The War in Afghanistan
November 24, 2010
The Department of Defense issued a new version of its semi annual “1230” report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan on November 23, 2010.1 This report came out roughly a week after the Obama Administration effectively stated that its initial “conditions-based” deadline had moved from mid-2011 to some point it 2014. Spokesmen for the Department of Defense also indicated that the upcoming December review represented their inputs, and that of ISAF, and made it clear on background that it had been delayed for some last minute “wordsmithing” to this end.
In an act of unintentional irony, the report was issued almost on the day the US and its allies reached the point where they had been fighting longer in Afghanistan than the Soviet Union had fought before them. The irony in such a date is compounded by the fact that the Soviet Union left believing that it had create a regime that was stable and secure enough, and with strong enough military forces to keep control of the country – an assumption that proved true for only two years. The US is now seeking the same definition of victory – albeit with very different internal political goals. Moreover, the US too claimed victory in a prior counterinsurgency – leaving a “defeated” North Vietnam, a “stable” democratic government, and “secure” set of national forces in South Vietnam.
Keeping Expectations in Proportion
Irony is not prophecy, however, and the new report must be judged accordingly. The Department of Defense has made it clear that the new report reflects most of the value judgments that it and ISAF will contribute to the December report that the President has promised to Congress.
It is also important because it is likely to provide considerably more detail than the final December review, and provides some substantial new insights into the trends in the fighting and in creating an effective set of Afghan national security forces (ANSF) at a time the Obama Administration has virtually ceased to provide any substantive, unclassified reporting on the war since June.
The key maps and charts in the report are available in a new CSIS report entitled The War in Afghanistan: Key Trends in the Fighting and ANSF Development in the November 2010 1230 Report, and which is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/101124_AfghanNov2010Dod_1230.pdf
It is the text of the report, however, that is most important in understanding the mix of progress, problems, and risks that shape the war in Afghanistan and the upcoming December report. Moreover, as a detailed reading of the new DoD report makes clear, the report is an interim report on the implementation of a new strategy that is only beginning to be fully tested. Not only has the real-world deadline for “transition” to Afghan responsibility shifted to 2014, the report covers progress in a war where US military deployments have just been completed, and allied increases – which will not come close to compensating for coming Canadian and Dutch cuts – are still in process:
“On September 30, there were approximately 96,695 U.S. Forces and approximately 48,842 international forces in Afghanistan…The U.S. 30,000 personnel force increase was comprised of three separate force packages, each built to provide specific capabilities essential to achieving the main goals of the campaign plan, particularly in RC-South and RC-East. The majority of the initial force package (FP-1) was comprised of U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) elements, which were immediately deployed in central Helmand combat operations. Additionally, FP-1 included an Army brigade to conduct training and mentoring for ANSF forces. Force Package 2 (FP-2) delivered an Army brigade to conduct operations in Kandahar Province. FP-2 also offered military intelligence assets and a rotary-wing aviation brigade. Force Package 3 (FP-3) delivered the final Army brigade to RC-East, to conduct operations in Paktika Province. Follow-on forces will continue to execute the strategy of shape-clear-hold-build, and transfer as operations continue in Kandahar. With the arrival of the 10th Mountain Division in late October/early November in RC-South, the U.S. force increase will be complete. (p. 14)
ISAF received pledges of 9,700 additional personnel from NATO and non-NATO partners since the President’s December 2009 speech. As of September 2010, approximately 77 percent of these additional personnel have arrived. (p. 14)… The total shortfall as of September 30, including version 9.5 not filled and version 10.0 additional requirements, is approximately 8,900 forces.
The requirement for forces identified in the CJSOR is challenged by the drawdown of forces by two RC-South Allies, the Netherlands and Canada. The Dutch Government withdrew the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan when its military mandate ended August 1, 2010, at which time the Dutch Government transferred lead-nation status in Uruzgan. The Canadians, facing similar parliamentary pressure, plan to begin redeploying forces in 2011. (p. 15)
… SHAPE released its bi-annual Caveat Report on April 21, reporting an increase in overall caveats from 57 to 58. In total, 20 of the 47 nations in ISAF operate without caveats…Nearly 40 percent of the caveats are geographically-based, representing a significant challenge for COMISAF as they limit his agility. (p. 15)
Moreover, both the DoD report and recent SIGAR reporting make it clear that military progress is still far in advance of the civil progress in governance and development which is critical to meaningful tactical victory. The US civilian “surge” is a year away from being fully manned and operational in the field, where critical assets in building up effective Afghan forces will not be fully deployed before mid-2011, and where critical uncertainties exist in every aspect of the ability to scale-up and sustain any major aspect of “shape, clear, hold, build, and transition.”
