The Civil Transition in Afghanistan: The Metrics of Crisis?

It is natural to focus on the security problems of Transition in Afghanistan, and the challenges of forming an effective government with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. As the combined reporting of the World Bank, IMF, and SIGAR indicate, however, Afghanistan may face equally serious challenges in coping with cuts in military spending, aid, capital flight, and the inability of its government to be effective in raising revenues and controlling expenditures.

The Burke Chair at CSIS is issuing a new report entitled The Civil Transition in Afghanistan: The Metrics of Crisis? That report is available on the CSIS web site at This report focuses on the near term problems that Afghanistan faces in terms of governance, corruption, funding its budget, economic growth and development, and coping with a return to something approaching a narco-economy.

The report presents a wide range of metrics to help illustrate and bond Afghanistan’s problems. Unlike many reports on aid, it does not make assumptions about the longer term or focus on what might happen in five to 10 years if Afghanistan took decisive action to change the way in which its government functions or could ignore its internal divisions and an ongoing war.

This focus does not necessarily mean that Afghanistan cannot cope with a transition away from massive outside military spending, and rising levels of violence in the near term. The range of metrics presented in this report, however, do warn that outside civil aid is likely to play a critical role in Afghan stability through at least 2018, and that the main need for aid may be to fund government operations – including security, limit increases in poverty, and maintain stability rather than development.

Afghanistan does not need ambitious plans to create an economy in a future where its internal stresses and an ongoing war have somehow mysteriously ended. It needs a hard, pragmatic focus on the present by both its government and outside aid donors, as well as international organizations.
The report also warns that civil society and governance in Afghanistan have very fragile structures, and outside support for aid is limited. It is unlikely that simply having outside powers pledge more aid can be a substitute for well-planned efforts to help Afghanistan achieve some degree of economic stability over the next few years. It is also clear from the trends since 2012 that a failure to bring security can do far more in the future to cripple the Afghan economy, just as failures in governance and the economy can critically undermine security.

At the same time, the Burke Chair is issuing an update to one of its key reports on security transition. This report is entitled Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition – II: Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence, which is available on the CSIS web site at

This report raises further questions about the credibility – and lack of -- the data on the fighting being issued by NATO, ISAF, and the Department of Defense. It indicates that the surge of US forces after 2010 largely failed, that far more integrity and transparency is needed in reporting on the course of the fighting, and that the limited metrics ISAF and the Department of Defense have issued on the levels of violence are misleading and fundamentally understate the rising scope and levels of violence in the fighting.

The other three reports covering the other aspects of the war, the problems in various elements of the ANSF, and … all reinforce these warnings: These reports include:

Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition– I: Introduction, US Policy, and Cuts in US Forces and Spending, available on the CSIS web site at /141118_I_Security_Transition_in_Afghanistan_17_NOV_2014_0.pdf

Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition– III: Measuring the Transition from ISAF to ANSF, available on the CSIS web site at

Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition– IV: Progress in Afghan Force Development, available on the CSIS web site at

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy