Afghan Insurgency Can Be Reduced Over Time

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NATO's top civilian representative in Afghanistan says it will take more time for Afghan security forces to take the lead countrywide. Britain's Mark Sedwill tells Steve Inskeep some sort of violence will always be there — in the form of insurgents, terrorists or people looking to exploit the outlying and more difficult areas of the country.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The U.S. and its allies are working to define what success looks like in Afghanistan. They're straining to get there, too. And we're going to hear one rather modest definition of success from Mark Sedwill. He's the top civilian representing the NATO alliance in Afghanistan.

If you look two and three years ahead in Afghanistan, what's the best-case scenario for this country - the best case?

Mr. MARK SEDWILL (Civilian Representative, NATO Alliance, Afghanistan): I think the best-case scenario is that the Afghan force have taken the lead for security, countrywide, the insurgency has been reduced to a level which they can manage, and that we are focused on the development agenda, helping Afghanistan move forward as a very poor country rather than a country beset by conflict. If we can achieve that, then we'll be in good shape.

INSKEEP: I want to say rather than a country beset by conflict. But you're not talking in terms of ending the civil war, ending the insurgency, just reducing it to some manageable level.

Mr. SEDWILL: Well, I think it's inevitable that there will still be some violence in Afghanistan over the next few years, whether that's insurgent related or not. It's a country where there are disputes over grazing rights, water rights, and those can break out into violence in local areas as the population grows. And, of course, it is going to face enormous challenges, no matter how well we succeed in this campaign.

INSKEEP: Now, that's troubling to think about, because I think in 2001, 2002, just after the Taliban fell, it was felt that this was a country that had been through more than 20 years of war, that was desperate for peace, that they would seize this opportunity. And now even after years and years of U.S. and NATO efforts, you were saying that the best case scenario is still to have a war there, basically.

Mr. SEDWILL: No, I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is I think I can bring the war to an end but I think there will still be some violence and there will still be some insurgents, terrorists and others seeking to exploit some of the more outlying and difficult areas of Afghanistan. And we have to be realistic about that.

So, I believe we can bring the insurgency as a threat to the integrity of Afghanistan to an end. But we have to be realistic...

INSKEEP: You can reduce it from a mortal threat to a problem, essentially, is what you're saying?

Mr. SEDWILL: Yeah, that's one way of putting it.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about a couple of the provinces where the insurgency has been the strongest - Kandahar and Helmand. These are both in the south of Afghanistan, they're both relatively populist and they've both been very, very violent. It is said by our correspondents who have been there recently that in effect U.S. and British officials - soldiers and civilians - are running those provinces for all practical purposes; that Afghans have very little to say or very little that they're doing that's constructive. Is that an accurate statement?

Mr. SEDWILL: No, I don't think it is. I think if you look at Helmand, for example, you have one of the best governors in Afghanistan there, Governor Gulab Mangal, who's now been in place for nearly three years. And the provincial reconstruction team, British-led but with American support there, does almost everything there- through the governor. He's the guy who works out the programs and the priorities. (Unintelligible)...

INSKEEP: Isn't he dependent on those outside the...

Mr. SEDWILL: Yeah, of course.

INSKEEP: ...officials and soldiers?

Mr. SEDWILL: Of course he's dependent upon us, because we're the people in the moment who are providing the funding resources and the expertise. But in the end, he's the guy leading those programs. And Afghanistan is going to be in that condition for some time. The capabilities of government were destroyed because of the Soviet period, the civil war and the Taliban. We're building this back up again.

INSKEEP: One other thing I want to ask about, ambassador, you're expanding your footprint in Afghanistan - more troops, more civilians. They all have to be supplied, the supplies have to arrive on convoys, and it is said that bribes have to be paid to various Taliban groups and other insurgents and criminals to make sure the convoys arrive safely. Are you financing, in effect, the same insurgency that you're fighting?

Mr. SEDWILL: Well, this is a very real problem. One of the reasons that we support President Karzai's effort to get a grip on private security companies. There is evidence of exactly that kind of behavior where security providers have, in some cases, got in league with the local threat in order to create more business for themselves. We are working with the Afghans to bring that problem under control. It is a very real issue.

INSKEEP: It's make me wonder if it's gotten to the point where the increase of troops and civilians in Afghanistan has been almost like putting lighter fluid on a fire.

Mr. SEDWILL: No, I don't think that's true. I think every decision we take comes with risks and consequences as well as benefits. By having more troops on the ground, the violence goes up. That's inevitable, because we're taking the fight to the insurgents. By having more civilians on the ground in the short-term, we may be increasing the dependence of the Afghan government on our support.

But the benefit of those things, outweigh the costs and consequences - and that's the kind of judgment one has to make in a complex campaign like a counterinsurgency.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Sedwill, thanks very much.

Mr. SEDWILL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Mark Sedwill is visiting the U.S. He represents the NATO alliance in Afghanistan.

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