Afghanistan is frozen in time. And it’s not going to thaw anytime soon.
Most parts of Afghanistan resemble Star Wars’ Tattooine, specifically the Cantina at Mos Eisley Spaceport, as described by Obi Wan: “A wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
Even in the larger cities in Afghanistan, such as Kandahar, only 5 % of the populace have running water or access to the power grid.
In the context of anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations, the time-table for nation building does not fit. For now, the option is to kill terrorists. Every counter-insurgency is different, because they occur in different cultures. Afghanistan is not Iraq, and the tactics used are different, even if only in subtle ways.
While we will not change Afghanistan, we can prevent it from becoming a terrorist hive. Polls show that the populace has no desire to see the Taliban back in power. But the Afgani tribes are notoriously sycophantic. The day that the Taliban is viewed as having more power than the Afgan Security Forces is the day those polls will change. Afghanis want to be on the winning side.
The best option may be to remove most of our troops from Afghanistan, pulling a small contingent of Special Ops forces back to Baghram Airforce Base. From there, US and Coalition forces can strike quickly at any growing threat while monitoring and killing insurgents moving out of the Pakistani mountains. Armed drones will be of prime value and will also lower the risk of US casualties.
For now, the US’s stance should probably be one of containment, not change. It will require constant vigilance–and a willingness to kill terrorists.