Why 'America First' Is Also Kabul First

August 3, 2017 Topic: Politics Region: Middle East Tags: AfghanistanKabulTrumpWar On Terror

Why 'America First' Is Also Kabul First

A winning strategy in Afghanistan needs to decentralize security, development and governance priorities away from the United States.

It is likely we will see at least a small surge of troops conducting joint-combat operations with Afghan forces, operating in villages and patrolling with Afghan colleagues. While these operations will lead to short-term gains and success on the battlefield, it hardly serves as a long-term strategy for the region. What is needed for long-term stability is an urban surge: more diplomats, bureaucrats, experts, educators and advisors in all levels of government and civil society. There are strong signals of U.S. bipartisan support for a diplomatic surge, but so far the State Department has been decimated. Going urban forces the United States to seriously address the problems in Afghanistan at both a regional level and from a nonmilitary perspective. Stability in Afghanistan requires addressing Pakistan’s support of violent extremists in the region, their fear over growing India-Afghanistan partnerships, as well as Iran, Russia and China’s exploitation of the U.S. declining influence. It will also signal to reluctant Afghans that the United States does not seek to occupy nor violate the sovereignty of the periphery. While the United States provides economic, political and technological inputs to state institutions, Afghans will engage as appropriate with peripheral areas. This passive assistance makes an Afghan-led negotiated settlement with insurgents more likely. Instead of going local, the United States needs to go long, and go urban.

Matthew Dearing is director of the South and Central Asia Program at the National Defense University. Abdul Waheed Ahmad is a Fulbright Scholar at the State University of New York. The views expressed are their own.

Image: An Afghan man waits for the beginning of prayers in a mosque on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan in Kabul, Afghanistan May 27, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail.