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Friday, January 28, 2011

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The limited capacity and widespread corruption of all levels of Afghan governance are growing factors in debate over the effectiveness of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, as expressed in an Administration assessment of policy released December 16, 2010. A competent, respected, and effective Afghan government is considered a major prerequisite for a transition to Afghan lead that is to take place by 2014, a timeframe agreed by the United States, its international partners, and the Afghan government. Afghan governing capacity has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but many positions, particularly at the local level, are unfilled or the governing function performed by unaccountable power brokers. On corruption, the issue that perhaps most divides the United States from the government of President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan leadership is accepting U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same institutions have sometimes caused a Karzai backlash when they have targeted his allies or relatives. Some of the effects of corruption burst into public view in August 2010 when major losses were announced by the large Kabul Bank, in part due to large loans to major shareholders, many of whom are close to Karzai. Some in Congress have sought to link further U.S. aid to clearer progress on the corruption issue.

Purportedly suspicious that U.S. and other donors are trying to undermine his leadership, Karzai has strengthened his bonds to ethnic and political faction leaders who are often involved in illicit economic activity. These alliances, although a consistent feature of Afghan politics long predating the thirty year period of instability there, compound continuing international concerns about Afghan democracy and political transparency. In the August 20, 2009, presidential election, there were widespread charges of fraud, many substantiated by an Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). The ECC invalidated nearly one-third of President Karzai’s votes, although Karzai’s main challenger dropped out of a runoff and Karzai was declared the winner. He subsequently faced opposition to many of his cabinet nominees by the elected lower house of parliament, and seven permanent ministerial posts remain unfilled. Many of the flaws that plagued the 2009 election recurred in the parliamentary elections held September 18, 2010. The alleged fraud was purportedly addressed openly by Afghan election bodies, but Karzai and his allies may be seeking to use their institutional powers to annul the results or alter them in their favor. This has provoked a crisis that has caused at least a one-month delay in the seating of a new parliament, beyond the scheduled convention date of January 20, 2011.

Electoral competition aside, there is growing ethnic and political fragmentation over a variety of issues, including the terms of a potential settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. Some leaders of minority communities fear a dilution of their role in government under any settlement that reintegrates Afghan militants, who are almost all of Pashtun ethnicity, into the government. Women, who have made substantial gains in government and the private sector fear their rights may be abridged under any “deal” that might erode legal protections for women. Women have made substantial gains since the fall of the Taliban but many organizations report substantial backsliding, particularly in areas where the insurgency operates. Traditional attitudes also continue to prevail, with implications such as slowing efforts to curb such practices as child marriages, court judgments against converts from Islam to Christianity, and cleric-driven curbs on the sale of alcohol and Western-oriented programming in the burgeoning Afghan media. See also: CRS Report RL30588, Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman; CRS Report R40747, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: Background and Policy Issues, by Rhoda Margesson; and CRS Report R41484, Afghanistan: U.S. Rule of Law and Justice Sector Assistance, by Liana Sun Wyler and Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: January 21, 2011
Number of Pages: 58
Order Number: RS21922
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lebanon: Background and U.S. Relations


Casey L. Addis
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Lebanon is a religiously diverse country transitioning toward independence and democratic consolidation after a ruinous civil war and the subsequent Syrian and Israeli occupations. The United States and Lebanon have historically enjoyed a good relationship due in part to cultural and religious ties; the democratic character of the state; a large, Lebanese-American community in the United States; and the pro-western orientation of Lebanon, particularly during the cold war. Current policy priorities of the United States include strengthening the weak democratic institutions of the state, limiting the influence of Iran, Syria, and others in Lebanon’s political process, and countering threats from Hezbollah and other militant groups in Lebanon.

Following Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 and the war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, the Bush Administration requested and Congress appropriated a significant increase in U.S. assistance to Lebanon. Since 2006, U.S. assistance to Lebanon has topped $1 billion total over three years, including for the first time U.S. security assistance for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF) of Lebanon.

Several key issues in U.S.-Lebanon relations could potentially affect future U.S. assistance to Lebanon. The scope and influence of foreign actors, primarily Syria and Iran; unresolved territorial disputes; concerns about extremist groups operating in Lebanon; and potential indictments by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) are among the challenges facing the Lebanese government and U.S. objectives in Lebanon.

