The Afghan War Ten Years On
October 11, 2011
The end of the first decade of the Afghan War has not been ignored in the media, but it has been largely ignore at the policy level. It has almost dropped out of sight in terms of Presidential and Congressional attention, and seems to have little interest to most Republican Presidential candidates. The fact remains, however, that the war’s 10th anniversary has come at time when virtually every aspect of the war except US and allied tactical victories in the south are in crisis.
The US confronts a growing range of challenges if it is to win the Afghan conflict in any meaningful sense, and leave a stable Afghanistan and Pakistan. These include the resilience of the Taliban, Haqqani, and Hekmatyar opposition, the continuing weaknesses of the Afghan government, and a crisis in US and Pakistani relations.
The most serious risk, however, has now become creating effective plans for a transition in which most US and allied forces will leave the country no later than 2014. This must be done in the face of massive cuts in US, allied, and donor spending in Afghanistan that could trigger a depression or deep economic crisis.
In order to achieve anything approaching “victory” in Afghanistan, the US must:
- Decide on its strategic objectives in conducting and terminating the war. These objectives not only include the defeat of Al Qaeda, but deciding on what kind of transition the US wishes to make in Afghanistan, what goals the US can achieve in creating a stable Afghanistan, US goals in Pakistan, and the broader strategic goals the US will seek in Central and South Asia.
- Defeat the insurgency not only in tactical terms, but also by eliminating its control and influence over the population and ability exploit sanctuaries in Pakistan and win a war of political transition.
- Create a more effective and integrated, operational civil and civil-military transition effort by NATO/ISAF, UN, member countries, NGO, and international community efforts through 2014 and for 5-10 years after the withdrawal of combat forces.
- Build up a much larger, and more effective, mix of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
- Give the Afghan government the necessary capacity and legitimacy (and lasting stability) at the national, regional/provincial, district, and local levels by 2014.
- Dealing with Pakistan in reducing the Taliban-Haqqani network in the NWFP and Baluchistan, and dealing with the broader risk Pakistan will become a failed nuclear weapons state.
- Shape a balance of post-transition relations with India, Iran, “Stans,” Russia, and China that will help sustain post-transition stability.
- Make effective trade-offs in terms of resources relative to the priorities set by other US domestic and security interests
Afghanistan is scarcely Vietnam, but it easily can become another war where the US wins virtually every tactical engagement, but loses decisively in grand strategic terms. Although the US is making important tactical gains in the south, Afghanistan must now deal with a “transition” where most US and ISAF combat forces will withdraw no later than the end of 2014, and where the US Treasury estimates that cuts in military and aid spending could reduce the Afghan GDP by 12% in the best case and over 40% in the worst case. This could trigger an economic and military crisis in the same year that Karzai must leave office and a new Presidential election must be held.
These resource cuts help make “transition” a high-risk effort the following reasons:
- Weakness, divisions, lack of capacity and corruption of Afghan central government present a major risk.
- Tensions with Pakistan could deprive transition of strategic rationale.
- Uncertainty that the US can scale up victory enough to create a stable climate for politics, governance, and development: May not come close to 81 + 40 districts.
- Little evidence that “build and transition” can fully match “clear and hold.”
- Uncertain ability to sustain national unity after 2014, prevent Taliban and others from recovering and winning a battle of political attrition and accommodation.
- Uncertain US and allied willingness to sustain funding, forces, and civil aid at required levels before and after 2014. Already risk of aid cuts triggering “recession” (crisis) in 2014.
- US budget debate could have even more drastic impact, as could unrealistic Afghan demands for strategic partnership.
- Serious issues remain in Afghan Army, police, local police, and justice capabilities.
- It also means that the US has one fiscal year, and a maximum of two to three calendar years, to come to grips with following issues:
- Plans to deal with challenge of 2014 elections and post-Karzai transition, and ensure the resources are available to create an effective political structure and capable Afghan governance.
- Honest plans, mechanisms, and funding for negotiations with insurgents and for reintegration vs. cover for exit without a strategy.
- Near and mid-term force development and funding plan for Afghan National Security Forces at a time the US has already provided guidance that could cut the future funds for the ANSF by 40-60%, particularly after 2014. This requires the ANSF and entire security plan to be reshaped around a realistic set of commitments to future funding as well as to develop:
- Real world understanding of what may be a transition from NTM-A to de facto USF-A
- Clear link between size, quality and resources.
- Realistic picture of relations between ANP, ALP, and justice system.
