Armed Nation Building
November 7, 2007
The US domestic political focus on Iraq has often come at the expense of attention to developments in the Afghan-Pakistan conflict. This situation is compounded by the lack of meaningful official reporting on what is happening, and the lack of useful metrics as to the course of the fighting, progress in nation building, and the lack of systematic coverage of changes in the Taliban and Al Qa'ida threat.
The CSIS has developed a new briefing on Afghanistan that highlights the issues that needs to be addressed and which pulls together the reporting that is available on the overall course of nation-building, developments in the fighting, the scale of the Taliban and Al Qa'ida threat, and the fact that the war is not an Afghan conflict but one whose center of gravity is the Pashtun and tribal areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan.
This briefing draws on a mix of US, NATO/ISAF, UN and other sources, as well as opinion polls of Afghans and Pakistanis. While such sources do not provide the kind of coverage that is needed to fully assess developments in Afghanistan, they do provide enough insight to warn that the course of the war may not be going as well as NATO/ISAF and other sources report, and that major problems still exist in every aspect of the nation building effort necessary to achieve any meaningful degree of victory and permit US and NATO/ISAF forces to largely withdraw.
US, NATO, and ISAF forces continue to win virtually every significant tactical encounter, but lack the force strength and cohesion to move from “win” to “win and hold” in many parts of the country. Pakistani forces are far less capable of winning tactical victories, and the recent coup in Pakistan raises serious questions as to how active Pakistani forces will be in the future. In general, the Taliban still seems to be expanding its influence in Afghanistan in terms of its control of political and economic space, and rural populations, in spite of NATO/ISAF victories. Both the Taliban and Al Qa'ida seem to be expanding their influence and base in Pakistan, and are expanding into new areas like the Swat Valley.
Afghan progress in nation building is real, but often grindingly slow and inadequate to deal with the Taliban threat. Governance and the rule of law are often weak or lacking in high risk and combat areas. The Afghan National Army is improving, but not at the rate called for in US or NATO/ISAF plans - which set unrealistic goals. The progress of the Afghan National Police and Auxiliary Police lags badly behind that of the army and is a major problem in holding high threat and combat areas, and allowing the Afghan government and NATO/ISAF to exploit tactical defeats of the Taliban.
The trends presented in this briefing do not indicate that the Afghan government or NATO/ISAF are losing the war, but they are a warning that the conflict is likely to stretch out for half a decade to a decade beyond 2008. They also provide a warning that the US and its allies need to program forces and substantial aid resources for at least another half decade, and that substantial changes may be needed in the present aid effort to focus more on security requirements in providing aid to governance and the economy, and to provide a more realistic and long term plan for afghan force development.