January 12, 2010
Nine months after President Obama announced a new strategy in Afghanistan, the US still seems undecided as to how to actually shape and implement that strategy and how to measure its success. President Obama may have made his decisions, but it is far from clear that his Administration has agreed on how to act upon them, or has the right mix of civil-military capabilities to do so.
There have been continuing reports of divisions – some minor and some serious -- between the Presidents civil and national security advisors, over the meaning of the 2011 deadline, over the future cost and budgets for the war, and over the timing and size of US military and civilian deployments. Equally seriously, there seems to be a serious risk that debates over resources, when and how to act, and various turf fights will undercut action in the field in the same way that crippled US and NATO/ISAF efforts during 2002 through early 2009.
No mix of metrics can adequately describe the way the US has fought the war to date, and particularly the problems it encountered in adapting to irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, and the challenges of armed nation building in Afghanistan. The metrics that are available, however, reinforce the more detailed military history and lessons analysis now being developed by the US Army. They also add a major dimension – the extent to which the war was systematically underresourced, and how the US failed to act decisively in dealing with its own internal problems, the problems in the NATO/ISAF alliance and Afghan government, and the need to focus on the Afghan population rather than tactical victories against the Taliban.
The Burke Chair has developed a detailed analysis of these metrics showing key trends from 2009 to the present, and exploring the issues that must be addressed in order to implement President Obama’s new strategy over the coming years. This analysis builds on an earlier analysis covering combat metrics for 2009, but expands this study to cover the entire war, look at a wider range of metrics and examine resource, political, and aid issues as well as trends in combat. The study is entitled Afghan Metrics, and can be downloaded from the CSIS web site at https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/100112_AfghanLngMetrics.pdf.
Bogged Down in Conceptual Debates Without Clear Plans, Action Schedules, and Metrics?
The President’s new strategy is supposed to focus on the population, and on transferring responsibilities to Afghan forces and improving governance, but no plans or details have been announced for securing the population or such a campaign. The mantra of “shape, clear, hold, and build” seems to have shifted slightly to “clear, hold, build, and transfer,” but no one has clearly defined what “clear, hold, and build” mean, or announced any tangible plans to implement any given phase or element of the process. References are made to a civilian “surge” – which seems to be defined as a major increase in career and government contract civilians, but which will result in minor increases relative to the military and in terms of the ratio of US civilians (under 1,000) to a population of over 31 million.
Debates still take place over “counterinsurgency” vs. “counterterrorism” – albeit with almost no specifics as to what the difference really is in tangible terms, and at a time when increases in the role of Special Forces in Afghanistan serve both ends. There is still talk about showing decisive results in 12 to 18 months – presumably before mid 2011 – but no public indication of what this really means.
The US is now more than eight years into the war. The Obama Administration still has to demonstrate that it is more effective than the Bush Administration in creating detailed plans of action, actually implementing them, and providing transparency as to their cost, risk, and effectiveness. The US is still conceptualizing a war it should be actively fighting as if the next year could somehow be the first year of the war. It is still debating how to plan and what metrics to use.
The Other Missing Dimensions of Strategy, Plans, Actions, and Metrics
Six additional -- and equally critical -- elements of a successful campaign have not yet been addressed – at least in a meaningful enough public form to provide any confidence that the President’s strategy is being effectively implemented:
- How to restructure and strengthen the national military and PRT elements of ISAF to produce far better unity of effort in a population-oriented campaign. This is only a matter of force and resource levels to a limited degree. It is far more a question of how to deal with short tours and constant rotations, differing national policies and patterns of action, differing national caveats and priorities, and a lack of allied civil-military coordination at the national level in many allied zones of responsibility.
- How to restructure the UN, national, and NGO aid effort to shape a meaningful mix of “hold, build, and transfer” efforts that can win the war coupled to realistic and achievable efforts at mid and long-term development – an effort with goals and objectives Afghans actually want rather than meet donor goals, that is reasonably well coordinated, that is transparent and resists corruption, and that has meaningful measures of effectiveness.
- How to create truly effective, integrated civil-military efforts – at least within the US country effort, and hopefully with key allies as well.
- How to build Afghan civil capacity to govern, provide prompt justice and an effective rule of law, and provide essential government services at every level with acceptable levels of waste and corruption as seen by the Afghan population.
- How to build up an effective mix of Afghan security forces that produce regular military, paramilitary, and police forces that provide reasonable levels of effectiveness in the field on a sustained basis and provide the capability to begin the transfer of responsibility to the Afghan forces in mid-2011. This effort must be tied to success in building Afghan capacity to govern down to the district and local levels and link a civil and criminal justice system to the development of the Afghan police.
- How to link these efforts in Afghanistan to a very different – but directly related – campaign in Pakistan that is driven by the perceptions and actions of a deeply divided Pakistan that is an “ally” only to he extent that its elite perceives given sets of actions to be to its own advantage. This requires strategy,
For more than eight years, neither the Bush Administration nor the Obama Administration, has effectively addressed plans and progress in any of these six key challenges.
There are obvious costs to public debates and transparency in dealing with such issues. The polite rhetoric of “alliance” is inherently dishonest. The fact is that our ISAF allies, Afghans, and Pakistanis perceive the war and its goals differently from the US and from each other – as well as all of the other non-US actors in the conflict. Too much transparency, and too much insistence on US values and priorities, can lose key allies and potentially the war.
