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Afghanistan: How Much is Enough?

Authors: Steven Simon, Lecturer, Dartmouth College, and Jonathan Stevenson, U.S. Naval War College
October-November 2009
International Institute for Strategic Studies


US President Barack Obama's current policy, in line with the prevailing Washington consensus, favours escalation in Afghanistan. The idea is that as the United States' military presence in Iraq is drawn down, the use of force can be refocused on Afghanistan to forge a more viable state. The principal instruments of this policy are more American troops with better force protection (a customised version of the counter-insurgency 'surge' employed with ostensible success in Iraq) and firmer bilateral diplomacy with Pakistan. The administration's policy appears to be overdetermined. The premise of the policy is that the United States must 'own' Afghanistan in order to defend its strategic interests. But that premise begs the question of whether US strategic interests actually require the United States to assume the grand and onerous responsibility of rebuilding the Afghan state. They do not.

American interests

The United States has two strategic imperatives in the region. One is to contain and ultimately debilitate al-Qaeda, which with the support of a resurgent Taliban on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has reconstituted its operational base and safe havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan.



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