The conflict in Afghanistan is likely to be one of the first issues of contention between Europe and the U.S. during the next U.S. administration. U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, and key European correspondent on Afghanistan, Kim Sengupta, currently with The Independent, discussed the future of transatlantic engagement in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

Strategy for Afghanistan
Ambassador Volker explained that success in Afghanistan is critically important to global security. Failure would likely lead to instability and terrorist activity in the surrounding region. Creating a viable and sustainable government in Afghanistan is one of the top priorities for the incoming U.S. administration. In order succeed, both Europe and the U.S. must to reassess their approach to strengthening the central government in Kabul. A grand strategy is needed; one with a comprehensive approach to bringing stability to the provinces, the central government, and to the region as a whole.

Ambassador Volker warned that the situation is deteriorating as increased insurgent attacks result in an unacceptable numbers of civilian and military casualties. Reasons for the bleak picture are plentifold: limited government authority; Taliban safe havens in Pakistan; and the reliance of Afghan farmers and the Afghan agricultural economy on narcotics production.

Ambassador Volker stressed that the international community is not committing the resources necessary to make a critical difference for public security on the ground. Committing troops to sustain public security is essential to the reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan.

Other highlights:

  • Ambassador Volker presented an optimistic view of reconstruction efforts in the region, explaining that there had been progress on school enrollment, health care provision and improvements in infrastructure, such as road construction. In addition, the registration process for the upcoming Afghan elections seems to be advancing well.
  • Kim Sengupta questioned this optimism, explaining that school enrollment figures do not provide any information about the number of schools operating and the number of pupils actually attending class. Where roads have been built, it is too dangerous for civilians to use them.
  • Public opinion in Europe and the U.S. featured high in the discussion. The transatlantic strategy and the likely realities of continuing the war need to be communicated to the public in order to garner stable support for transatlantic action in the region.