This blog has warned before that the strategy being pursued by Nato in Afghanistan will fail for financial reasons, a prediction that is borne out by the latest reports. The aim of the Americans, British and others is to reduce the military threat from the Taliban to a low enough level that the Afghan government’s armed forces can cope with after the Nato countries’ own forces have left the country. The deadline for the withdrawal is set by the politics of the Nato allies rather than by the facts on the ground: the coalition government in the UK, for example, intends to bring the British contingent home by the time of the next general election.
The problem with this strategy is that the Afghan state is too weak and its economy too poor to be able to carry on the war on its own. The Times reports that squadrons of helicopters and transport aircraft and thousands of vehicles are to be given to the Afghan army to equip it for its future tasks. Apparently, Afghan officials also asked for fighter jets and tanks (of course they would …). These gifts are valued at $2.7 billion, and by 2014 Nato expects to have spent a total of $21 billion on security infrastructure and equipment for Afghanistan. The Nato countries can afford this, probably, if they want to.
However, the future running costs of this military provisioning are estimated at $6 billion a year, which is more than three times the annual income of the Afghan government. The notion that fighting the future war in Afghanistan can be devolved to the Afghans is a fantasy. Wars are simply too expensive. The future for Afghanistan must lie in some kind of negotiated and devolved settlement, rather than the pursuit of an impossible victory.