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Tuesday, July 12, 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 policy reviews in 2009, the Obama Administration asserted that it was 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 99,000, with partner forces adding about 42,000. On June 22, 2011, President Obama announced that the policy had accomplished most major U.S. goals and that a drawdown of 33,000 U.S. troops would take place by September 2012. The first 10,000 of these are to be withdrawn by the end of 2011, of which 5,000 will return home in July 2011 in concert with the start of a longplanned transition to Afghan security leadership. That transition will start in four cities and three full provinces. 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 start of the transition coincides with a senior personnel transition under way, announced April 28: top U.S. and NATO commander General Petraeus has been named CIA Director; Lieutenant General John Allen has been named his replacement; and Ambassador Ryan Crocker has been named to replace Karl Eikenberry as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.

The death of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid on May 1, 2011, has caused some to argue that overarching U.S. goals will not be jeopardized by the drawdown. However, Al Qaeda has had a minimal presence on the Afghanistan battlefield itself since 2001, and the official U.S. view is that security gains achieved against mostly Taliban and affiliated Afghan insurgent groups in 2010 remain “fragile and reversible.” Many strategists, using lessons learned from other U.S.-led campaigns, doubt that Afghanistan can be rendered permanently stable unless Afghan militants are denied safe haven in Pakistan. Still, some believe a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan conflict has become more likely in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death, and some preliminary talks with Taliban figures, led by the State Department, have begun. There are major concerns among Afghanistan’s minorities and among its women that reconciliation might produce compromises that erode the freedoms enjoyed since 2001.

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 (nearly 9% per year) and development is 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. Afghanistan is achieving ever higher degrees of economic and political integration with its neighbors in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Much of the development has been accomplished with foreign, particularly U.S., help. Through the end of FY2010, the United States has provided over $51.5 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $26 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. During FY2001-FY2011, the Afghan intervention has cost about $443 billion, including all costs. 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: July 28, 2011
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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