So, however, can too little. Each one of the six challenges listed above can do as much to lose the war as the actions of the Taliban and other insurgents. In fact, the lack of transparency, unity of effort, and effective in each of the six areas is now losing the war. No amount of spin, optimism, and wishful thinking can deal with any one of these challenges. Effective action does not require open confrontation, but it does require far more honest and objective US efforts than have taken place to date.
The Uncertain Metrics of Afghanistan
Given these problems, it is not surprising that there are many key gaps in the metrics available on the war, and other metrics are not properly defined, validated, or supported with the kind of narrative that is essential to giving any map, chart, or table real meaning. Numbers and maps are no more matters of revealed truth than any other form of judgment – they are simply quantified or symbolic adjectives.
There are, however, enough metrics to show why General McChrystal and so many other senior officers have described the war as being in a crisis, and edged around the fact that the US, its allies, and the Afghan government are now losing the war. There are enough metrics to warn that the past failure to provide proper resources and unity of efforts did at least as much to lose the war as the actions of the Taliban, Haqqani network, Hekmatyar, and other insurgents.
Underresourcing and Underreacting the Way to Defeat
Even if one ignores the US failure to deal with Pakistan in realistic terms, rather than as a true ally, the US made three critical mistakes during the first eight years of the war:
- It failed to provide the military and aid resources necessary to take the initiative, ceding the initiative to the Taliban and insurgency in every year from 2002-2008;
- It focused on using aid for mid and long term development, rather than as an essential part of a counterinsurgency strategy;
- It did not address the critical problems of corruption and lack of capacity in the Afghan government and lack of unity of effort in NATO/ISAF.
These mistakes were heavily influenced by the war in Iraq, in spite of the fact that Afghanistan was a much larger country with a larger population, far less development and resources, and far more serious weather, terrain, and logistical problems. (p.7) This was largely a function of the assumption that the Taliban was too shattered and unpopular to recover and the far higher level of violence in Iraq (p. 8). It was not until the late spring of 2009 that the Afghan War overtook the level of violence in Iraq for the first time, and even today, the number of enemy initiated attacks is still about 35% of the peak levels in Iraq.
Inadequate and Poorly Managed Financial Resources
Annual total spending in Iraq is still far higher than Afghanistan, although this will finally change in the FY2010 budget (p. 9) The US spent well over three times as much on Iraq between FY2003 and FTY2009. (p. 9) The same was true of spending by the Department of Defense (pp. 10-11), and peak spending per month was five times higher in Iraq than in Afghanistan (p.1).
Foreign aid spending involved a smaller gap; spending in Iraq was roughly twice as high, but the US acted decisively early in the Iraq War while it waited until FY2008 to start seriously resourcing aid to Afghanistan (p 9). The US also never saw aid funding as a critical part of the counterinsurgency effort. State Department foreign aid spending was only 7.5% of Department of Defense spending during FY2001-FY2009. (pp. 12-13). Equally critically, the US did not take the development of Afghan forces seriously until FY2007, and then failed to follow up. (p. 14). These failures were particularly critical because, unlike Iraq, the US had no real base to build upon and the lag between appropriations and creating any new facts on the ground tended to take anywhere from 12-24 months depending on the type of expenditure.
Delays and Gaps in Troop Levels
The gap in US troop levels was far more serious than the gap in spending. The US never came close to deploying anything like the troops necessary to cover Afghanistan through 2009. Its force levels were a token of those deployed to Iraq through early 2008 (p. 18), and serious deployments did not begin until the late spring of 2009 (p. 19) This made the outcome of the war highly dependent on deeply divided NATO/ISAF forces, and on Afghan security forces that only began to develop serious levels of capability in late 2008. (p. 20)
Political Correctness Over Alliance Effectiveness
From CY2002 to CY2009, the US dealt with its allies more in terms of political and diplomatic sensitivities than the realities of war fighting. It did not address the national caveats in NATO/ISAF forces, or the deep divisions and national “branding” in the PRT efforts of other countries. It failed to confront the real world impact of what were effectively “stand aside” countries that either ignored the war as if it was in a state of post conflict reconstruction or played a largely passive role as if the war was some kind of peacekeeping exercise. (p. 21). The slow, incremental increases in allied forces were more of a political response to US exhortation than any meaningful change. (p. 22).
Wasting and Misallocating Aid
The US did more than underresource the war. Changes in goals, a lack of any integrated civil-military plans, and a failure to recognize or admit the seriousness of the conflict led to major swings in the allocation of US funding and a lack of coherent effort from year to year. (p. 23). It also led to a lack of the kind of humanitarian aid that had a major impact on Taliban recruitment and Afghanistan’s poor and displaced young men. (pp. 23-24). Moreover, allied funding was limited and actual payment on pledges was erratic. (p. 25). The resulting lack of funding, and erratic mix of aid programs, had a critical impact because Afghanistan was still too poor to finance more than 15% of its budget through FY2009-2010. (p. 26)
Stovepipes and a Failure to Develop an Integrated Approach Within the US
While it had less direct impact on the war, the lack of unity of effort in the US aid effort, and lack of a “whole of government” approach was another serious internal problem in the USG government approach. The US not only did not finance aid to Afghanistan as it did to Iraq (p. 27), the funding in given program areas varied sharply from year to year (p. 28), and other agencies made minor contributions totaling only 1.6% of US expenditures (p. 29). While the cost data are poorly categorized and not directly comparable, the US spent $768 million in US Aid farm security and Department of Agriculture aid during FY2002-FY2009, versus $3.9 billion in counternarcotics and $38.5 billion in to total civil and military aid. This in a country whose population was roughly 70% rural. (pp. 35)
How the US “Lost” the War Between 2001 and 2008
While the metrics involved are uncertain and can only tell part of the story, the US also largely fought the wrong war against an enemy pursuing different and far more valid strategic objectives. The pattern of insurgent violence began to clearly emerge in CY2004, measured both in terms of total insurgent attacks (p. 38), and the monthly patterns in attacks on NATO/ISAF forces, Afghan civilians, and the ANSF (p. 39).
Winning the “Battles” and Losing the Nation
As the previous metrics have shown, however, the US was slow to react in terms of funding, troop levels, and dealing with its NATO/ISAF allies and Afghan force development. The US also pursed tactics that focused on attempting to defend the border areas near Pakistan, and on defeating the Taliban forces in the field. As UN maps show, however, the areas of Taliban influence increased in spite of this focus, and insurgent often took control of villages and areas well behind the borders. Insurgent influence grew faster than the patterns in violence, and was already significant in 2005 and more than doubled by 2007. (p. 40)
Limited NATO/ISAF gains during 2006-2007 were more than offset by Taliban and insurgent gains in the battle for political influence and control of territory. (p. 41). Independent estimates by ICOS (Senlis) show a far faster and deeper expansion of Taliban influence, expansion of Taliban attacks, and impact on the fighting in Pakistan (pp. 42-43).
NATO/ISAF Tactical Metrics vs. Growing Taliban Influence and Control of the Population
At the end of 2008, NATO/ISAF estimates still focused on kinetic clashes – with claims that 70% of all attacks took place in only 10% of Afghanistan’s 364 districts. NATO/ISAF was still reporting as many favorable indicators as unfavorable indicators. (p. 45)
In contrast, the UN reported another massive increase in the area where the Taliban posed a medium to extreme risk, which now covers well over 70% of the country. (p. 45). The UN also showed that a US strategy based on forward positions and efforts to interdict the Taliban and other insurgents had failed in the East, which was then the principle area of US operations. (p. 46). ICOS estimated that that the areas with heavy Taliban and insurgent activity rose from 54% in 2007 to 72% in 2008. (pp. 47 & 48). While ICOS maps of attack incidents roughly correlated to those of NATO/ISAF, they showed a much broader distribution of incidents and Taliban-insurgent influence. These UN and ICOS estimates are roughly supported by SIGAR data showing the rise in the pattern of attacks on the Afghan national army (ANA) and Afghan national police (ANP). (p. 49)
Spring 2009: The Crisis Stage
Regardless of NATO/ISAF and US “spin,” war had clearly reached the crisis stage by the time President Obama gave his first speech on Afghan strategy in the spring of 2009. The US and NATO/ISAF continued to “win” virtually every tactical clash, although rarely without civilian casualties and collateral damage, in ways that gave Afghan force a real role as partners, or in ways that provided any lasting security for the Afghan population. The Taliban and other insurgents were winning the war they fought to dominate the population and defeat the US and its allies through a war of political attrition. The US and its allies were winning largely meaningless tactical clashes while steadily losing the country and the people.
Telling Half Truths About A Critical Rise in the Intensity of the Fighting
NATO/ISAF continued to report as many positive indicators as negative indicators in its summary maps through April 2009. It reported that there was a 64% increase in insurgent attacks between January and May 2009, but that 80% of these occurred in only 13% (47) of Afghanistan’s 364 districts. It also reported that civilian deaths (evidently only counting direct major Taliban attacks) were down 44% and kidnappings down 17%, and that 35% of Afghans felt security was better than six months ago versus 28% when polled six months earlier. Other NATO/ISAF data showed significant Taliban/insurgent activity in only three provinces – Helmand, Kandahar, and Khost. (p. 53)
The NATO/ISAF data on attack trends were mixed through May 2009, although significant rises were reported in a number of areas. (p. 54). They also still reflected a focus on kinetics and tactical events, rather than control of the population and territory, with most attacks occurring in the south and the east, and little threat in the capital, north and west. (pp. 55 and 56)
In contrast, UN data showed serious risks in far more areas (roughly twice the territory), as well as a sharp correlation between Taliban influence and control and narcotics production. (Reflecting several years of UNAMA reports that showed the main impact of counternarcotics efforts was to push the crop areas south and into regions where drug production helped finance the Taliban.) (p. 57) ICOS estimates showed a further increase in areas with heavy Taliban influence from 54% of the country in 2007 to 72% in 2008 and 80% in 2009. (p. 58).
Using Counternarcotics to Aid the Taliban
This reflected the result of a counternarcotics campaign that pushed narcotics production steadily further south (p. 60), to the point where it eventually took place largely in provinces controlled or dominated by the Taliban (p. 61). This program sometimes cost considerably more than the aid being provided to the Afghan people in combat areas (pp. 62-63), but had no meaningful impact on street prices and availability/demand for drugs. (p. 64).
And Losing the Afghan People
The result was a pattern of fighting that inflicted serious civilian casualties and collateral damage, and steadily lost the support of the Afghan people because NATO/ISAF, Afghan forces, and the US steadily lost control over more and more of afghan territory and more and more of the Afghan people. NATO/ISAF data on civilian casualties issued in the spring showed a sharp difference between NATO/ISAF and much higher UN estimates (p. 66). These also showed that NATO/ISAF estimated that it was inflicting 20-25% of all casualties while providing steadily less security for the Afghans. (p. 67).
Polling data showed that Afghans saw a major rise in the Taliban presence (p. 68), and still saw it as by far the most serious threat (p. 69). At the same time, the way the US and NATO/ISAF fought exposed them to so much violence without lasting security, that felt they experienced as much violence from NATO/ISAF as from the Taliban (p. 70.). This reinforced a steady downward trend in the still great support for NATO (p. 72) and the US (p. 73), as well as an increase unfavorable attitudes towards the Afghan police and government. These trends were only offset by public support for the Afghan Army (p. 74).
The War’s Metrics at End 2009: Obama, McChrystal, Eikenberry and the New Realism
The period since President Obama first speech and the end of 2009 has reflected a far more realistic approach to both the growth scale of the war, and the importance of influence and control over the population versus tactical battles and “kinetics.” NATO/ISAF and USCENTCOM have issued far more realistic estimates of the areas where fighting took place in 2007, 2008, and 2009. (p. 78).
While USCENTCOM is still reporting that 71% of all attacks took place in 10% of Afghanistan’s districts, its maps now show the fully range of Taliban activity and just how much of the country the Taliban and insurgents operate in. (p. 79) Senior officers, like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen, have stated that the Taliban and insurgents have a major influence or control over one third of the districts in the country – a conclusion supported by the USCENTCOM maps on page 81 and 82.
Senior US officers like Major General Flynn have acknowledged that Taliban now have what "a full-fledged insurgency" and shadow governors in 33 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, including those in the north, and that the Taliban now has a significant presence in northern provinces like Baghlan, Kunduz and Taqhar. This compares with 11 provinces in 2005, 20 in 2006, 28 in 2007, and 31 in 2008.
Data on the patterns in ANSF and US/ISAF casualties now show a sharp rise (p. 83), and USCENTCOM provides far better data are provided on a major rise in weekly security incidents (pp. 84-85) and IED attacks (pp. 86-89) during the course of 2009. Data on high profile explosions are provided in more detail (p. 90), along with better data on the sharp variations in indirect fire attacks (p 91), and a major rise in small arms attacks (p. 92).
Far more detail has been made available on the patterns in attack by regional command (pp. 94-98). These latter data now reflect timeframes that clearly show the steady rise in the intensity in the fighting in each area during 2009. Along with the maps described earlier, they show why the current fighting is being assessed as one where the Taliban and insurgents have pushed the war to the crisis stage.
- The data on the patterns in security incidents in the Kabul regional command reflect relative low levels of activity, but also show the continuing ability of insurgents to conduct major attacks when this offers significant political advantages.
- Similar data on RC East show the rising intensity of the conflict between 2007 and 2009 – with a roughly 33% rise between 2008 and 2009, as well as a similar ability to suddenly raise the patterns of attack in the summer of 2009.
- The data on RC West still show low levels of incidents relative to RC East and RC South, but again show a major rise in 2009 (around 70%), and the ability to suddenly raise the patterns of attack in the summer of 2009.
- The data on RC North are similar to those on RC West. They show low levels of incidents relative to RC East and RC South, but again show a major rise in 2009 (around 70%), and the ability to suddenly raise the patterns of attack in the summer of 2009.
The Taliban and Insurgent Threat in 2010
This same realism applies to improved assessments of the insurgent threat. The Director of Intelligence for ISAF has issued an unclassified briefing that describes both the steady rise in the intensity of insurgent activity and the expansion of insurgent networks and influence.
This briefing show insurgents plan to further expand their influence and areas of operations in spite of the rise in NATO/ISAF forces, that the Taliban are adapting to try to win more popular support, and that expelling NATO/ISAF forces remains a major overarching objective. (pp. 101-102).
It notes that the Taliban has adopted new organizational structures to achieve its objectives (p. 103), and that the insurgency can sustain itself indefinitely unless defeated. (p. 104). It also notes that detainees and insurgent fighters perceive themselves as successful, and expect to again become the government with time – as well as see the current government as corrupt and ineffective, aid efforts as a failure, the ANP as corrupt, and the US as a nation that seek a permanent presence in Afghanistan. (p. 105).
It also makes it clear that the Taliban is sophisticated enough to think and act in strategic terms and not simply on the basis of ideological conviction or tactical opportunism. (p. 106). This does not mean that the insurgency does not have critical weaknesses as well as important strengths (page 107), but time is running out (p. 108) and the insurgents currently are confident and feel they winning a war of political attrition. (p. 109)
Can the New Strategy Work? Shape, Clear, Hold, Build, and Transfer
It is still far from clear how President Obama’s new strategy will be actually implemented, resourced, and assessed. Some limited goals have been set for the expansion of the ANSF, but it is unclear that there is a firm consensus within the Administration over these goals, their timing, and resourcing them.
Buzzwords or Operational Realities?
There also are differences within NATO/ISAF and the Administration as to the phases of the new strategy. The British have used the phrase: Shape, clear, hold, and build;” while senior US NSC officials have used the term “Clear, hold, build, and transfer.” None of these terms have yet been defined in detail, or in the form of clear operational plans and goals, and they would have to be implemented in different mixes and phases in virtually every major region and population center in Afghanistan. In broad terms, they seem to mean: (p. 115)
- Shape: Create the military conditions necessary to secure key population centers; limit the flow of insurgents.
- Clear: Remove insurgent and anti-government elements from a given area or region, thereby creating space between the insurgents and the population;
- Hold: Maintain security, denying the insurgents access and freedom of movement within the given space; and,
- Build: Exploit the security space to deliver humanitarian relief and implement reconstruction and development initiatives that will connect the Afghan population to its government and build and sustain the Afghanistan envisioned in the strategic goals.
- Transfer: Shift responsibility and activity to Afghan government, ANSF, and Afghan people.
