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Friday, January 6, 2012

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 The first 10,000 of these are to be withdrawn by the end of 2011 and the remainder of that number by September 2012. The transition to Afghan leadership began, as planned, in July 2011 in the first set of areas, four cities and three full provinces; a second and larger tranche of areas to be transitioned was announced on November 27, 2011.

The U.S. official view is that security gains achieved by the surge could be at risk from weak Afghan governance and insurgent safe haven in Pakistan, and that Afghanistan will still need direct security assistance after 2014. Afghan governance is perceived as particularly weak and corrupt, despite the holding of regular elections since 2004 and the establishment of several overlapping anti-corruption institutions. In order to frame the long-term security relationship, U.S. and Afghan officials are negotiating a “strategic partnership,” although differences over U.S. latitude to conduct operations have held up completion of that pact to date.

As the transition proceeds, there is increasing emphasis on the need for a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan conflict. The September 20, 2011, assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a key figure in the reconciliation effort, set back such efforts, but perhaps only temporarily. There are major concerns among Afghanistan’s minorities and among its women that reconciliation might produce compromises that erode the freedoms enjoyed since 2001. Regional support is considered key to reconciliation, and 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 as part of a “New Silk Road (NSR)” economic integration strategy. Obtaining such regional commitments was a focus of a November 2, 2011, meeting in Istanbul, although it was not a focus of the December 5, 2011, Bonn Conference because of Pakistan’s boycott of the meeting.

U.S. officials also hope to draw on Afghanistan’s vast mineral and agricultural resources to promote long-term growth and prevent a severe economic downturn as international donors scale back their involvement in Afghanistan. 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, which Afghanistan says will be needed at least until 2025. 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 $16 billion in aid (including train and equip) is to be provided, in addition to about $90 billion for U.S. military operations there. (See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.)

Date of Report: December 21, 2011
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