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Thursday, April 21, 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 that will begin in July 2011 and be completed by the end of 2014. To carry out U.S. policy, a total of 51,000 additional U.S. forces were authorized by the two 2009 reviews, bringing U.S. troop numbers to their current level of about 100,000, with partner forces adding about 41,000. 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.

In March 2011 testimony, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, stated that insurgent momentum has been blunted and even reversed in some key areas but he reiterated Administration comments that gains remain “fragile and reversible.” That view was echoed by a White House assessment, released April 5, 2011. On the basis of those assessments, the transition is set to proceed in late June 2011 beginning with seven areas announced by President Hamid Karzai on March 22, and accompanied by a drawdown of U.S. forces that is expected to be small initially and progress gradually. U.N. assessments and some outside experts are more pessimistic than U.S. official views, asserting that insurgents will reassert themselves as international forces draw down. In an attempt to facilitate a more rapid transition, the top U.S. and NATO commander, General Petraeus has instituted some local security programs and has stepped 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 variable 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. However, the Administration view is that governance is expanding and improving slowly. Still others believe that strong economic growth and development is slowly winning 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 begun in the past few years, with more in various stages of consideration or contract award. Much of the 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: April 15, 2011
Number of Pages: 97
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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