There are debates over the relative level of effort given to counterinsurgency versus counterterrorism – without any details as to the definition or implementation of given tactics under each heading. In practice, the distinction may represent a triumph of taxonomy over common sense: How does one defeat terrorism if insurgency continues, and how does one achieve victory if terrorism continues in spite of partial success in counterinsurgency?
References are sometimes made to a shift to a “population centric” strategy, but this too remains undefined, and it is clear that the withdrawal from some exposed forward positions does not mean abandoning forward operations against Taliban and insurgent networks outside populated areas or increasing the role of Special Forces in such missions. Administration officials have consistently denied that they are involved in “nation building,” and then almost uniformly described a campaign that is “nation building” – sometimes hopeless bogging down in meaningless semantic distinctions. The Afghan War is an exercise in armed nation building and anyone who denies this is simply a fool or a liar.
The Enemy Plus Five Other “Centers of Gravity”
Similarly, President Obama touched on the fact that a successful strategy in Afghanistan must deal with the weaknesses in the US, NATO/ISAF, Afghan, and aid efforts, as well as with the Pakistani side of the conflict. The means that the war effectively has six centers of gravity – not one in the form of the Taliban and other overt enemies. Again, however, it is not clear how any of these six centers of gravity are to be addressed in practical operational terms. (p. 116):
- Defeating the insurgency not only in tactical terms, but also by eliminating its control and influence over the population.
- Creating an effective and well resourced NATO/ISAF and US response to defeating the insurgency and securing the population.
- Building up a much larger and more effective mix of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
- Giving the Afghan government the necessary capacity and legitimacy at the national, regional/provincial, district, and local levels.
- Creating an effective, integrated, and truly operational civil-military effort. NATO/ISAF, UN, member country, and NGO and international community efforts.
- Dealing with Pakistan, Iran, and other states.
The Host Country is as Much of a Problem as the Threat
It is also clear that the quality and integrity of Afghan governance, and Afghanistan’s role as a host country, presents as many problems as the Taliban threat: (p. 117). This means that the US and its allies must deal with the following operational realities – each of which will be as critical as any aspect of tactical operations against hostile forces:
- Can influence Afghanistan, but not transform it.
- Cannot win as an “occupier:” credible, ongoing transfer to host country leadership and full sovereignty critical.
- Need host country forces to become the face of operations are quickly as possible.
- Tactical gains have little lasting value unless provide lasting security, services, and hope.
- Must deal with corruption, power brokers, lack of capacity; cannot ignore -- but must deal with them in terms of local values.
- Governance, and government services, are critical, and are most critical at the local and regional level.
- Must find options to deal with local tensions and concerns, ethnic, sectarian, tribal and other fracture lines in the field.
If the Obama strategy is to work, the US must develop plans and metrics that go far beyond tactical success against the threat. It shows it can deal with these host country problems, and with the problems in NATO/ISAF and the PRT and other aid efforts. (p. 118)
- Disrupt terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.
- Promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.
- Develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.
- Assist efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan and a vibrant economy that provides opportunity for the people of Pakistan.
- Restructure the UN, allied, NGO, and the international community efforts to actively address these objectives for Afghanistan and Pakistan, with an important leadership role for the UN.
Moreover, the US must get its own act in order. (p. 119) As one US report stated, the US must have an integrated civil-military effort that is efficient in the field and whose effectiveness is constantly monitored and measured. This requires unity of effort in the following tasks:
U.S. military forces in Afghanistan will execute two priority missions: 1) Securing Afghanistan's south and east against a return of al-Qa’ida and its allies in order to provide a space for the Afghan government to establish effective government control; and 2) Training and partnering with the ANSF so that those forces are able to expand rapidly, take the lead in effective counterinsurgency operations, and allow the United States and other international forces to decrease their role in combat operations.
Security operations are integrated with governance and economic development efforts led by civilian agencies. Security operations will separate the population from the insurgents and provide the space and time in which stabilization and reconstruction activities can take hold. Security operations will be coupled with a strategic communications campaign to counter the terror and misinformation campaigns of the insurgents.
While there are no unclassified plans or metrics defining how the NATO/ISAF and US would pursue some mix of “shape, clear, hold, build, and transfer;” the previous metrics serve as warnings regarding the scale of the task.
In the case of “shape,” the most serious immediate challenge is the lack of unity of effort within NATO/ISAF – although the lack of Afghan military capacity ranks a close second. If the new strategy is to succeed, all of the elements of NATO/ISAF must cooperate in shaping operations to defeat the Taliban, prevent the expansion of its operations and influence, and ensure that it cannot reinfiltrate in areas where it has been defeated. Earlier maps have already shown how complex these operations are, and that no part of Afghanistan can now be described as firmly secure.
NATO/ISAF web pages publicize the sheer complexity of the alliance as if it was a measure of merit. NATO/ISAF maps, however, describe what has been close to an “alliance of the impossible” mixing uncoordinated military and aid efforts driven by national priorities, and often by a denial of the fact Afghanistan is at war, and the only way to win is to fight. (p. 122). Similarly, NATO/ISAF data show just how small many national contingents are, that only a limited number of countries are really in the fight (p. 123), and that their size and diversity means that some they create problems in supply, interoperability, and support that re more costly than they are worth. (p. 124-125)
It is also clear that the years of delay in building up effective Afghan forces have left the Afghan Army with limited strength, and that it will be years before it is ready to take over the fight. (p. 1126). This raise critical questions about whether the combination of US, NATO/ISAF, and ANSF can provide enough forces to actually “shape” the operations necessary to clear all major Afghan population centers within a short enough time to meet President Obama’s timetable, the time limits imposed by the political patience of NATO/ISAF countries, and those imposed by the patience of the Afghan people.
It seems certain that a phased campaign will be necessary to deal with the scale of the problems shown in earlier maps and metrics, but it is not clear that the necessary resource to task ratios can be establish by 2011, 2014, or ever. No public plans or metrics have yet been provided even in broad conceptual form to show this is the case, particularly given the continued lack of full cooperation from Pakistan.
Moreover, having the military resources to “shape” a campaign, or “clear” key population centers, will not be adequate unless the civil and military resources are available to then “hold” and “build;” that it is clear that some combination of the US and NATO/ISAF countries are willing to sustain aid and some level of force levels for a decade or more; and that a combination of the Afghan government and Afghan security forces are develop the size and capacity to be effective. No amount of conceptual rhetoric can disguise the fact that the US has so far done nothing public to show that it can meet these tests.
At least for the next few years, “clear” must involve NATO/ISAF led military operations to both push the Taliban out of populated areas and key Taliban operational and support areas, as well as to attack Taliban and insurgent networks and cadres in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The previous maps have already shown the scale of effort required simply to protect the population in areas that are already under Taliban and other insurgent influence. These data are summarized in the maps and charts on page 129, and are reinforced by maps showing how well dispersed much of the Afghan population is (p. 130).
While Afghanistan may still be primarily rural, it also has very large populated centers like Kandahar (pp. 131-132). Some 10 million Afghans live in cities, large towns, or population clusters. This means that any population centric strategy will require complex mixes of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism in the form of urban warfare.
Moreover, “clear” must be an enduring activity that will involve fully clearing populated areas of Taliban and insurgents. It means ensuring that sleepers and stay behinds cannot be effective and destroying Taliban and insurgent shadow governments and networks. It also may well mean some 5-10 years of effort to deny reinfiltration – although this is as much a matter of “hold” as “clear.”
Both types of activity will be heavily dependent on Afghan human intelligence and the ANSF knowledge of the population and how to deal with fellow Afghans. Kinetics can drive out easily identifiable fighters, but they cannot remove a covert presence.
Both “clear” and “hold” need to be given as much of an Afghan face as possible, and Afghanistan needs to take the lead as soon as Afghan forces can be made effective. This is essential to show Afghans that NATO/ISAF is not an occupying force and will leave, and to create forces that can provide lasting security on Afghan terms and in ways that are fully sensitive to Afghan culture and values. It is equally essential to deal with the reality that the US and its allies cannot obtain the domestic political support to sustain an indefinite campaign.
This, however, requires plans for improvements in the quality and size of every element of Afghan forces that still seem to be in development. These will need far larger and more consistent funding than the erratic US and allied aid programs in the past, as well as a far better coordinated training and mentoring effort and efforts to reform the police and reduce corruption and the influence of power brokers.
Past plans for the expansion of the ANSF are shown in page 119. Some leading US military officers believe that the US must now develop Afghan forces roughly twice these force goals and close to 400,000 men – as well as create fully balanced forces capable of being full partners and taking over the NATO/ISAF mission at some point beginning no later than mid-2011.
This requires improvements in force quality that will reduce Afghan losses and casualties, (p. 136). It requires far more money over a period of at least half a decade, and with far more consistency, than past funding profiles (pp 137-139).
It will then require up to a decade more of aid to sustain the resulting forces until the Taliban and other insurgents are fully and permanently defeated. Creating an effective Afghan army will require much more honest ratings of readiness than in the past, and dealing with critical issues like retention and the need for large combat formations and support forces. (p. 140).
Creating effective Afghan police forces will be far more difficult, and will also require proper funding. (p. 141) It will mean a coordinated effort to deal with civil and police corruption, and create all of the elements of a prompt justice system – including courts, legal aid, and adequate detention facilities.
It means developing paramilitary capabilities, properly funding the force, establishing far higher readiness levels (p. 142), and providing adequate and survivable mixes of facilities and equipment. (p. 143). The ability to actually transfer from a focus on security operations to one on a normal justice system will be critical to both “hold” and “build,” and ultimately to any meaningful definition of “victory” as the ability to transfer from US/NATO/ISAF to Afghan forces.
The build phase of operations may not involve an effort to suddenly make Afghanistan a developed nation, but it is nation building and any effort to deny this borders on the ludicrous or outright lies. There cannot be any real victory in Afghanistan in terms of either security or stability that is not based on providing far more effective governance and a degree of basic economic security and employment that does not now exist.
As has been discussed earlier, however, this requires a major refocusing of the aid effort to win popular support, and deny the Taliban popularity and a recruiting base. This should affect all aid activity (p. 147) but it will be particularly critical at the level most visible to the Afghan people and that NATO/ISAF forces can protect in the field – the Provincial Reconstruction Teams or PRTs. (p. 148). It requires a far more integrated, and better planned and managed US effort. (pp. 149-150) with far more emphasis on programs with immediate effect, and that are both planned and executed by Afghans at the national, provincial, and especially the district and local levels.
Build activities again illustrate the importance of creating effective programs to create Afghan capacity, and reduce corruption and waste among Afghan officials, foreign and Afghan contractors, and within NATO/ISAF governments and NGOs. This is both a host country and a UNAMA-NATO/ISAF country problem. It is also one that again requires far more consistent, far better prioritized, and far better structured and managed efforts than the US has conducted in the past. (pp. 151-153)
They also raise even more problems in terms of resources and scale of effort in “build” activities for a nation of more than 31 million people than “clear” and “hold.” The key question is whether any combination of US and NATO/ISAF resources can actually provide the level of civil effort at the national, provincial, district, and local levels necessary to show the Afghan people that they will receive enough government services, and help in development and economic security, to halt the expansion of insurgent influence and win broad popular support for the government.
This requires levels of coordinated civil-military action that the US and other NATO/ISAF countries may well be unable to provide, as well as new levels of coordination and unity of effort at the civil and foreign aid level that neither UNAMA or any part of the Afghan government can currently provide. It requires a transition to a rule of law that covers both civil and criminal law, and can deal with corruption and power brokers.
It also requires a level of self-honesty that has been lacking on the part of UNAMA, the US and other donor governments, and NGOs. There are far too few trustworthy statistics on the way in which aid is allocated relative to validated requirements, the flow of aid money, how well it is managed and audited, and the success of aid programs in terms of sustained benefits for the Afghan people. Most of the metrics being provided a partial at best, and focus largely on the number and size of projects started, rather than their impact. There are virtually no data on sustained effect or how given aid efforts succeed in meeting overall requirements, even at the local level.
The foreign aid community needs to set far higher standards of professional and ethical conduct, and at least some NGOs seem little more than ineffective shells. Basic audits and financial transparency is lacking, and while UNAMA staff claim they have lists of corrupt Afghan government officials, and corrupt foreign and Afghan contractors, there is no evidence that such lists are adequate or that effective action is being taken.
No one in the Obama Administration seems to agree on what the President’s vague words about beginning US force reduction in 2011 mean, willing to discuss the impact of the real world limits to allied willingness to provide more funds and troops, or willing to discuss key issues like planned Canadian and Netherlands withdrawals.
It is an ill-kept secret that the studies of ways to accelerate Afghan force development conducted in the summer of 2009 as part of the President’s strategic review found far less progress, and far more problems, than had previously been reported. This does not mean that Afghan forces cannot become full partners and take over the bulk of the military burden at some point, but it seems much more likely to be 2014-2016 than 2011. It also seems likely that the Afghan force will require nearly full outside funding for 5-10 years after that time, particularly if Pakistan remains a major problem.
Transfer of responsibility to the Afghan central government is even more problematic. It is also clear that the crisis over the Afghan Presidential elections, delays in forming a new government, the prospects for another electoral crisis over coming elections for parliament, and delays in implementing legislation to strengthen provincial and local governments make it unlikely there will be a stable Afghan government before the spring to mid-2010 at the earliest. It also seems nearly certain that no combination of US, allied, and Afghan government civil effort can be effective on the ground, at the scale required, before 2012, and that it too is more likely to take until 2014-2016 at the earliest.
These problems may well make effective plans and metrics for transfer impossible. It certainly requires a level of strategic patience and bipartisanship within the US that nether Democrats or Republicans currently seem willing to provide.
The politics of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan are so different that they require fundamentally different approaches to each country. They both are the scene of a common struggle, although Pakistan faces a far more complex mix of internal and external threats than the Taliban, Haqqani network, Hekmatyar, and smaller insurgent groups.
There are few official metrics on the Pakistani side of the war, and most have emerged in recent UN reporting on the counternarcotics effort in Afghanistan. Some declassified intelligence estimates of the threat, and how its structure and intentions overlap the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan are shown in pages 158-159. US estimates of how these interact with differences between insurgent organizations and objectives are sown in pages 160-161.
A summary US estimate of the challenges Pakistan poses is shown in page 162. A UN estimate of tribal groups and their ties to insurgent threats is shown in pages 1643 and 164. UN metrics on the critical importance of the lack of border security in Afghanistan and Pakistan are shown in pages 165-168. UN data are shown on the uncertain governance in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in pages 169-170; and similar data on Baluchistan are shown in pages 171-172.
For all of its problems, Afghanistan is a willing host country and its government is largely committed to winning the war. Pakistan is at best a pressured “ally” that reacts to US carrots and stick, and to its own internal Islamist extremist threats, but focuses primarily on domestic security and the threat posed by India. It will not tolerate an over foreign military presence, and is reluctant to accept an effective advisory effort. Its government, forces, and intelligence are deeply divided about the war, the continued value of trying to manipulate the Afghan Taliban to serve Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan, and whether the US can be trusted or is the source of a new threat on Pakistan’s western borders. Pakistan is a tenuous ally at best, faces massive internal stability problems, and is only likely to fully engage as an ally if the various Afghan insurgent groups and Al Qa’ida become a direct threat to the Pakistani government.
2010 and Beyond: Can We Still “Win?”
The war is still winnable, but any form of victory remains uncertain. So far, the resourcing and implementation of “new strategy” is more conceptual than real and it is important to understand that current unclassified metrics describe only part of the challenges involved.
- There are no detailed descriptions of the level of corruption and lack of capacity in the Afghan government and security forces. There are no lists of corrupt or incapable power brokers, officials, and officers. There are no lists of corrupt or incapable aid efforts and outside contractors. There are no unclassified net assessments of Taliban/insurgent areas of influence and control versus Afghan government and ANSF areas of influence and control. There are no public metrics showing relative Taliban vs. Afghan government control of the actual process of local government and the justice system.
- The effort to develop effective Afghan forces is being reorganized as part of a zero-based review and only began to take hold in December 2009. The metrics that reflect past failures and lack of resources in the ANSF development effort are too complex to summarize in full in this report. They are described in a separate report – entitled “Shaping Afghan National Security Forces” and available on the CSIS web sites at http://csis.org/publication/shaping-afghan-national-security-forces -- a report which described both a high level of unnecessary part failure and very real future opportunities.
