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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Stated U.S. policy is to ensure that Afghanistan will not again become a base for terrorist attacks against the United States. 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. 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.

The summary of the 2010 review, released December 16, 2010, states that insurgent momentum has been blunted but that gains remain “fragile and reversible.” U.N. assessments and some outside experts are more pessimistic than U.S. official views, asserting that the insurgents have expanded their presence in northern Afghanistan and will reassert themselves as international forces draw down. Because of the lack of certainty of the durability of reported progress, the pace of any transition to Afghan security leadership is likely to be gradual. In order to permit a more rapid transition, the top U.S. and NATO commander, General David Petraeus, is attempting to accelerate local security solutions and to step up the use of air strikes and special forces operations to compel Taliban commanders to consider a negotiated settlement. 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 strategists, using lessons learned from other U.S.-led campaigns, doubt that Afghanistan can be rendered sufficiently stable unless militants are denied safe haven in 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.

Others believe that the crucial question is the quality and extent of Afghan governance. 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. For FY2012, about $18 billion in aid (including train and equip) is requested, in addition to about $100 billion for U.S. military operations there. (See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.)

Date of Report: March 8, 2011
Number of Pages: 94
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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