US and Nato 'far from goals' in Afghanistan

French soldiers patrol in village near Kabul, December 2008 International forces have yet to bring peace to Afghanistan

After 10 years of fighting in Afghanistan, US and Nato allies remain far from reaching their goals, a former commander of coalition forces has said.

Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal said the US began the war with a "frighteningly simplistic" view and still lacked the knowledge to achieve a successful end.

"Operation Enduring Freedom" aimed to track down Osama Bin Laden after 9/11 and eliminate the Taliban. The UN says more than 10,000 civilians have died in the past five years alone.

More than 2,500 international troops have been killed - most of them American.

The conflict has already surpassed Vietnam to become the longest war in US history.

'Superficial understanding'

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Gen McChrystal, who commanded coalition forces in 2009-10 before being forced to resign after a magazine interview, said the US and Nato allies were "a little better than" half way to achieving their military goals.

The most difficult task would be to create a legitimate government that ordinary Afghans could believe in and that would balance the influence of the Taliban, he said.

Start Quote

The war is said to have cost the Americans $120bn, and the British £18bn. Just think how, if that money had been judiciously and wisely invested here, it might have transformed everything.”

End Quote John Simpson BBC World Affairs editor, Kabul

"We didn't know enough and we still don't know enough," he said. "Most of us - me included - had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years," he said.

He added that while the choice to engage in Afghanistan may have been seen as the US acting on its right to defend itself after 9/11, the decision to invade Iraq two years later had both "changed the Muslim world's view of America's effort" and diverted some military resources that could have been put to good use in Afghanistan.

Gen McChrystal's comments come as a coalition of aid groups said despite billions of dollars in aid, improvements were only patchy.

The Acbar group said health and education sectors in particular remained in dire need of improvement.

Few gains

The BBC's Paul Wood, in Kabul, says that Western officials admit that parts of the country will remain violent after 2014 when Nato relinquishes its combat role. Without a peace deal with the Taliban, he says, few really expect the war to be brought to an end.

Sir William Patey, British ambassador to Afghanistan: "I think by 2015 we will have a viable state"

Some $57bn (£37bn) of aid has been spent over the past decade, according to the non-governmental organisations who form part of the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief, but, while some gains have been made, the spending has not always translated into real improvements for many Afghans.

For example, now 80% of Afghans have access to health services, compared to just 9% in 2001, according to data from the Public Health Ministry.

But many of the brand new clinics are often closed or poorly equipped.

"Behind the headline numbers there lies a picture of people struggling to reach clinics which lack medicines or doctors, and school children trying to learn without textbooks or classrooms," said Acbar director Anne Garella.


  • Emerged in Afghanistan in 1994
  • Mainly supported by ethnic Pashtuns
  • Toppled after US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001
  • Fugitive leader Mullah Omar wanted, whereabouts unknown

The country is also facing its worst drought for a decade, with the World Food Programme saying it expects that 2.6 million people will need aid.

Rights group Amnesty International earlier this weeks welcomed progress in new human rights laws, the availability of education and health services and reduced discrimination against women, but said in some spheres - including justice and policing, security and displacement - the situation had remained stagnant, or even deteriorated.

"The Afghan government and its partners can't continue to justify their poor performance by saying that things are better than during the 1990s," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia Pacific director.


More on This Story

Afghanistan War - 10 years


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  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Personnel are in military by choice so, one could argue, are in Afgan by choice. I spect over 24 years in the British Army. I know many peeps who are in Afgan but the corporate view is very different from their personnel view - they simply turn to the right and crack on. I hear the arguement that they could leave the Services if they feel oppose the mission - not easy in todays jobless world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    The problem is not simply down to the 'failure' of the Americans to understand the situation or the history, it is the regional politics that means Pakistan has been both an 'ally' and an obstacle to dealing with the Taliban. The fundamental problem is brutal violence used as an instrument of political power by regional actors. Until that mindset changes, ordinary Afghans will go on suffering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    One of the main problems with wars like this is that the UK ( and other countries ) fight according to a set of rules, but the Taliban don't obey the rules.

    It's like having a boxing match were oneboxer has boxing gloves and follows the Queensbury rules and the other boxer has a knife.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I said 10 years ago that if the Russians couldn't beat the taliban with all their sophisticated weaponry etc., why did the Americans and others think they could do any better? I just don't get it.
    You cannot beat an unseen enemy! period.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Sadly world leaders tend not to read the history books before enagaging on 'adventures' . History continues to repeat itself where certain countries charge into situations deluded by the idea that massive firepower will deliver a quick result. The truth is that getting in is not the problem getting out is.


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