The Post-Election Challenges to Afghan Transition: 2014-2015

Note: This report was revised and corrected on May 18, 2014

The final outcome of the election in Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s willingness to sign a workable Bilateral Security Agreement with the US are essential preconditions to any hope of a successful Transition. It is the quality of leadership and governance that follows the election, however, that will determine actual success. Similarly, how Afghan forces evolve, and the quality of US and other outside support to Afghan forces, will determine whether Afghanistan is secure enough for a Transition to work.

The Burke Chair at CSIS has prepared a detailed briefing on these and the other challenges the new Afghan government, the US and its allies, and aid donors must meet during the remainder of 2014 and over the course of 2015. The actual process of a stable Transition may take more than half a decade and extend beyond 2018. It is the first two years, however, which are likely to present the most serious challenges.

This presentation is entitled The Post-Election Challenges to Afghan Transition: 2014-2015. It is available on the Burke Chair web site at

  • The introduction lists the mix of key post election challenges  (p. 2)
  • The first section in the report focuses on the lack of US leadership, planning, budgeting, and public support.
    • It lists the areas where the US government – as well as the Afghan government and other powers – have failed to provide leadership, planning, and transparency, and create the institutions necessary for success. (p. 5)
    • It warns that past failures to sustain successful transitions have been the rule and not the exception. (p. 6)
    • It shows the need for leadership that can win congressional and popular US support, and that goes far beyond empty rhetoric about terrorism. That provides a clear strategic justification for US action, and provides a credible path forward (pp. 7-9)
    • It shows the rate at which US spending has already been cut, and the lacking of any meaningful budget panning and details in the President’s FY2015 budget request. (pp. 10-14)
  • The second section focuses on the Challenge of Security and the fact that Afghanistan is still a nation at war.
    • There is some hope that an adequately resourced ANSF layered defense and US “four quarter” advisory strategy could succeed in providing the necessary security in key populated areas and along key lines of communication, even if Pakistan continues to provide Taliban sanctuaries and comes to dominate less populated areas in the east and South. (pp. 19-21)
    • Afghanistan is, however, very much a nation at war and success is uncertain. (p. 22)
    • ISAF and the US government have stopped detailed public reporting on actual success in war for more than a year. ISAF no longer reports maps or metrics, and the semi-annual Department of Defense 1230 report stopped most such reporting in late 2012. Although DoD issued a new 1230 report in November 2013 in most such data have not been updated since August 2013. (p. 22)
    • It is clear from the November 2013 1230 report, and a wide range of media reporting, that the transition to Afghan forces in 2013 gradually extended ANSF responsibility to many areas still dominated by the Taliban and other insurgents. (pp. 23  & 29) But, there has been no meaningful net assessment of the success of Afghan government/ANSF efforts to control key districts and population centers versus those of the Taliban and other threats.
    • The ANSF will have to cover a large country with a highly dispersed population and 18 major population clusters. Some do not face major threats, but many do face serious risks. (p. 24).
    • Protecting key lines of communication will be a major challenge – both in terms of available forces, force quality and loyalty, and the ability to maintain key routes. (p. 25) Both security and post-transition trade patterns present serious uncertainties.
    • The World Bank already ranks Afghanistan as having some of the worst challenges in terms of violence and rule of law of any country in the world. (p.26)
    • The ANSF must start with none of the internal resources Iraq had from its oil revenues, and with nothing like the success the surge in Iraq presented before Transition. (p. 27)
    • Even the ISAF’s carefully chosen metric – enemy initiated attacks – failed to reflect significant success before ISAF ceased to report all metrics on the success of the fighting. (p. 28)
    • The one public summary of various indicators comparing the period from April 1 to September 15, 2012 to the same period in 2013 does not show any meaningful progress, but reflects an insurgent shift to attacks on political targets and the decline in ISAF and ANSF field activity. (p. 29)
    • The ANSF has increased significantly in total force strength, and did successfully begin to bear the brunt of enemy attacks and casualties by October 2012. (pp. 30-33)
    • Past reports show, however, that the ANSF still faces key problems in the MoD and MoI, sustainment, and with corruption. Only half of the 352,000 personnel often cited as the force goal are actual military and serious paramilitary forces. Force composition and force quality present far more critical problems than the issue of total manning. (p. 34)
    • Funding the ANSF has long presented major challenges and the post 2014 force structure and funding plan is unclear. (p. 35)
