At sixteen years and counting, Afghanistan is the longest war for western states of the post-Cold War period, and NATO’s first overseas war. At its height, the US and its NATO allies deployed 130,000 troops in its efforts to stabilise the country. NATO combat forces withdrew by December 2014 having failed to defeat the Taliban insurgency. This lecture will explore what went wrong in Afghanistan and tease out the lessons for the utility of western military power. It essence, it will be argued that whilst Afghanistan demonstrates that western militaries are able to develop the capabilities to achieve tactical success in counterinsurgency wars, they are unable to translate battlefield gains into strategic success due to the intrinsic political challenges of such conflicts. The lecture will go on to explore how military culture limits the effectiveness of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. It will conclude on the prospects for peace in Afghanistan and on the future of western military intervention.
Professor Theo Farrell is Executive Dean of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong. He was previously Head of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. He served on a number of high-level campaign reviews in Afghanistan, and held several talks with senior Taliban. He is author of Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 (Penguin/Random House, 2017).