to Donald Trump, shown in a statement made by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “The Islamic Emirate has a clear message for Trump and his hand kissers that if you go ahead with a policy of aggression and speak from the barrel of a gun, don’t expect Afghans to grow flowers in response.”

Trump, on the other hand, has condemned the attacks. He made it clear that there will be no talks with the group and vowed to “finish what we have to finish.” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, has said that the attacks are meant to show that winter is not slowing them [the Taliban] down. She says that this projection of power is not just aimed at foreigners and the Afghan government, but also at IS and IS linked groups that have been set up in the area since 2014.

The focus on a military response to removing groups like the Taliban and IS from Afghanistan is unhelpful. It is understandable that governments do not want to engage with them as this validates the groups and provides them with status. However, increased military engagement is only worsening the situation and making cities like Kabul, which were previous safe-havens, unliveable. The US argues that a hardened military stance improves security for Afghan citizens when this is, in fact, the opposite and many more flew the country for their lives as a direct response to this increase in bombings from both sides.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. and NATO forces invaded Afghanistan with the aim to remove the Taliban from power and oust Al-Qaeda operatives in the region. The war has now been going on for just over 17 years. The United Nations Human Development Index issued a report in 2004, 3 years after the US intervention, rating Afghanistan 173 of 178 countries and issuing a warning that Afghanistan could revert to anarchy if its dismal poverty, poor health, and insecurity were not improved.  Even though the report was paid for by the UN, World Bank, and Canada, a NATO member involved in the conflict, who benefit from Afghanistan looking better off as a result of the intervention, admit that 3.6 million Afghans remain refugees or displaced persons.  Alistair McKechnie, country director of the World Bank, notes the blatant inequalities that affect women and children are some of the worst in the world.  The report acknowledges that the average life expectancy is 44.5 years lower than its neighbours, that the country has the worst educational system in the world, and that one female dies every 30 minutes from pregnancy-related issues.

Looking at the 2016 United Nations Human Development Index report, Afghanistan has been rated 169 out of 188 countries, trailed only by a few Sub-Saharan African states.  Afghanistan is recorded to have had 12,250 battle-related deaths in 2014, second only to Syria.  In 2000, Afghanistan ranked 21st in highest infant mortality rates at 95 deaths per 1000 live births, but by 2015 it had moved up to 12th with 66 deaths per 1000 live births.  While the amount of deaths per live births has decreased, this has occurred across the globe, with the average dropping from 53.1 deaths per 1000 live births in 2000 to 31.7 in 2015.  Afghanistan has increased its relative ranking making it one of the worst ranking countries in infant mortality rate.

It is irresponsible that a western intervening country would continue a conflict on the premise of saving people for 17 years and still not even be close to resolving the issue. Not only that, but more harm has been done while the US has occupied the country. At no point have the Afghan people being consulted on what should be done and this has meant groups like the Taliban and IS have been able to take advantage of the disaffected population. Attacks like these push the civilian population to fight back against the Afghani government, demanding they do more to prevent the attacks and cut ties with the US who they see as doing more harm than good. The government then struggles to be seen as a legitimate government while maintaining good relations, like the US. A hardened military stance is not the resolution to an issue like this, which should be apparent after 17 years. The US and its allies seriously need to re-assess their course of action in Afghanistan and have a duty to clean up the mess they have created over the last 17 years.