On November 9, 2009, five months after the parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Hariri announced that consensus had been reached and a cabinet had been formed. Since then, Hariri has faced the challenging task of governing in an environment where sectarian tensions, political jockeying, and external actors penetrate deeply and often paralyze the day-to-day functions of government. The United States has thrown its support behind the Hariri government in an effort to build state institutions in an attempt to counter those destabilizing forces.

Current U.S. policy toward Lebanon centers on containing Iran’s sphere of influence while maintaining security and stability in the Levant. As regional actors like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria continue to compete for influence in the region, Lebanon has become the staging ground for a proxy war that exacerbates historic sectarian tensions and holds hostage the functions of state institutions. The extent to which Prime Minister Hariri’s government, bolstered by U.S. support, can overcome these challenges and move toward fully functioning state institutions also depends on the ability of the LAF and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to keep the peace along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel and the willingness of Lebanon’s neighbors to limit activities that undermine the Hariri government.

This report provides an overview of Lebanese politics, recent events in Lebanon, and current issues in U.S.-Lebanon relations. For additional information, see CRS Report R40485, U.S. Security Assistance to Lebanon, by Casey L. Addis and CRS Report R41446, Hezbollah: Background and Issues for Congress, by Casey L. Addis and Christopher M. Blanchard.



Date of Report: January 19, 2011
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: R40054
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Iran Sanctions


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

There appears to be a growing international consensus to adopt progressively strict economic sanctions against Iran to try to compel it to verifiably confine its nuclear program to purely peaceful uses. Measures adopted since mid-2010 by the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, and several other countries complement the numerous U.S. laws and regulations that have long sought to try to slow Iran’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and curb its support for militant groups. The U.S. view—shared by major allies—is that sanctions should target the development of Iran’s energy sector that provides about 80% of government revenues, and try to isolate Iran, particularly its Revolutionary Guard Corps, from the international financial system. U.S. efforts to curb international energy investment in Iran’s energy sector began in 1996 with the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), a U.S. law that mandates U.S. penalties against foreign companies that conduct certain business with Iran’s energy sector. ISA represented a U.S. effort, which is now broadening, to persuade foreign firms to choose between the Iranian market and the much larger U.S. and other developed markets. In the 111th Congress, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA, P.L. 111-195) expanded ISA significantly to try to restrict Iran’s ability to make or import gasoline, for which Iran depends heavily on imports. CISADA also adds a broad range of other measures further restricting the already limited amount of U.S. trade with Iran and restricting some high technology trade with countries that allow WMD-useful technology to reach Iran.

CISADA’s enactment followed the June 9, 2010, adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposes a ban on sales of heavy weapons to Iran and sanctions many additional Iranian entities affiliated with its Revolutionary Guard, but does not mandate sanctions on Iran’s energy or broad financial sector. European Union sanctions, imposed July 27, 2010, align the EU with the U.S. position, to a large extent, by prohibiting EU involvement in Iran’s energy sector and restricting trade financing and banking relationships with Iran, among other measures. National measures announced by Japan and South Korea in early September 2010—both are large buyers of Iranian energy—impose restrictions similar to those of the EU. Even India, perceived as highly hesitant to antagonize Iran, has begun to impose sanctions on Iran.

Because so many major economic powers have imposed sanctions on Iran, the sanctions are, by all accounts, having a growing effect on Iran’s economy. The sanctions are reinforcing the effects of Iran’s economic mismanagement and key bottlenecks. Among other indicators, there has been a stream of announcements by major international firms during 2010 that they are exiting the Iranian market. Iran’s oil production has fallen slightly to about 3.9 million barrels per day, from over 4.1 million barrels per day several years ago, although Iran now has small natural gas exports that it did not have before Iran opened its fields to foreign investment in 1996. Sales to Iran of gasoline have fallen dramatically since CISADA was enacted. U.S. officials say that the cumulative effect of sanctions could harm Iran’s economy to the point where domestic pressure compels Iranian leaders to accept a nuclear compromise - the key strategic objective of the sanctions. However, there is a consensus that sanctions have not, to date, caused such an Iranian policy shift. Possibly in an effort to accomplish the separate objective of promoting the cause of the domestic opposition in Iran, the Obama Administration and Congress are increasingly emphasizing measures that would sanction Iranian officials who are human rights abusers, facilitate the democracy movement’s access to information, and express outright U.S. support for the opposition. For a broader analysis of policy on Iran, see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: January 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 64
Order Number: RS20871
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians


Susan G. Chesser
Information Research Specialist

This report collects statistics from a variety of sources on casualties sustained during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which began on October 7, 2001, and is ongoing. OEF actions take place primarily in Afghanistan; however, OEF casualties also includes American casualties in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Yemen.

