The Afghan-Pakistan Conflict

U.S. Strategic Options

The Afghan-Pakistan war has not been a “forgotten war,” but it has been a war that the United States has allowed to slip from apparent victory into serious crisis. Initial military victories have been allowed to slip into a war of political attrition that has spread to Pakistan and shifted al Qaeda—and the war’s center of gravity—to another country. Tactical victories in Afghanistan have been offset by a steady increase in the levels of violence, casualties, and Taliban influence and control. At this point in time, the Afghan and Pakistani governments, NATO/ISAF, and the United States do not face a stalemate; they are losing the war.

The question now is whether the United States can react decisively enough to reverse this situation. The Burke Chair has prepared a review of U.S. strategy for the Afghan-Pakistan war, and this review makes six major recommendations:

1. Shift from a failed focus on winning tactical clashes to implementing a strategy of “win, hold, build.”
2. Focus on improved Afghan governance rather than elections.
3. Provide adequate forces for the “win, hold, build” mission by strengthening Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
4. Carry out a ruthless reform of both the U.S. and international economic aid effort, even if this means a major reorganization of U.S. aid efforts, and deliberately embarrassing allied, UN, and NGO aid efforts where they are inept or corrupt.
5. Make hard choices in dealing with Pakistan--accepting the fact that the most critical struggle is not in Afghanistan but against al Qaeda and other sources of international terrorism in Pakistan.
6. Bring honesty and transparency to fighting the war.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy