WARDAK, Afghanistan — They used to call Afghanistan “the forgotten war.” They should rename it “the long war.” Not only because it’s been going on for eight years now, but because it’s going to have to go on even longer if the West is to achieve even measured success in this broken country. Wardak province, just west of the capital, Kabul, where I’ve spent the last three weeks with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, illustrates this perhaps even more powerfully than the country’s more war-ravaged areas in the south. For Wardak is not such a terrible place. This is […]

DILI, Timor-Leste — Security sector reform (SSR) is a vital part of state-building, especially in Timor-Leste, a country that came close to civil war in 2006. Significantly, though, few Timorese political leaders interviewed about the issue wanted to speak about one of the highest priorities for the U.N. Mission in Timor-Leste: completing — and, by extension, to some degree implementing — a comprehensive security sector review. Neither the review nor the overall role of the U.N. in SSR was raised in any of World Politics Review’s meetings with politicians in Timor-Leste. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Dili-based foreign diplomat […]

NATO officially launched the process of revamping its Strategic Concept this month. As of now, the alliance’s next mission statement is “a blank sheet of paper,” in the words of outgoing Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. But NATO’s recent pronouncements and current challenges offer plenty of guidance on how to fill the page. First, NATO nations must invest more in defense, and they must remember that theirs is, above all, a military alliance. As the secretary general observed, military operations are “NATO’s core business.” The U.S. spends about 4 percent of its GDP on defense, but only four other […]

Anthony Cordesman on Afghanistan

After returning from Afghanistan as part of his participation in Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day review of Afghanistan strategy and operations, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies briefs the press on his view of the current state of the war. An excerpt: “When we talk aboutwinning, we are not talking about transforming Afghanistan into somemirror image of the West or accelerating to the point where it becomesa developed country within the foreseeable future. We’re talking aboutbasic security, basic stability, basic economic opportunity for theAfghans and creating a country which will be free of internationalterrorism.“ Related: This WPR […]

Andrew Exum is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and author of the influential counterinsurgency blog Abu Muqawama. He just returned from a month in Afghanistan, where he took part in recently appointed U.S. and Coalition commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day review of strategy and operations. He graciously agreed to talk with WPR Managing Editor Judah Grunstein about his impressions from his trip. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect any U.S. government or military position, nor the views of the CNAS. The following is an edited and abridged transcript of the […]

Last February, the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction published a comprehensive 456-page historical analysis of the Iraq reconstruction experience entitled, “Hard Lessons.” The IG, Stuart Bowen — who was there from the beginning, assuming the post actually before the invasion — was kind enough to send me a copy this week. Having now read it, I must say it’s an incredible piece of data collection and analysis, even if, in my opinion, its concluding optimism about the U.S. government’s recent efforts to better prepare itself for the next “Iraq” — already upon us in the form […]

The 10th Mountain Division has recently deployed to Afghanistan’s Wardak province in an effort to apply U.S. counterinsurgency tactics to the region 30 miles west of Kabul. Although security has improved since they arrived, American and Coalition efforts still face significant challenges. Insurgent attacks, mainly mortar and roadside explosive devices, remain a threat. The performance of Afghan police and army units — a central component of U.S. and Coalition strategy — is markedly improved but still leaves much to be desired. And winning the trust and allegiance of Afghan villagers, in particular among the Pashtun, is a daily struggle, often […]

Editor’s note: Balint Szlanko’s WPR Photo Feature that accompanies today’s reporter’s notebook can be found here. WARDAK, Afghanistan — It was always going to be hard to get the Afghans — and especially the Pashtuns, the ethnic base of the Taliban — to cooperate with the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government in Kabul. One of the biggest tests, perhaps, is the effort to get people to join the recently established Afghan Police Protection Force (APPF), an armed neighborhood watch that is being piloted in Wardak province, before it is extended to other parts of the country. Setting up and arming […]

A 30-ton Mi-26 helicopter, operated on a NATO contract by the Moldovan firm Pecotox Air, was hovering with a load of supplies near the town of Sangin in southern Afghanistan on July 14, when Taliban fighters fired on it with a rocket-propelled grenade. The crew of an accompanying helicopter saw the rocket sheer off the Mi-26’s tail boom, causing it to crash. All six Ukrainian crew members on board died, as did an Afghan boy on the ground. Less than a week later, on July 19, a civilian Mi-8 operated by a Russian company crashed at the NATO base in […]

Photo: Official portrait of Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for whom the Powell Doctrine was named (Department of Defense photo by Russell Roederer).

Editor’s note: The following article is one of 30 that we’ve selected from our archives to celebrate World Politics Review’s 15th anniversary. You can find the full collection here. Once upon a time, there was a grand and influential foreign policy doctrine. It was based on some traditional notions about U.S. statecraft that placed severe constraints on when America went to war. It asserted that when the United States used military force, it must do so in decisive fashion and only in the service of vital national interests.* For any military action, it counseled the dispassionate weighing of costs and benefits, […]

WARDAK, Afghanistan — The most frustrating part of this war is not the fighting. In fact, there isn’t so much of that, besides the roadside bombs and the occasional mortar or rocket attack. The hardest bit is to convince the Afghans — especially the Pashtuns, formerly the main backers of the Taliban regime — that the coalition wants to offer its help, and can protect those that accept it. What usually happens is this: A platoon of U.S. soldiers turns up in a village, inquiring if its inhabitants need anything — jobs, medicine, more security, or even a new bridge […]

The Nixon Doctrine in the 21st Century

In July 1969, President Richard Nixon dealt with Cold War triumph and adversity in quick succession. On July 24, he met the Apollo 11 astronauts on their return from the moon landing, a highly symbolic American victory in the space race. On the next day, at a press conference in Guam, he tried to adapt U.S. foreign policy to the pressures of the Vietnam War, which were stretching the military’s ability to meet America’s global commitments. He resisted calls to withdraw American ground forces from Vietnam immediately, and searched for a way to reinvigorate U.S. alliances around the world, hoping […]

Reporter’s Notebook: Jaghto District Center, Afghanistan

WARDAK, Afghanistan — The small Afghan police and army outpost in this small district center looks like a war zone. The buildings are bullet-pocked and burnt, there is a burnt-out vehicle out front, and a rather nasty-looking machine-gun nest overlooks the road. Tired-looking Afghan policemen are milling about among the buildings. The appearances don’t lie: The center, originally built for civilian purposes, is a war zone. The 50 Afghan policemen and army troops stationed here come under attack by the Taliban almost every afternoon at 5 o’clock. The shooting goes on until about 9 p.m. After that, there is no […]

The cliché that you must “protect the population” in order to win a counterinsurgency has now become entrenched in conventional wisdom. This is especially so of the war in Afghanistan, where civilian casualties have become a deeply polarizing issue. It has become so important that, during a recent trip to Helmand Province, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, declared that Coalition forces must make a “cultural shift” in Afghanistan, away from their normal combat orientation and toward protecting civilians. But protecting the population requires knowing where it lives. Here, the Army’s conventional wisdom […]

KARACHI, Pakistan — There has been a perceptible shift in the battle against militancy in Pakistan. The massive army operations that recently concluded in the Swat valley, the largest ever conducted by Pakistan against the Taliban, are but one facet of it. For the first time, the government is also winning the propaganda war. Ordinary citizens and political parties from across the spectrum — including religious ones — have rallied around the army. At a series of government-organized religious conferences in May, scholars denounced the Taliban as a perversion of Islamic teachings. While stopping short of apologizing for their role […]

When ethnic disturbances broke out in western China last week, bringing the worst violence the country has seen in years, international reaction proved curiously mild. The violence in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, resulted in the deaths of at least 184 people, with some putting the number much higher. The events alarmed China’s leadership, prompting President Hu Jintao to suddenly leave the G-8 summit in Italy. As for the rest of the world, the sense of alarm, if there was one, seemed rather muted. World leaders remained eerily quiet or spoke in tones strikingly deferential to China, despite pleas […]

WARDAK, Afghanistan — The new Afghanistan strategy is supposed to be all about winning hearts and minds. But this small combat outpost high in the Hindu Kush mountains seems to be mostly about fighting. The outpost, manned by Delta Rifle Company* of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, has been mortared or rocketed seven times in the last two days. They also got involved in a major firefight between the Taliban, Afghan security forces and private security contractors protecting the supply trucks heading up the main road towards Kabul. To be fair, overall violence levels in Wardak province have dropped […]

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