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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Need for Increased Strength in Afghanistan

The omens look bad for NATO's mission in Afghanistan. The alliance's recent offensive in that graveyard of empires has been bloody and, if reports of dozens of civilian casualties are to be believed, potentially counterproductive. But this is not a reason for NATO to pull out. Quite the opposite.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the world paid the price for neglecting Afghanistan. Despite quickly unseating the Taliban, U.S. President George W. Bush's Iraq-obsessed administration and its equally distracted allies then failed to make sufficient political, military and financial commitments.

Today, an insurgency is unsettling Afghanistan's south. There is precious little in the way of institutions, and development work in parts of the country has been nonexistent.

Nonetheless, there are signs of hope. More than Iraq, Afghanistan is tired of war -- almost three decades of conflict have seen to that. The local population is not dead-set against the foreign soldiers. But it does need reassurance that their commitment is lasting and will lead to a better quality of life.

As NATO leaders prepare for a summit in Riga next month, they must recognize the importance of the mission and provide the means for its success.

That means sending thousands more troops to the south, where chronic insecurity has meant that development has barely begun. A bigger military presence is needed if the region's wrecked infrastructure is to be rebuilt.

Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, has already hinted at his desire to redeploy forces from Iraq to Afghanistan. Other countries -- including the United States -- will have to think hard about sending fresh troops.

Strategy must also be rethought. During recent weeks, NATO has focused on the number of Taliban fighters it has killed in the south. But insurgencies are overcome by winning hearts and minds, not stacking up corpses. NATO should keep focused on working where it can most make a difference, rather than being sucked into side conflicts as British troops have been.

A winning strategy also requires much more from the world at large. There are some encouraging signs that the European Union is stepping up its efforts to help create an effective police force. But the United Nations, international donors and neighboring Pakistan all have to work much more closely with NATO to prevent Afghanistan from slipping out of control.

Defeat would be a strategic calamity. Success, while difficult, is still possible. Every effort is necessary: Afghanistan can still be won.

This comment was published as an editorial in the Financial Times.