"Hammering the bread and the nail": lessons from counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding in Afghanistan

The international intervention in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 was in many respects a watershed for the country and for the global agenda on combating terrorism. The decision to react to the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 with a military-led response was intended to close down al-Qaeda’s operational space in Afghanistan, which the Taliban regime refused to challenge.

Yet, the country was also in ongoing civil conflict and the actions of the Taliban regime were as much targeted against the Afghan population as they were causing insecurity for Western countries and Afghanistan’s neighbours. Focusing the international intervention on the narrow counter-terrorism aims of defeating al-Qaeda and removing the Taliban from power meant missing early opportunities to support political transition, development progress and long-term peacebuilding.

This research report reviews international engagement in Afghanistan with a view to identifying lessons and recommendations regarding statebuilding, peacebuilding and counterterrorism in the country and elsewhere. Based mostly on existing literature, the report focuses in particular on US, UK and EU involvement. While providing an overview of the key dilemmas, the analysis generates important recommendations for future support to Afghanistan, and also aims to inform ongoing policy debates about international engagement with ‘terrorism-generating’ contexts.

Download "Hammering the bread and the nail": Lessons from counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding in Afghanistan

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This report on Afghanistan is accompanied by two other reports on Somalia and Yemen. Together, they explore the issues identified in the initial discussion paper through detailed examination of specific country contexts from a peacebuilding perspective – in order to stimulate further debate on the lessons learnt.

An accompanying policy brief introduces the issues and contexts explored in the three reports from a peacebuilding perspective.

“The lessons from Afghanistan need to be learned. The Taliban have not been defeated militarily and other groups like Islamic State now operate in Afghanistan. The heart of the international engagement in this context needs to be to support local actors working towards an inclusive political settlement in the country.”

Hesta Groenewald