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Thursday, October 27, 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 from July 2011 until 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, which brought U.S. troop numbers to a high 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 The first 10,000 of these are to be withdrawn by the end of 2011. The transition to Afghan leadership began, as planned, in July 2011 in the first set of areas, four cities and three full provinces.

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 U.S. drawdown. However, Al Qaeda has had a minimal presence on the Afghanistan battlefield itself since 2001, and the official U.S. military view is that security gains achieved against mostly Taliban and affiliated Afghan insurgent groups in 2010 remain “fragile and reversible.” Some believe that a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan conflict would become more likely in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death, but the September 20, 2011, assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a key figure in the reconciliation effort, has set back reconciliation efforts significantly. There are major concerns among Afghanistan’s minorities and among its women that reconciliation might produce compromises that erode the freedoms enjoyed since 2001.

Whether or not some U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014, most experts believe that the key to long term stability is the quality and extent of Afghan governance. The Administration view is that governance is expanding and improving slowly, but President Hamid Karzai’s failure to forcefully confront governmental corruption has caused a loss of Afghan support for his government. Amid widespread doubts that Afghan governance and security institutions will be strong enough to protect themselves by the end of 2014, U.S. and Afghan officials are negotiating a “strategic partnership” that would guide the long-term relationship, although differences over U.S. latitude to conduct operations have held up completion of that pact to date.

The United States is placing increased emphasis on ensuring regional support for Afghanistan’s stability and development. U.S. officials maintain that all of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Pakistan and Iran, should cease using Afghanistan to promote their own interests and instead help Afghanistan reemerge as a major regional trade route. Some strategists doubt that Afghanistan can be rendered permanently stable unless Afghan militants are denied safe haven in Pakistan.

U.S. officials also hope to draw on Afghanistan’s vast mineral resources to promote long-term growth—several major mining, agricultural, and even energy development programs, mostly funded by private investment, have begun in the past few years, with more in various stages of consideration. To date, much of the development has been accomplished with foreign, particularly U.S., help, although donor aid is likely to decline as the transition proceeds. Through the end of FY2011, the United States has provided over $67 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $30 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 $17 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: October 21, 2011
Number of Pages: 103
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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