Global Insights: Helmand Exposes Wider Coalition Differences in Afghanistan

Global Insights: Helmand Exposes Wider Coalition Differences in Afghanistan

Over the weekend, the Washington Post published a report that noted strong divisions between British and American military advisers over how best to prosecute the coalition's counterinsurgency campaign in the northern part of Afghanistan's Helmand province. The dispute highlights continuing disagreements on Afghan War strategy even among the closest NATO allies.

Helmand province is the heartland of the Taliban insurgency (.pdf) in southern Afghanistan. Bordering Pakistan, where the Taliban has its base of operations, it has a population of over 1.4 million extremely poor Pashtuns, most of whom live in small towns and villages along the Helmand River. The economy is largely agricultural and produces half of Afghanistan's opium, making it a haven for various insurgent and criminal groups. Until 2005, there had been no significant Afghan government or coalition presence in the province. Not surprisingly, Helmand was heavily infiltrated by the Taliban, who terrorized locals into supporting them instead of the barely functioning local government.

As a collective entity, NATO had no experience preparing for or waging a counterinsurgency campaign before 2003, when the alliance took charge of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The previous NATO campaigns in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo were initially conducted as conventional military operations. They subsequently transitioned into peacekeeping missions dedicated to establishing a benign security environment in which other institutions could assume the lead role in promoting political and economic reconstruction. Nevertheless, despite having now fought in Afghanistan for almost a decade, NATO governments have yet to agree on a joint counterinsurgency doctrine.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.