Download this publication

Between 2001 and 2007, the United States and NATO gradually abandoned the commitment to a light military footprint in Afghanistan, initially adopted to avoid making the same mistakes as the Soviet Union. A heavy footprint, it was feared, would enable the militants to mobilize resistance in the name of Islam and Afghan nationalism. As it turned out, the militants mobilized effectively to meet the growing foreign military presence. More combat troops have given NATO some tactical victories, but the limitations and counterproductive effects of the military approach to defeat the militants tend to undermine NATO's broader stabilization function in Afghanistan, thus pointing to a fundamental contradiction in the mission. Strengthening NATO's combat role is likely to sharpen this contradiction and increase the related probability of a strategic failure.