General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on June 23, 2010 – nearly a year after he had stated that the first twelve months would be critical to success in Afghanistan. Howegver, whether such progress was in fact made remains in doubt – to say the least: When General David Petraeus was confirmed as ISAF commander on June 30, 2010, the situation he confronted on the ground seemed to differ only marginally from what his predecessor had encountered a year earlier.
Last year’s presidential elections have shown that fraud and corruption continue to be widespread. Especially in rural regions, the Karzai administration remains unable to guarantee the security of the population. Inefficient local government administrations cannot compete with parallel arrangements established by the Taliban. Internationally, General McChrystal’s request for additional support has been met with much rhetorical but little material commitment. On the contrary, declining public support for the operation in the face of mounting insurgent attacks has induced coalition governments to set early deadlines for withdrawal. Against this background, the Afghan people are reluctant to align firmly with their government and to support the international effort out of fear of a possible Taliban resurgence.
The past year’s disappointments are not primarily due to any conceptual shortcomings of McChrystal's ‘comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign’, but to a persistent lack of political commitment on the part of the Afghan and coalition governments. With a view ahead to the critical twelve months before the first major contributors will start withdrawing from Afghanistan, the primary challenge that confronts the new ISAF commander is thus likely to be of a political – rather than military – nature: Not only will General Petraeus have to convince the military and civilian leaderships in Washington and coalition capitals of the necessity to ensure and prove that the international commitment is (1) strong enough to defeat the insurgency, (2) persistent enough to ‘win the peace’, and (3) flexible enough to adequately respond to the most pressing needs and aspirations of the Afghan people. At the same time, he will have to assist the Karzai government in developing and asserting its ability to (1) protect, (2) represent, and (3) serve the population.
Karsten Jung studied International Relations in Bonn and Washington, D.C. His book Of Peace and Power: Promoting Canadian InterestsThrough Peacekeeping was published in 2009.
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