Learning Painful Lessons From Afghanistan by Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv - UASWC War Room
When the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) finally closed shop in Afghanistan in 2014, many participating nations professed a weariness with complex, civil-military, out-of-area operations. These operations demanded close, often awkward, relationships of cooperation, co-existence, and confrontation between different civil and military actors, including local civilians. Amid the withdrawal, many militaries and their defense departments seemed to express a collective sigh of relief, talking about a ‘return’ to strictly military priorities and operations. The focus shifted to ‘near area’ operations and security concerns at home. However two related problems remain:
- It is very difficult to claim Afghanistan can be characterized as a success story as a functioning state for and with its people. Given the enormous effort, the outcome is nothing short of a disaster. We need more self-reflection as to why that is.
- The civilian role in conflict is still sorely neglected – a perilous oversight for both understanding what happened in past operations but also for future conflict scenarios. There is a lot to learn from the civil-military relationships in Afghanistan.
Conflicts, both in Afghanistan as well as at home, will continue to have both a complex civilian and military character. Understanding past, current and future civilian domains is more necessary than ever before.
Where to begin? ISAF, in combination with the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), consisted of the combined intervening American forces with their NATO and non-NATO allies into Afghanistan after the attacks on the US World Trade Centre in 2001. Today, a smaller mission, focusing on security-related training and support, persists in Afghanistan with considerably fewer troops under Operation Resolute Support…