    • The ANSF suffers from rapidly changing force goals, rapid turnover in advisors, overambitious efforts to force it to “do it our way,” a force-rush to meet the transition deadline of end-2014, and sudden peaks and cuts in funding. (p. 36)
    • The only meaningful reporting on the ANSF since the late summer of 2013 has been by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR). That reporting is too complex to summarize, but has identified many continuing weaknesses first identified in past public ISAF and DoD reporting. A key example of critical shortfalls in reliable reporting on actual manning makes this clear. (p. 37)
    • The Afghan police present critical problems in leadership, force quality, corruption, actual manning, and turnover. (p. 38)
    • Surveys do, however, indicate that the elements of the ANSF are winning far more support in most areas than the Taliban and other insurgents. (p. 39.)
  • The third section focused on the critical challenges in governance that will follow even the most successful outcome of the election in producing a clear result, popular acceptance, and support by Afghanistan’s key power brokers and factions.
    • The post election period will be a race to establish a new pattern of effective governance, and deal with critical challenges in governance at every level, planning, budget execution, and dealing with the economy in addition to security. (p. 41)
    • US reporting on progress in governance and the economy has never had real credibility. As the previous budget summary shows, there is no evidence of a credible US government economic risk assessment, aid plan, effort to advance the reform goals set at the Tokyo governance, or plan to deal with the problems of a system where the president controls most appointments and funds down to the District level.
    • Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt and incompetent governments in the world. (pp. 42-43)
    • It must now adjust to radical cuts in the outside spending that supported its budget and the market and urban sector portions of its economy, (p. 44) – problems disguised by a lack of meaningful current reporting, and dishonest modeling that ignore the impact of corruption, real-world narcotics economics, and capital flight.
    • Revenues may be partially protected by the carry over in aid funds, but past projections seem exaggerated, to ignore corruption and waste, sometimes be based on unrealistic forecasts of development. (p. 45)
    • The ability of government’s to spend money has never been a measure of effectiveness in showing what that spending accomplishes, but Afghanistan lags badly even in the ability to spend at a time many NGOs are leaving, PRTs will be gone, and it is supposed to manage a far larger share of aid funds. (p. 46)
  • The fourth section warns just how serious ethnic, regional, and sectarian divisions are among the population and shows how critical sheer population pressure is in terms of total population, pressure on the land and water, urbanization and demand for jobs
    • Population estimates are very uncertain and many of the statistics commonly used have no reliable source or level of accuracy. (p. 49)
    • The UN and US Census Bureau agree, however, that Afghanistan is under extreme population pressure for a very poor country with limited arable land and water and uncertain rainfall. (p. 49) 7.5-8.2 million in 1950 to 13.2 to 15.0 million at time of Soviet invasion to 27+ to 32+ million in 2014.
    • Ethnic and sectarian differences are a problem, compounded by competition between power brokers and officials. (p. 50)
    • An extremely young population creates a high dependency ratio and will put major pressure on the land, water, and job creation for at least a decade. (p. 50)
    • Population pressure, water, and economic incentives have led to a sharp rise in urbanization, much uncounted or underestimated, and in the form of slums, poverty, and subsistence. (p. 50)
    • The rate of young men reaching job age alone seems to exceed creation of real jobs. (p. 50)
    • Agriculture employs 79% of population for only 20% of GDP. (p. 50)
    • Services employ 15.7% of population for 54.4% of GDP. After Transition and coming cuts in aid and military spending. (p .50)
  • The final section highlights the potential seriousness of economic risk.
    • There are at least nine major challenges that are not war related. (p. 53)
    • Past reporting on GDP growth has been dishonest in that it took figures shaped by the agriculture sector, and gains determined by peak rainfall, and implied these were the result of development and aid. (p. 54)
    • Transition and cuts in military and aid spending may have a critical impact on both the service and industries sector during transition. The lack of a comparable estimate of the impact of the narcotics sector is analytically absurd. (p. 55)
    • In spite of these problems, there seems to have been real progress in human development in spite of gross exaggeration of improvement in medical services, and in students actually in school versus expected years of schooling. (p. 56)
    • However, this has still left Afghanistan far behind other poor Asian states like Bangladesh and Nepal. (p. 57)
    • Transition will make the major barriers to doing business in Afghanistan – which ranks only 164th out of 189 countries – far more serious. (p. 58)
    • There are no credible estimates of just how dependent Afghanistan has been on outside military spending and aid, but the World Bank and CIA warn that Afghan imports were 17 time exports in 2012. (p. 59)
Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy