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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

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

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Following three policy reviews on Afghanistan, the latest in December 2010, the Obama Administration asserts that it is pursuing a well-resourced and integrated military-civilian strategy intended to pave the way for a gradual transition to Afghan leadership beginning in July 2011 and to be completed by the end of 2014. Amid widespread doubts that Afghan governance and security institutions will be strong enough to protect themselves by that time, U.S. officials say that the U.S. intent is for a long term relationship with Afghanistan that might include U.S. military involvement long after 2014. The policy is intended to ensure that Afghanistan will not again become a base for terrorist attacks against the United States.

The December 2010 review took into account the effect of the addition of U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010. A total of 51,000 additional U.S. forces were authorized by the two reviews, which has brought U.S. troop numbers to their current level of about 100,000, with partner forces adding about 41,000. As stated in the summary of the review, released December 16, 2010, insurgent momentum has been blunted, but gains remain “fragile and reversible.” One positive sign is that insurgent commanders are exploring terms under which they might reintegrate into society. Still, U.N. assessments and some outside experts remain pessimistic, asserting that the insurgents have expanded their presence in northern Afghanistan, and that the Afghan government is too lacking in capacity or effectiveness to be able to solidify coalition security gains. In order to try to achieve a strategic breakthrough that might force key insurgent leaders to negotiate a early political settlement, General Petraeus is attempting to accelerate local security solutions and experiments similar to those he pursued earlier in Iraq, and to step up the use of air strikes and special forces operations against Taliban commanders. However, there are major concerns among Afghanistan’s minorities and among its women that reconciliation, if it were to occur, might produce compromises that erode the freedoms enjoyed since 2001.

Many doubt that Afghanistan can be rendered sufficiently stable unless militants are denied safe haven in Pakistan. There appears to be a debate within the Administration and between the United States and Pakistan over whether the war effort should be widened somewhat to include stepped - p attacks on Afghan militants inside Pakistan. That debate raises the question of the degree to which Pakistan envisions Afghanistan as part of its strategy to avoid encirclement by or pressure from Pakistan’s historic rival, India. Nonetheless, Afghanistan is achieving ever higher degrees of economic and political integration with its neighbors in Central Asia and the Middle East. Iran is said to meddle in western Afghanistan, but generally not constitute a major player.

Others believe that the U.S. mission is jeopardized by the lack of transparency or effectiveness of the Afghan government. In particular, President Hamid Karzai’s failure to forcefully confront governmental corruption has caused a loss of Afghan support for his government. Others believe that governance is expanding and improving slowly and does not constitute an impediment to the U.S.-led transition plan. Still others say that strong economic growth and economic development might be sufficient to win the support of the population. Several major mining, agricultural export, and even energy development programs, mostly funded by private investment rather than international aid donors, have gotten under way in the past few years, with more in various stages of consideration or contract award. Additional development has been accomplished with foreign, particularly U.S., help: through the end of FY2010, the United States has provided over $54.5 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $30 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: February 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 94
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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