- There is no meaningful transparency as to the mix of national caveats, national objectives and “branding” of aid efforts, and rules of engagement that divide allied ISAF and PRT contributions and limit effective actual unity of effort within NATO/ISAF.
- The full level of US mistakes and failures in the US aid effort are still being explored by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), and the metrics in this report only hint at the gross incompetence of the State/USAID-led effort to date. The level of problems involved does become clearer, however, from SIGAR Quarterly Reports) dies that SIGAR has already done – which are available at http://www.sigar.mil/, and from a wide range of GAO studies available at https://www.gao.gov/reports-testimonies/by-topic/.
- The failures in the international aid effort are largely opaque, although Oxfam and many other studies warn that the UN and allied efforts have been a nightmare of waste and corruption, uncoordinated programs, and funding of programs and efforts spent outside Afghanistan or in ways where much or most of the money ended in flowing outside the country. Eight years into the war, neither UNAMA or any allied country has provide a credible and transparent analysis of the impact of its aid efforts.
- There are no unclassified, official estimates or metrics of the course of the war in Pakistan beyond the limited UN data provide in this report. It is clear that there are now two campaigns – Afghan and Pakistani – that make up what is effectively one war that flow across their borders. There are no US or NATO/ISAF metrics or reports that address these issues.
Winning By Learning from the Past
Moreover, polls show that the US and its allies also face a very different strategic environment from the one that the Soviets faced in the 1980s. Much of the unclassified polling of the Afghan people is now dated and has uncertain credibility in terms of the samples and methods used, but the results do not indicate the Taliban has won popularity where it is in control. This is clearly reflected in a series of ABC/BBC/ARD polls, and the most recent results summarized in pages 178-184.
These polling data provide strong support for the key elements of the new US and NATO/ISAF strategy -- if they are properly implemented. They reflect the first positive results in three years, and indicate that US and NATO/ISAF forces are not unpopular because they are foreign, but rather when they do not provide lasting security, and when they fight in an area and leave a power vacuum where the Taliban can return and take revenge. Similarly, the Afghan government consistently polls favorably, as does the ANSF and many of the negatives in such polls come from the absence of basic services, security and gross corruption – not from any popular support of Taliban ideology and religion, or separate sense of Pashtun identity.
Taliban and insurgent extremism and excesses also offer critical fault lines that the US, NATO/ISAF, and the Afghan government can do far more to exploit if they can make the “hold, build, and transfer” aspects of the new strategy an operational reality. The unclassified metrics now available only begin to provide a picture of Taliban and insurgent abuses and the casualties they cause.
There are no maps or detailed figures that show the level of extortion, kidnappings, seizures of property, night letters and threats, killings and attacks on local leaders, destruction or disbanding of schools, or the host of other problems in the areas where the Taliban and insurgent groups have major influence and control. It seems likely that casualty estimates would be significantly different if they could count this kind of violence half as well as they can make estimates of the impact of NATO/ISAF air strikes.
The Obama Administration Has Made an Important Beginning
The fact that the Obama Administration has so far failed to articulate a detailed strategy does not mean it has not made a beginning. the US has begun to reverse some of the most critical mistakes it made earlier in the war. It is now beginning to provide adequate resources.
The US is now far more honest in addressing the lack of capacity and corruption in the Afghan government, the failures to structure anything approaching an effective effort to make the Afghan security forces a credible partner, the weaknesses in NATO/ISAF and allied PRT efforts, the irrelevance and corruption in the international aid effort, and the fact that Pakistan is not an ally as much as a nation perceiving significantly different national interests but subject to US influence.
It also seems clear that best way to stop losing is to stop making critical mistakes. A more effective effort to actually implement a population oriented strategy can still reverse the situation and “win” to the extent that Afghanistan can gradually assume responsibility for its own security and stability – albeit with substantial aid over a period that may consume well over a decade over 2011. Such a victory would deny Al Qa’ida, the Taliban, and succeeding violent, Islamist extremist movements a sanctuary and a critical strategic victory, as well as promote regional stability, stability in the greater Middle East and Islamic worlds, and give the Afghan people hope and the opportunity to develop a truly viable state and economy.
Even Odds the Mission Can Be Accomplished?
These options are no guarantee of victory. The trend data in this report are a warning that the situation has probable deteriorate to the point where the odds of victory are probably now little better than even, even if the US does take effective action. The steady erosion of the politico-military situation in Afghanistan since the President’s first speech in March has also shown that the situation will continue to slowly deteriorate as long as the US fails to actually implement a new strategy`. Moreover, Pakistan is more critical in strategic terms and presents higher risks. No success in Afghanistan can guarantee victory in Pakistan, and it is unclear that any victory in Afghanistan can be sustained without an equal reversal in the course of the war in Pakistan.
But, war involves risk and there is no “exit strategy” that offers a better alternative or fewer mid and long term risks. The fact also remains that US mistakes and failures have been critical in Taliban and insurgent gains to date. The US, Afghan government, and NATO/ISAF do not confront a strong or popular enemy. They have failed to react and take the initiative, failed to use their resources effectively, and created a power vacuum that the enemy could exploit for well over half a decade. The enemy has not won the war as much as the US has lost it, and the only way to realistically assess the odds of winning is to stop making the mistakes that have been so costly in the past. The US can easily “conceptualize” its way to defeat; it may well be able to act in ways that win.