- Near and mid-term analysis of impacts of coming funding cuts in military and aid expenditures. (USCENTCOM is working on such a plan). This requires detailed economic analysis of the impact of the coming cuts, and a plan for a post-transition Afghan economy, or “new Silkroad” that is not based on vague regional hopes or trillions of unexploited minerals, but concrete plans and funding for specific projects and aid efforts by US. Plans tied to UN, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, with no illusions about real world level of allied/donor efforts.
- Clear plans for reductions in the US presence going from 14 PRTs to five embassy entities – plans linked to clear allied commitments to a given level of continuing effort and resources.
- The Burke Chair has drawn together a wide range of official sources and data from the US, ISAF, World Bank, and USCENTCOM to provide a basis for analyzing and making decisions on these issues. This briefing is entitled Afghanistan Win or Lose: Transition and the Coming Resource Crisis, and an updated version is available on the CSIS web site at https://csis.org/files/publication/111011_Afghan_War_10_years.pdf
Other recent Burke Chair reports on Afghanistan and Pakistan include:
"Afghanistan Win or Lose: Transition and the Coming Resource Crisis", available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/110922_Afghan_Resources-n-Reform.pdf
A report detailing the findings of Dr. Cordesman and Adam Mausner's recent trip to Afghanistan, "The War in Afghanistan: A Race Against Time, Resources, and the Enemy" is available on the CSIS web site at:
This trip report provides a short discussion of key issues. It is supported by the following series of detailed reports on key aspects of the war:
- Afghanistan: Can Meaningful Transition Succeed? Available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/files/publication/110721_afghan_transition.pdf
- The Key Ongoing Challenges that Shape the Outcome of the War. -- available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/publication/afghanistan-and-uncertain-metrics-progress-part-three-key-ongoing-challenges-help-shape-
- "Fragile But Reversible:" Can Meaningful Transition Succeed? -- available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/publication/afghanistan-and-uncertain-metrics-progress-0
- Can the Civil Side of "Hold, Build, and Transition" Succeed? -- available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/publication/afghanistan-and-uncertain-metrics-progress-part-four-hold-build-and-transition-challenge
- Can Afghan Forces Be Effective By Transition? -- available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/publication/afghanistan-and-uncertain-metrics-progress-part-five-can-afghan-forces-be-effective-tran
- The Problem of Pakistan and the Probability of Grand Strategic Success -- available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/publication/afghan-war-and-problem-pakistan
The Burke Chair has just published a book on Pakistan, “PAKISTAN - VIOLENCE
VERSUS STABILITY: A National Net Assessment” This is available for purchase here: http://csisbookstore.org/pakistanviolenceversusstabilityanationalnetassessmentbyanthonyhcordesmanandvarunvira.aspx
The Burke Chair has also published a book entitled "Afghan National Security Forces: What it will take to implement the ISAF Strategy." This book is available for purchase or download here:
A new CSIS Report examines the issue of corruption in detail. The report is entitled "How America Corrupted Afghanistan: Time to Look in the Mirror" and can be downloaded from the CSIS website here:
A Memo on reforming ANSF metrics can be downloaded at:
Another report on reforming overall metrics in Afghanistan, entitled "THE NEED TO REFOCUS AFGHAN METRICS AND NARRATIVES ON KEY LOCAL AREAS AND POPULATION CENTERS" can be found here:
Other Recent Reports
A Memo on reforming ANSF metrics can be downloaded at:
The Burke Chair has prepared a number of other reports on the conflict in Afghanistan:
"Realism in Afghanistan: Rethinking an Uncertain Case for the War" is a
commentary on what is achievable in Afghanistan, and can be downloaded here:
Department of Defense, State Department, USAID, and NSC Reporting on the Afghan War, which describes the problems in official reporting on the war can be found at:
A briefing by the Burke Chair on the problems related to Afghan poverty, food security, and agriculture, entitled Afghanistan: Food and Conflict in 2010 is available on the CSIS web site at
In addition, several other reports are available that describe the changes necessary to develop an effective strategy and provide accurate metrics on the war. These reports are:
"Obama's New Strategy in Afghanistan" This is an analysis of President Obama's new strategy found here:
"The Afghan Narcotics Industry" This presentation describes the Afghan Narcotics industry in comprehensive detail through graphics and maps.
"The Afghanistan Campaign: Can We Win?"
For a full overview of the resources needed to win in Afghanistan, please read the full report "Resourcing for Defeat: Critical Failures in Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Resourcing the Afghan and Iraq Wars":
These reports are regularly updated and expanded. We would greatly appreciate suggestions as to additional material that should be included. Such suggestions should be addressed to email@example.com.