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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

War in Afghanistan: Strategy, Military Operations, and Issues for Congress

Steve Bowman
Specialist in National Security

Catherine Dale
Specialist in International Security

With a deteriorating security situation and no comprehensive political outcome yet in sight, most observers view the war in Afghanistan as open-ended. By early 2009, a growing number of Members of Congress, Administration officials, and outside experts had concluded that the effort—often called "America's other war"—required greater national attention. For the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), the war is both a struggle for survival and an effort to establish sustainable security and stability. For the United States, the war in Afghanistan concerns the security of Afghanistan and the region, including denying safe haven to terrorists and helping ensure a stable regional security balance. For regional states, including India and Russia as well as Afghanistan's neighbors Pakistan and Iran, the war may have a powerful impact on the future balance of power and influence in the region. For individual members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the war may be about defeating terrorist networks, ensuring regional stability, proving themselves as contributing NATO members, and/or demonstrating NATO's relevance in the 21st century.

Since 2001, the character of the war in Afghanistan has evolved from a violent struggle against al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters to a multi-faceted counterinsurgency (COIN) effort. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in order to end the ability of the Taliban regime to provide safe haven to al Qaeda and to put a stop to al Qaeda's use of the territory of Afghanistan as a base of operations for terrorist activities. In that first phase, U.S. and coalition forces, working with Afghan opposition forces, quickly removed the Taliban regime.

After the fall of the Taliban, the character of the war shifted to a multifaceted COIN effort aimed at smothering the diffuse insurgency by shoring up GIRoA efforts to provide security, governance, and economic development. The three areas are generally viewed as interdependent and mutually-reinforcing—security is a prerequisite for some governance and development efforts, and longer-term, sustainable security requires both functional governance and economic opportunity. As one pillar of the COIN campaign in Afghanistan, the Afghan and international military effort aims broadly at defeating the remnants of the Taliban and other insurgents, securing the population, and helping extend the reach of the Afghan government. The international military effort includes both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to which the United States contributes troops, and the separate U.S.-led OEF mission.

In his December 3, 2009, speech President Obama identified several objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan: (1) disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda; (2) deny al Qaeda a safe haven; (3) reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government; and (4) strengthen the capacity of the Afghan security forces and government to better protect and serve population centers. To accomplish this, President Obama ordered the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to the region, which will bring the U.S. total to almost 100,000 troops. This deployment will be staged over several months, with the full additional complement being in country by the end of the summer 2010. Noting that Afghan operations continue to be an international effort, President Obama expressed confidence that some of 42 coalition allies will also be increasing their contributions. NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen echoed this confidence, stating that he expects NATO allies to contribute at least an additional 5,000 troops in 2010.

Date of Report: June 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 76
Order Number: R40156
Price: $29.95

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