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Wednesday, July 14, 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 asserts that it is pursuing a fully resourced and 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 deteriorating security in large parts of Afghanistan since 2006. Each of the two reviews 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 104,000 by September 2010. Currently, U.S. troops in Afghanistan total about 94,000 and foreign partners are about 40,000.

U.S. strategy has not shown clear success, to date, although senior U.S. officials say that only now is the effect of the U.S. and partner "surge" being achieved. These comments have been intended to address a growing sense that the conflict may not produce clear or permanent stability in Afghanistan. That perception has been fed by the failure to fully stabilize Marjah; Afghan reluctance to allow combat to better secure Qandahar Province; President Hamid Karzai's dismissal on June 5 of two top security-related officials on whom the international alliance has placed extensive confidence; and the imminent or near-term departure of several major partner contingents, and growing reluctance of others to continue the effort. Although U.S. strategy is not expected to change, the overall mission was further disrupted by the sudden ousting on June 23 of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for disparaging public comments by him and his staff about U.S. civilian leaders of Afghanistan policy. He has been replaced by CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus, whose leading reputation will likely calm Afghan and partner country fears of turmoil surrounding the McChrystal dismissal.

The credibility of the Afghan government is considered crucial to U.S. strategy. To improve Afghan performance, U.S. diplomats are adjusting their approach to President Karzai, who recoiled in early 2010 from U.S. criticism of his failure to curb corruption and of the extensive fraud in the August 20, 2009, presidential elections. U.S.-Karzai strains on these issues—and over Karzai's criticism of what he asserted was U.S. disrespect for Afghan sovereignty—nearly led to a revocation of President Obama's invitation for Karzai to visit the United States May 10-14, 2010. The visit was assessed as highly fruitful and resulted in a decision to renew a 2005 U.S.- Afghan long-term partnership accord, although that positive assessment subsequently soured following U.S. press articles in June that said Karzai doubts that the United States can prevail in Afghanistan.

A major issue—and the focus of the Karzai visit to Washington, DC, and an international meeting on Afghanistan held in London on January 28, 2010—has been the effort to persuade insurgent fighters and leaders to end their fight and join the political process. There is broad international support for Karzai's plan to reintegrate insurgent foot soldiers but not for his vision of reconciling with high-level insurgent figures, potentially including Taliban leader Mullah Umar. Karzai received general backing for these initiatives at a "consultative peace jirga" that convened in Kabul during June 2-4, 2010.

Through the end of 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. (See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.)

Date of Report: June 25, 2010
Number of Pages: 101
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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