The initial American idea in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 was not to do what the Soviet army had done -- not to commit a large force, but to work with allied Afghan militias, a small contingent of Special Forces and massive use of airpower.
But once the military option was adopted, there proved to be no way but to follow the Soviet path.
In the initial stage of the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, which led to the overthrow of the Taliban, less than 450 Special Forces personnel and CIA officers took part.
But before long the United States and its allies were compelled to send in ground troops to pursue Qaeda leaders. By the end of 2005, the total strength of allied forces and the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, was about 31,500.
On a visit to Kabul in December 2005, the U.S. secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, announced a plan to withdraw 3,000 American troops from Afghanistan by the summer of 2006. The "surprising" resurgence of the Taliban, however, shelved that plan indefinitely.
Instead, ISAF under NATO leadership increased its strength to 18,500. At present, the total number of foreign forces in Afghanistan comes to about 40,000. If the situation remains as it is, NATO may be forced soon to commit even more troops to Afghanistan.
But a grave mistake is inherent in this approach. It overlooks the critical fact that the American and NATO forces are no longer part of a solution in Afghanistan, but part of the problem.
After the removal of the Taliban, American and ISAF troops were welcomed as liberators. But they have overstayed their welcome.
Now, after countless mistakes, they have turned a large part of the population against them. They are now seen as another "infidel" army trying to occupy their country.
If the international community wants to deny the Taliban and their allies an important recruiting tool, it must withdraw Western troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
This suggestion may seem irresponsible. Without the military support of the international community, the Karzai government would not be expected to survive more than a few months.
But that would not be the case if the withdrawal of the American and NATO troops took place as part of a well-planned, comprehensive solution of the Afghanistan problem.
The following elements could form the basis of such a plan:
Formation of a Muslim international peacekeeping force under UN command.
There is no doubt that Afghanistan needs outside military support in the short run. To provide such support without exacerbating the resentment of the Afghans, a new Muslim peacekeeping force should be formed under the direct command and control of the UN to replace ISAF and allied forces.
Such a force might not persuade the Taliban to support a peace process, but it would dissuade many young Afghans from joining the ranks of the insurgency.
A stronger focus on training Afghan national army and police.
Even Muslim peacekeepers will run into trouble in Afghanistan if they stay too long. Thus it is essential to allocate sufficient resources to training and equipping the Afghan army and police forces to take charge of security as soon as possible.
A new intra-Afghan dialogue.
President Hamid Karzai may be the best possible leader for Afghanistan under the present conditions, and the 2004 Afghan constitution may be one of the best in the region. But a broader, more legitimate process is now required.
A new intra-Afghan dialogue should include all prominent personalities from within and outside the country. No time limit should be set. The participants should have the opportunity to freely voice their grievances and express their views in detail. The process may take many months, but it is only through such a process that a new social contract can emerge.
A fresh focus on human development.
There is an urgent need for a new reconstruction strategy with a focus on human development -- taking the aid directly to local communities, giving the people the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process for its use, addressing people's immediate needs and improving their living conditions.
The level of international assistance also needs to increase, with the rich Muslim nations taking an active part. Drug eradication can be part of the overall development strategy.
Curtailing interference by neighbors.
It is well known that the Taliban enjoys widespread support in Pakistan. The international community needs to find ways to curb assistance to the insurgency from across the border.
Najibullah Lafraie, a lecturer in political studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand, was Afghanistan's minister of state for foreign affairs from 1992 to 1996.