Modern terrorists have rarely killed more than a few thousand people in any given year. Many times in Afghanistan, when my boots were stained with human gristle, I asked myself if the bloody effort could be justified by the hunt for small bands of madmen.
Defeating terrorism was never described as NATO’s main goal in southern Afghanistan, however. Military interpreters sometimes heard Arabic on the Taliban communication intercepts, but for the most part the international jihadists had disappeared by the time NATO pushed into the south. Instead, the soldiers were assigned to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. This wasn’t entirely altruistic—military planners believed that the region would become more resistant to extremist ideology with a healthy dose of development—but it wasn’t all cold calculation. Many prominent humanitarians were among those who called for a large contingent of foreign soldiers in the south. In July 2003, more than eighty non-governmental organizations declared the need for a bigger, tougher NATO presence in the provinces. “If Afghanistan is to have any hope for peace and stabilization, now is the time to expand international peacekeepers to key cities and transport routes outside of Kabul,” the statement said. I’m biased in favour of one of the signatories—the International Crisis Group, which later became my employer—but it’s fair to say that the organizations that signed the call to arms were some of the most respected voices in conflict zones around the world. Seasoned policy professionals genuinely felt that an influx of firepower could help the situation. Many of them still feel short-changed, that if only a larger NATO contingent had been rushed into southern Afghanistan, with greater haste, then perhaps things would not have gone so badly.
Smith, Graeme. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan. Knopf Canada, Toronto. 2013. p. 280-1