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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The Obama Administration and several of its partner countries appear to be seeking to wind down U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan more rapidly than was previously envisioned. 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. During 2009 and 2010, 51,000 U.S. forces were added, bringing U.S. troop numbers to a high of about 99,000, with partners providing 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major U.S. goals and that a drawdown of 33,000 U.S. troops would take place by September 2012—the first 10,000 were withdrawn by the end of 2011 and the remainder of that number will leave by September 2012. The transition to Afghan leadership began, as planned, in July 2011, and Afghan forces are now in the lead in areas that include over 50% of all Afghans. On February 1, 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta indicated that U.S. military involvement would transition from combat to a training and advisory mission by mid- 2013, although without specifying a drawdown schedule through the end of 2014. However, an accelerated transition may be hampered by rifts between some Afghan forces and their U.S.-led mentors over the mistaken U.S. burnings of several Qurans in late February 2012.

The Administration 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 and to hold detainees have held up completion of that pact to date.

As the transition proceeds, there is increasing emphasis on negotiating a settlement to the conflict. Among signs of possible progress, in January 2012, the Taliban announced it would open a political office in Qatar for talks with U.S. representatives. Subsequently, the Afghan government said it would likely pursue separate talks with the group and Pakistan publicly supported the Taliban’s decision to negotiate. However, there are major concerns about Taliban sincerity to negotiate. Even if the movement is sincere, Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups fear that reconciliation might produce compromises that erode human rights and ethnic power-sharing. 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 privately funded mining, agricultural, and even energy development programs have begun in the past few years, with more in various stages of consideration. U.S. officials also look to greater Afghanistan integration into regional trade and investment patterns—as part of a “New Silk Road (NSR)” economic strategy—to help compensate for the reduction in foreign economic involvement in Afghanistan. Still, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on foreign aid 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 $39 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, and $9.2 billion in aid is requested for FY2013. (See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.)

Date of Report: March
8, 2012
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Order Number: R
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