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Afghanistan war, 11 years on: What more can and should the US military do?

Though the work of US troops has become increasingly deadly in the Afghanistan war, many analysts warn that it has not been increasingly effective.

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Still, the insider attacks, casualties, and persistent corruption throughout the Afghan government after a decade-plus of war make some wonder whether the war effort continues to be worth the cost.

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“The administration’s strategy at this point is that they are relying on a negotiated settlement, and what the fighting is doing is determining the terms of that settlement,” says Stephen Biddle, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

Some might argue that “the right thing to do is sticking it out and suffering the casualties we will suffer until 2014,” he adds.

But whether that is indeed the right thing to do, he says, hinges on, “how much can you shift the terms of a prospective settlement in your favor while you continue to fight?”

Right now, it’s increasingly hard to answer that question. “We’re doing a variety of things that even as we continue to fight are moving the settlement terms in the wrong direction,” Dr. Biddle says.

The ability to sustain any settlement will be another key indicator of the success of the war – and it is dependent on Afghan government reform, he adds.

That’s because any settlement is likely to legalize the Taliban as a political party. If Afghan leaders continue to allow what Biddle calls “an increasingly predatory government,” then the Taliban’s foothold in the government will grow.

Busy with fighting and training, the US has “significantly reduced” its government reform efforts. In fact, the insider attacks that US forces are enduring could be “the tip of a larger iceberg” related to this corruption, Biddle argues.

While the US military has painted the attacks as largely rooted in cultural conflict and has vowed to redouble cultural training efforts for US troops, a more effective means of addressing the problem is government reform, Biddle says.

Afghan fighters see that their commanders do not have their best interests at heart, he argues, because many of them are political appointees – given their job by higher-ups in government, often with a wink and a nod, to protect large payoff networks that are often making the government officials, as well as the commanders, rich.

Afghan troops see this and lose their will to fight. In turn, US troops are “disdainful” of this lack of will to fight. “All of these American 19-year-olds have been taught that the one thing that is least praiseworthy and least respectable is lack of courage under fire – and they are training and living with people who they believe lack that,” Biddle explains.

“The result is that there’s a serious danger that what you get is systematic disrespect,” he says. “There’s reason to believe that lots of Afghans feel they are seriously disrespected, and I think you end up in a situation where mutual disdain builds.”

IN PICTURES: Inside Afghanistan

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