The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Diana Duarte, Media Coordinator,Phone: +1 212 627 0444,Email:,

Six Alternatives to a Troop Surge in Afghanistan


Tonight, President Obama will tell us that he must
expand the war on Afghanistan in order to end it. He will say that
another troop surge is necessary to prevent al-Qaeda from using
Afghanistan as a base. What he won't say is that al-Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan. He probably won't point out that international forces already outnumber the Taliban twelve to one.
And he's not likely to remind us that throughout history, from the
American Revolution to the Vietnam War, home-grown insurgencies like
the Taliban's ultimately ended when foreign troops withdrew.

More than 80 percent of Afghans don't want more US troops in their country.
One reason is that the US presence is strengthening the Taliban, which
most Afghans oppose. As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
has found, "The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in
Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban."

Afghanistan's crisis is in part the result of 30 years of US intervention in the region, including the covert CIA campaign that created the Taliban (and al-Qaeda).
Having unleashed this violence, the US has a legal and ethical
obligation to the people of Afghanistan. That obligation will not be
met by putting more boots on the ground. Instead, we need policies that
address the grinding poverty, mass violence against women, predatory
government and ongoing warfare that plague Afghanistan.

Here are six things the Obama Administration must do to further the prospects for peace in Afghanistan:

1. Protect civilians from attacks

  • This will be the third US troop surge in Afghanistan; the first two killed record numbers of civilians.
  • In
    2007, US/NATO troops were expanded by 45 percent and more civilians
    were killed than in the previous four years combined. In the first 10
    months of Obama's 2009 surge, more than 2000 civilians were killed-at a faster rate than any time since the war began.
  • The Taliban is known to attack villages where US soldiers have been. More US troops will make more civilians vulnerable to reprisal attacks.
  • President Obama's expansion of the war into Pakistan has further endangered civilian lives. He has authorized as many drone strikes in less than ten months as George Bush did in his last three years in office.

The US should stop constructing military bases and waging air
strikes in or near civilian areas. President Obama must put a stop to
drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

2. Uphold Afghan women's rights

  • George Bush's lie-that the US is in Afghanistan to defend
    women's rights-is now driving the idea that more US forces are needed
    to protect Afghan women from the Taliban.
  • The problem with this argument is that the US has never prioritized women's rights-or anyone's rights-in Afghanistan.
  • From
    2001 to the present, the US has allied itself with warlords and
    fanatical fundamentalists whose track record on women's rights is
    virtually the same as the Taliban's. In the creation of Afghanistan's
    Parliament, constitution and judiciary, the US has consistently traded women's rights for allegiance from warlords and reactionary clerics.
  • The
    choice in Afghanistan is not between "winning the war" or "abandoning
    Afghan women." Upholding women's rights in Afghanistan is not some
    idealistic mission: the US is legally obligated to protect
    internationally recognized human rights, including women's rights, in
    every policy, foreign and domestic. Military force is about the least
    suited instrument for securing human rights in any context.
  • Rampant abuses of Afghan women's rights cannot be eliminated by force.
    Ultimately, an end to the armed conflict is a precondition for Afghan
    women to create an environment in which they themselves can
    successfully assert their rights.

The US should declare women's rights-and all human
rights-non-negotiable and end the US pattern of trading Afghan women's
rights for cooperation from warlords and armed groups.

US economic and political support to Afghanistan should be tied
to human rights improvements, including women's rights to healthcare,
education, employment, political participation and freedom from

3. Prioritize development and meet humanitarian needs

  • Proponents of a troop surge argue that development cannot
    be pursued without security; but the inverse is equally true. In a
    country with the world's highest infant mortality rate, there can be no security without development.
  • The US is undermining development by militarizing humanitarian aid. The army's "Provincial Reconstruction Teams" blur the line between combat operations and aid delivery.
    They use humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip to extort information
    from civilians. The practice turns urgently-needed aid into a weapon of
    war and endangers recipients by associating them with the US military.

The US should demilitarize aid operations and fund
community-based, Afghan-led reconstruction efforts to enable access to
food, clean water, health care and primary education. Aid should be
channeled through Afghan organizations to ensure that funds reach those
most in need instead of reverting back to private US-based contractors.

4. Address the underlying reasons for the resurgence of the Taliban

  • Grinding poverty and a 40 percent unemployment rate are root causes of the insurgency. Most Taliban recruits join because they are paid a daily wage.
  • The
    Taliban is also strengthened by popular outrage and fear of US attacks,
    the illegitimacy of the Karzai government and the support of Pakistan.
  • These
    problems will not be solved with more troops. They are social and
    political problems that must be addressed with development and

The US should allocate funding for job training and creation
programs for Afghans. Currently, only 10 percent of US funding in
Afghanistan is earmarked for development; the rest is for military
purposes. Allocating more funds to combating poverty in Afghanistan
will weaken the Taliban without endangering civilians and help build
long-term security.

5. Support Afghan civil society

  • Civil society, including the Afghan women's movement, is
    the country's most moderating force and a vital resource for rebuilding
    Afghanistan, advancing human rights and fostering peace in the region.
  • The
    political spaces where civil society can flourish-including a free
    press, progressive civic institutions, non-governmental organizations,
    and schools and universities-are debilitated by an atmosphere of war
    and militarism.

The US should hold consultations with Afghan civil society,
particularly women's organizations, to determine policies that can
support civil society as a critical counter-force to warlords, armed
groups and corrupt officials.

6. Advance diplomacy and peace building

  • Ultimately, this war, like other armed conflicts, will end
    through negotiations. Yet, compared to the resources poured into the
    fighting, the US has barely begun to lay the groundwork for peace talks.
  • Negotiations
    need to include local processes of reconciliation and peace building
    and address key grievances of the Taliban without legitimizing their
  • A regional process should include Afghanistan's
    neighbors and address disputes between India and Pakistan, which are
    fueling violence in Afghanistan.

The US should support and facilitate diplomacy and peace
building while recognizing that ultimately, decisions about what
happens in Afghanistan must be made in Afghanistan and not in

This resource is also available on MADRE's website:

MADRE is an international women's human rights organization that partners with community-based women's groups to advance women's human rights, challenge injustice and create social change in contexts of war, conflict, disaster and their aftermath. MADRE advocates for a world in which all people enjoy individual and collective human rights; natural resources are shared equitably and sustainably; women participate effectively in all aspects of society; and all people have a meaningful say in policies that affect their lives. For more information about MADRE, visit