On October 7, 2001, following the attacks of September 11th, the United States, backed by allied forces from around the world, invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and root out Al Qaeda. In today’s Washington Post, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld writes, “Within weeks of our launching combat operations, …the Taliban regime had been defeated, consigning yet another cruel regime to the dustbin of history.”
But today — exactly five years after the initial invasion — the Taliban has returned with a vengeance, the Afghan economy is in shambles, and reconstruction has faltered. What’s worse, Osama bin Laden, who directed the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan, and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who harbored him, remain at large. And, Afghan insurgents have imported tactics from the Iraq war, such as roadside bombs and suicide bombings.
Despite Afghanistan’s direct links to the attacks of September 11th, the Bush administration has continued its policy of benign neglect toward Afghanistan, instead directing essential resources and troops to the debacle in Iraq. We have seen what happens when Afghanistan is allowed to fail, and we cannot let it happen again. Getting Afghanistan right is critical to preventing it from becoming a safe haven once again for terrorists.
This past Thursday, NATO expanded its mission all over Afghanistan, taking over security for the eastern part of Afghanistan and assuming control over 12,000 U.S. troops. That’s an important step towards correcting the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. But the United States must remain committed to Afghanistan even as NATO increases its control over Afghanistan’s security. A couple of critical steps must be taken immediately:
— U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan should be doubled to 40,000 from the approximately 20,000 U.S. troops deployed there today. These troops should be sent from Iraq to Afghanistan under NATO leadership as reinforcements to complete the work left unfinished by the Bush administration.
— The United States must also conduct a more aggressive diplomatic campaign with Afghanistan and its neighbors, especially Pakistan, as well as lead an international effort in rebuilding Afghanistan.
We cannot afford to fail in Afghanistan again.