As has been noted in previous CSIS studies, no one should judge whether the glass is half empty or half full is while it is still being poured. The review of progress in Afghanistan both in this report, and the review due in December 2010, have to be a case of trying to judge progress while the glass is still being poured. These reports can only provide a limited picture of whether the new strategy can work.
One also has to be honest about the past, and exactly who is to blame. No effort to reshape US strategy that began in mid-2009 could quickly overcome eight years of massive underresourcing, or a lack of coherent strategy, coordination of national efforts, integration of civil-military efforts, meaningful efforts to create effective Afghan national security forces, focus on provincial and local governance, and effort to support and secure the population. The fact that the US and ISAF now face high risk challenges, and are fighting a war where every step is an experiment, is not a function of the challenges posed by counterinsurgency and dealing with a different culture, it is the product of gross American strategic incompetence between 2001 and early 2009. It will take time to determine whether competence and more adequate resources can now win.
Important Progress and Glaring Misstatements and Omissions
The new report does have important positive indicators. In fact, it would be amazing if a massive increase in the US troop presence and in US spending did not have such effects at the local level. It is also true that such indicators did provide preliminary signs of progress during a similar crisis in the Iraq War. They cannot be disregarded even if they so far reflect only limited and potentially ephemeral progress. The US and its allies may still win a meaningful and lasting grand strategic victory in Afghanistan, and while the US faces critical differences in its strategic objectives from Pakistan, it scarcely faces the same level of regional anger and opposition the Soviet Union did.
However, the assessments in the new Department of Defense report are mixed, and the report does not conclude that the US and its allies have reached the point where it is clear the military aspects of new strategy can be fully implemented, can be successfully applied at the nation-wide scale and can be sustained/sustainable to have lasting effect. It is also unclear whether the American strategy can overcome problems in creating effective enough support from the Afghan and Pakistani governments to offer a reasonable probability that a successful near-term strategic outcome – enough security and stability to constitute “Afghan good enough” – will have a favorable grand strategic outcome over time.
Military Progress and Problems
The military portions of the report reflect important progress, particularly given the need to overcome the low base of military capability that existed in 2009, and conclude that,
Progress across the country remains uneven, with modest gains in security, governance, and development in operational priority areas. The deliberate application of our strategy is beginning to have cumulative effects and security is slowly beginning to expand. Although significant challenges exist, some signs of progress are evident. Areas of security in Kabul and the surrounding districts have allowed for improvements in development and governance. Progress is also visible in areas where Coalition forces have been on the ground for more than six months, such as Central Helmand Province. (p. 7)
…The increase in violence during this period was concurrent with the arrival of Coalition personnel, the dramatically accelerated pace of operations, and the spike of violence often seen on election day. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is seeing some early indications that comprehensive counterinsurgency operations are having localized positive effects and are producing initial signs of progress. Indications of local resistance to insurgents continue to emerge alongside positive indications, such as newly opened schools and police stations…ISAF and ANSF forces gradually are pushing insurgents to the edges of secured population areas, in a number of important locations. (pp. 6-7)
At the same time, the report exposes important weaknesses. The maps in the CSIS report, The War in Afghanistan: Key Trends in the Fighting and ANSF Development in the November 2010 1230 Report, do not yet reflect any significant or decisive gains (p. 52), although the charts do show that ISAF has managed to limit civilian casualties in spite of far more intense combat and that the bulk of civilian casualties are inflicted by the Taliban and insurgents.
The DoD report is conspicuously silent as to the details of progress in populated areas, given key districts in the campaign plan, and the ability of the Afghan government and civil aid efforts to follow up tactical victories in RC East, RC South, and RC Southwest. Little of the detail provided in past campaign briefings is provided, and no meaningful details are provided on the campaign in Kandahar. There is no substantive analysis of the impact of attack on Taliban and other insurgent leaders and cadres, and the report is silent about past statements that the Taliban are growing tired, alienated from their leaders, and more willing to give up the fight.
