January 30, 2008 – Afghanistan will become a failed state unless urgent steps are taken to tackle worsening security, US experts said, as a British charity warned Thursday of a looming humanitarian “disaster.”
The reports came amid new concerns over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s commitment to providing more troops to fight a resurgent Taliban militia.
Canada’s prime minister made NATO reinforcements a condition of keeping his troops there.
“Urgent changes are required now to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failing or failed state,” cautioned one report from the Atlantic Council of the United States, led by retired Marine Corps general James Jones.
Taliban control of the sparsely populated parts of Afghanistan was “increasing”, it said, while civil reforms, reconstruction, and development work had not “gained traction” across the country, especially in the south.
“To add insult to injury, of every dollar of aid spent on Afghanistan, less than 10 percent goes directly to Afghans, further compounding reform and reconstruction problems,” the report said Wednesday.
Southern Afghanistan has seen the worst violence since the Taliban were ousted in the US-led invasion in 2001, after the September 11 terror attacks masterminded by Al-Qaeda, whose leaders were given sanctuary by the Taliban.
As US and NATO-led troops wage an uphill battle to keep the Taliban at bay, civil sector reform “is in serious trouble”, despite the immense resources poured into the country and nearly seven years of efforts, the report said.
“If Afghanistan fails, the possible strategic consequences will worsen regional instability, do great harm to the fight against Jihadist and religious extremism,” the report said.
Europe needs to “wake up” to this crisis, said David Abshire, head of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, which examines the performances of the US presidents and relate its findings to present challenges.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday he endorsed a recommendation to extend the stay of 2,500 Canadian troops in Afghanistan’s volatile south after their mandate ends in February 2009 — but only with substantial reinforcement from NATO.
Another US expert panel, the Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by Jones and ex-US envoy to UN Thomas Pickering, asked the United States and NATO allies to replace the “light footprint” in Afghanistan with the “right footprint.”
The group called for the appointment of a US special envoy for Afghanistan, charged with coordinating all aspects of US policies toward it.
US Senator John Kerry warned that Afghanistan could snowball into Vietnam-like turmoil, as he launched the expert reports at Capitol Hill.
“Absent a new focus and a transformed strategy, I fear that may be happening again in Afghanistan,” said the Vietnam War hero.
Meanwhile British aid agency Oxfam warned of the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan unless Western countries made a “major change of direction” in their strategy.
“We urge you to support a major change of direction in order to reduce suffering and avert a humanitarian disaster,” the group’s head Barbara Stocking said in an open letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Reacting to the US reports, the US State Department said there had been “real progress” since the Taliban ouster and underlined the need for NATO and others to maintain strong commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan.
“We know what a failed state in Afghanistan looks like. That was Afghanistan under the Taliban prior to 2001. Afghanistan today does not look like that,” said department spokesman Sean McCormack.
“There has been real progress where Afghanistan was six years ago. Is there a long way to go? Absolutely,” he said.