This paper analyzes key features of the Western counter insurgency strategy in the post 9/11 period with a particular focus on the policy towards the Afghan Taliban. The paper lays out the overall US-led counter insurgency strategy and identifies the reasons which made it inefficient and counterproductive. The paper finds that the principal reason why the Taliban were able to re-emerge from being virtually eradicated in 2002/3 following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was because of recreation of conditions that had created the Taliban in the first place.

The paper further divides this principal reason into primary and secondary factors that influenced the recreation of the Afghan Taliban. Primary factors include the material and military support given to the local Afghan warlords, in the hope of acquiring actionable intelligence against the Taliban, which ultimately did not materialize because of a lack of attention to local power dynamics. An over reliance on Afghan warlords for the provision of intelligence by the US which resulted due to a tendency to categorize people in Afghanistan in the binary of “good” and “bad” terrorists (i.e. Taliban and others) allowed the provision of faulty intelligence post-2001. Furthermore, the lack of a broad based re conciliatory network for the Taliban meant that even former members of the Taliban who wanted to give up arms after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, didn't have the option to do so and were unable to integrate into Afghan society. As a result, they were left with little options but to reconstitute and join the insurgency.

In addition to the primary reasons which are aforementioned, the paper also takes into account several secondary reasons that were responsible for the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban post-2001. These include: a strong formal (shadow government) of the Taliban that was operational wherever the reach of the Afghan state was limited e.g. in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, an informal network of the Taliban post-2001 which was used to perpetuate influence through intimidation and scare tactics among the Afghan populace, the generation of revenue through opium to fuel the insurgency, effective management of threat perceptions through handling communications by the Taliban, the role played by the duplicity of Pakistan post-2001 which made the eradication of terrorists difficult, a shared ‘Pashtun’ identity with neighboring Pakistan that creates informal networks of support for the Taliban and makes their eradication harder, and lastly, the weakness of the Afghan state itself. These secondary factors, juxtaposed with the primary factors, recreated conditions of lawlessness that had created the Taliban in Afghanistan in the first place, so much so that the Taliban from being virtually eradicated in 2002/3 following the US invasion of Afghanistan reconstituted and had reemerged as a fully-fledged insurgency by 2007. The paper concludes with several policy recommendations that will improve future counter insurgency strategies and, therefore, aid in effective peace building in post-conflict scenarios. The paper also briefly makes suggestions for future research in this important area of foreign policy.


Afghanistan, War on Terror, Counter insurgency, Peace building and Security Studies


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