What a Disaster Looks Like
The world has unleashed a special kind of hell on Afghans. Since the overthrow of the elected government and the takeover by the Taliban-Haqqani terrorist network, Afghans have been plunged into despair, violence, and fear. Last week I summarized how Afghanistan arrived in its present state and what that means to the region and the world. This piece will assess the current mess and some options for addressing the issues in a strategic and long-term way.
Since last August Afghans have seen an increase in suicides and terrorist and criminal killings—both random and revenge-based. The terrorist attacks have mostly been targeting Afghans that are not typically part of the Pashtun-Sunni dominated Taliban-Haqqani regime. That includes Shia, Hazaras, and Tajiks most commonly. Many of the killing campaigns are bordering on genocidal activities.
The economic collapse has led to massive child malnutrition and reverses in the healthcare and sanitation systems that are leading to more birth issues, cholera outbreaks and even animal pox and disease. Most worrying, the economic collapse has created a market for selling organs, children and sisters. Refugees continue to flow from the disaster and are being beaten killed and tortured in Iran.
Human rights reports have all openly noted the complete reversal of all human rights since the August terrorist takeover. Most women and girls are now prisoners in their homes and cut off from the normal they knew for 20 years.
Terrorists are assembling, and growing, and making Afghanistan their new safehaven. This can be seen clearly in their attacks on numerous neighboring countries, the uptick in IS-K targeting of TB-HQ fighters, and the recent suicide bombing on a Haqqani senior cleric in a Mosque. Not to mention the Taliban-Haqqani regime hosting the most wanted AQ leader in the world in their Kabul safehouse.
Nothing is out of bounds for the terrorists gathering in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with UN leaders saying humanitarian aid cannot keep up with the collapse of the country, nothing should be out of bounds for the US and other Afghan allies.
What Can We Do
Policymakers must remember that the current regime in Afghanistan is neither internationally recognized or internally legitimate. They are holding nearly 40 million people hostage under their barbaric ideology.
Using the LaMedici national asset paradigm, let’s look at the possible policy options towards Afghanistan by the United States and their allies. LaMedici is a more nuanced version of the outdated DIME paradigm and it includes at a minimum, Legal, Aid/Development, Military, Economic, Diplomacy, Intelligence operations, Cyber, Information operations.
In most likely order of enactment: (Cyber expertise must be used by all of these tools)
The United States should formally withdraw from the Doha Agreement, as the Taliban signers have reneged on nearly every commitment it. This opens the way for the more efficient and legal use of other national and international tools to counter the growing terrorist state, and the inhumane behavior of the Taliban-Haqqani terror regime towards the Afghan people. Next the U.S. should move their embassy out of Doha Qatar and remove the Qataris from the diplomatic process. They have done nothing but aid the Taliban since their involvement began. Additionally, a special diplomatic effort should be made to identify any Afghan groups seeking to prepare for a future government and give them assistance in developing an acceptable, non-corrupt, and fair system. This should be the job of a special envoy with wide ranging powers—they must be trusted by the Afghan people.
The U.S. should designate all leaders in the Taliban-Haqqani regime as terrorists and post bounties for their capture. Next, they should be banned from international travel and sanctioned financially. The U.S. should further apply sanctions for terrorism support on any business, civilian, or government member in Pakistan or Afghanistan that has been, or is, aiding the Taliban-Haqqani regime. This is a major shift and would swiftly cut the lifeline to the terror regime. Finally, there is a need for extreme enforcement of drug and natural resource smuggling related to Afghanistan as it is a major source of terrorist financing.
The U.S. should utilize all funds frozen in the Afghan banking system to support Afghan (non-Talban) efforts to keep the economy going and to provide humanitarian aid. USAID should work closely with all NGO efforts and work around the terror regime to bring critical aid of every kind to Afghans. This must improve the health, infrastructure, food, and education sectors.
4. Information Operations
The U.S. should fully recognize the failure of their information campaign over the last 20 years and redouble their efforts to shut down the propaganda and communication efforts of the terror regime. This must include working with social media companies, especially Meta and Twitter, to remove all Taliban-Haqqani handles and pages, and make it easier for users to report the terrorists on their system. The U.S. should be using their capabilities to educate Afghans about their human rights, and assist any Afghans seeking to rebuild a democratic system of governance to replace the illegal regime.
5. Intelligence Operations
The U.S. intelligence systems should rebuild any lost focus on the Afghanistan/Pakistan region and work to locate and remove all the terrorist leadership structure. Now is the time to give an ultimatum to Pakistan to cease their security sector support to the Talban-Haqqani terror regime. Intelligence operations should also include supporting any counter-terrorism Afghan forces that exist. Any support to armed forces that are working to remove the Taliban-Haqqani regime must ensure strict adherence to the laws or war and human rights conventions.
The final policy effort is military operations. No policy that takes military options off the table from the start will be successful. Our enemies must know there is a risk of escalation that they cannot counter. First, our quiet special operations forces should be working with our intelligence operators to locate and remove high-value targets, and to update the target list for air supported operations. Our more overt special operations forces should build-up a future Afghan military force that can better adapt to the security needs of Afghanistan and be prepared to secure the country when the Taliban-Haqqani regime falls. They can be trained in other nations in the region and eventually in parts of Afghanistan as they are freed from Taliban-Haqqani rule. The U.S. Special Operations command should be given the lead in planning a long-term (multi-decade) campaign to remove the terrorists from Afghanistan and Pakistan and to close down the recruitment and radicalization structures in the region, especially in Pakistan. The military needs in the region are not conventional and should be very limited, smaller even than the force that is still working on the Korean peninsula security project the US started the 1940s.
There is no silver bullet for ending the insecurity and chaos that has marked Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 1970s, but their must be a clear and enduring national policy to work towards a safer and more economically vibrant region that can make peace amongst itself and the world.