Casualty data of U.S. military forces are compiled by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), as tallied from the agency’s press releases. Also included are statistics on those wounded but not killed. Statistics may be revised as circumstances are investigated and as records are processed through the U.S. military’s casualty system. More frequent updates are available at DOD’s website at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/ under “Casualty Update.”

A detailed casualty summary of U.S. military forces that includes data on deaths by cause, as well as statistics on soldiers wounded in action, is available at the following DOD website: http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/CASUALTY/castop.htm.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) does not post casualty statistics of the military forces of partner countries on the ISAF website at http://www.isaf.nato.int/. ISAF press releases state that it is ISAF policy to defer to the relevant national authorities to provide notice of any fatality. For this reason, this report uses fatality data of coalition forces as compiled by CNN.com and posted online at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2004/oef.casualties/index.html.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports casualty data of Afghan civilians semiannually, and the U.S. Department of Defense occasionally includes civilian casualty figures within its reports on Afghanistan. From July 2009 through April 2010, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) included statistics of casualties of members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in its quarterly reports to Congress. SIGAR has ceased this practice, and there is no other published compilation of these statistics. This report now derives casualty figures of Afghan soldiers and police from the press accounts of the Reuters “Factbox: Security Developments in Afghanistan” series and the Pajhwok Afghan News agency. Both services attribute their reported information to officials of the NATO-led ISAF or local Afghan officials. Pajhwok Afghan News frequently concludes its accounts with statements from representatives of the Taliban, however, these figures are not included in this report.

Because the estimates of Afghan casualties contained in this report are based on varying time periods and have been created using different methodologies, readers should exercise caution when using them and should look to them as guideposts rather than as statements of fact.



Date of Report: January 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 6
Order Number: R41084
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U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians


Jim Zanotti
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed over $3.5 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid. Successive Administrations have requested aid for the Palestinians to support at least three major U.S. policy priorities of interest to Congress. 
·         Combating, neutralizing, and preventing terrorism against Israel from the Islamist group Hamas and other militant organizations. 
·         Creating a virtuous cycle of stability and prosperity in the West Bank that inclines Palestinians—including those in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip— towards peaceful coexistence with Israel and prepares them for self-governance. 
·         Meeting humanitarian needs and preventing further destabilization, particularly in the Gaza Strip. 
Since June 2007, these U.S. policy priorities have crystallized around the factional and geographical split between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. From FY2008 to the present, annual U.S. bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza Strip has averaged over $600 million, including annual averages of over $200 million in direct budgetary assistance and over $100 million in non-lethal security assistance for the PA in the West Bank. Much of this assistance is in direct support of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s security, governance, development, and reform programs aimed at building Palestinian institutions in advance of statehood. Additionally, the United States is the largest single-state donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides food, shelter, medical care, and education for many of the original refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their descendants—now comprising approximately 4.8 million Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. Since UNRWA’s inception in 1950, the United States has provided the agency with nearly $3.9 billion in contributions. However, whether UNRWA’s role is beneficial remains a polarizing question, particularly with respect to its presence in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Because of congressional concerns that, among other things, funds might be diverted to Palestinian terrorist groups, U.S. aid is subject to a host of vetting and oversight requirements and legislative restrictions. U.S. assistance to the Palestinians is given alongside assistance from other international donors, and U.S. policymakers routinely call for greater or more timely assistance from Arab governments in line with their pledges.

Prospects for stability in the West Bank appear to hinge on improved security, political and economic development, Israeli cooperation, and continuation of high levels of foreign assistance. A power-sharing or unity government meant to address the problem of divided rule among Palestinians would not be eligible for U.S. aid if Hamas is included in the government and does not change its stance towards Israel. Even if the immediate objectives of U.S. assistance programs for the Palestinians are met, lack of progress towards a politically legitimate and peaceful twostate solution could undermine the utility of U.S. aid in helping the Palestinians become more cohesive, stable, and self-reliant over the long term.



Date of Report: January 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: RS22967
Price: $29.95

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