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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Following two high-level policy reviews on Afghanistan in 2009, the Obama Administration says it is pursuing a fully resourced, integrated military-civilian strategy that will pave the way for a gradual transition to Afghan security leadership beginning in July 2011. The policy is intended to address what the Obama Administration considered to be a security environment that was deteriorating despite a gradual increase in U.S. forces there during 2006-2008. Some of the deterioration has been attributed to Afghan disillusionment with insufficient, ineffective, and corrupt Afghan governance, and the relative safe haven in parts of Pakistan enjoyed by Afghan militants. 

Each of the two high-level policy reviews in 2009 resulted in a decision to add combat troops, with the intent of creating the conditions to expand Afghan governance and economic development, rather than on hunting and defeating insurgents. A total of 51,000 additional U.S. forces were authorized by the two reviews, which will bring U.S. troop levels to approximately 100,000 by September 2010. Each review also resulted in force increases by U.S. partners in Afghanistan. 

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was appointed top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan in May 2009, is a key architect and proponent of the current strategy. The strategy is predicated not only on creating secure conditions, but also empowering and improving Afghan governance and promoting economic development. These functions have involved a significant buildup of U.S. diplomats and other civilians as advisors and mentors. U.S. diplomats are also adjusting their approach to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was weakened by U.S. criticism of his failure to curb corruption and by the extensive fraud in the August 20, 2009, presidential elections. He was declared the winner but subsequently had difficulty obtaining parliamentary confirmation of a new cabinet. His domestic difficulties and strains between him and some in the Obama Administration nearly led to a revocation of President Obama's invitation for Karzai to visit the United States May 10-14, 2010, (an invitation issued during President Obama's visit to Afghanistan on March 28, 2010). 

A major issue during the Karzai visit to Washington D.C. is the effort to persuade insurgent fighters and leaders to end their fight and join the political process. The effort was also the focus of an international meeting on Afghanistan held in London on January 28, 2010.There is not universal international support for Karzai's vision of reconciling with high-level insurgent figures, potentially including Taliban leader Mullah Umar. However, Karzai says he plans to pursue this initiative at a "peace jirga" to convene in Kabul planned on/about May 20. As U.S. strategy unfolds, a greater sense of U.S. official optimism has started to take hold, with comments to this effect by Gen. McChrystal, Secretary of Defense Gates, and CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus. Their comments have coincided with the partial success of "Operation Moshtarak" to stabilize Marjah, and successful arrests of and strikes on key Afghan militants in Pakistan. A more extensive operation—although characterized more by political engagement than actual combat—is planned for June 2010 in the major province of Qandahar. 

Including FY2009, the United States has provided over $40 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $21 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces.

Date of Report: May 11, 2010
Number of Pages: 97
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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