Key portions of the text are questionable or phrased in ways that do not fully reveal the issues involved. For example, the statement in the summary that “The Afghan Government and ISAF continue to face a resilient enemy that exploits governance gaps and continues to fight to retain long-standing sanctuaries where the insurgency historically has had strong roots. Yet, the insurgent-generated violence remains largely localized and does not threaten all of Afghanistan: 45 percent of all violence and two-thirds of all improvised explosive device (IED) activity take place in the south, seems technically correct. (p. 8).”
Like much of the analysis, this statement treats violence largely in terms of major acts of violence and attacks on ISAF and Afghan officials and the ANSF. It also does not match the franker assessments for RC West (pp. 48-49) and RC North (p. 49) that occur later in the report. Moreover, to the extent it is true, it makes the parts of the report that average nation wide perceptions of violence (p. 52) virtually meaningless as a valid indicator of progress or failure.
There is no detailed mapping or reporting on the presence and growth of insurgent forces on a national basis of the kind provided in a previous report (See Insurgent Areas of Operation, April report, p. 23), and the report does not acknowledge the inability to map and quantify the lower levels of violence and intimidation that are all the insurgency needs in many areas to be effective.
It is also striking that the DoD report states much later in the text that,
Efforts to reduce insurgent capacity, such as safe havens and logistic support originating in Pakistan and Iran, have not produced measurable results, though the Haqqani Network has sustained losses in the Pakistani tribal areas. Pakistan’s domestic extremist threat and the 2010 floods reduce the potential for a more aggressive or effective Pakistani effort in the near term… While ANSF and ISAF operations have increased pressure on insurgent networks over the past several months, the insurgency has proven resilient with sustained logistics capacity and command and control. Larger and more aggressive security operations are beginning to increase pressure on insurgent capacity and operations; however, the insurgents will retain operational momentum in some areas as long as they have access to externally supported safe havens and support networks. (p. 41-42)
The insurgency continues to adapt and retain a robust means of sustaining its operations, through internal and external funding sources and the exploitation of the Afghan Government’s inability to provide tangible benefits to the populace. External funding to the insurgency is top-down, while internal funding is bottom-up, providing the Taliban consistent streams of money to fund operations sufficiently. (p. 42)
… Despite the increase in ANSF and ISAF capabilities to counter insurgent attacks, the insurgents’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) continue to evolve in sophistication. In addition, the insurgency continues to inhibit the expansion of a legitimate Afghan Government through an effective shadow governance process that provides dispute resolution, rule of law, and other traditional services in a number of areas. (p.43)
It is not objective to state that, “This period included several important political developments including President Hamid Karzai’s approval of the Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), a Presidential decree establishing the Afghan Local Police (ALP), the signing of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, and the establishment of the Joint Afghan-NATO Inteqal (“transition”) Board (JANIB),” (p. 8) but ignore the major problems he and the government have created in dealing with private security forces, providing uncertain support for key operations, delaying approval of the local police, calling for serious limits on ISAF operations in populated areas, and exaggerating ANSF capabilities.
These limitations in the report must be kept in perspective. Progress is the south is real, and the statement is technically true that, “Comprehensive civil-military efforts in RC-S and RC-SW are making slow but steady progress. Initial signs of this progress are evident especially in Central Helmand, where ISAF and ANSF have been conducting counterinsurgency operations for over a year. Despite the enemy’s continued efforts to counter coalition and ANSF actions to expand security in the south, slow and incremental gains are being achieved. Six months ago, Marjah was an insurgent command-and-control center, a base for IED assembling, and a nexus for illegal narcotics industry activities. Now the city is controlled by the Afghan Government. Signs of progress in Marjah include voter registration, increased activity in local marketplaces, and the reopening of schools that were closed for several years,” (p. 8)
But, it is far from clear these gains are sustainable, large enough to have a lasting strategic impact, can be scaled up to the point where the Taliban cannot ride out the ISAF presence in a war of attrition, and lay enough groundwork for transition to ANSF coverage.
Similarly, it may be technically accurate to state that, “ISAF operations in RC-E have continued to apply pressure and disrupt the leadership of the Haqqani and Taliban Networks.” It is less clear that it is as yet true that, “Combined forces in RC-E are securing critical lines of communication and infrastructure that supports the commerce to and from Pakistan. Efforts in RC-E will further increase the pressure on some of Afghanistan’s most lethal enemy networks, expand population security from Kabul to key population centers in Wardak and Logar, neutralize the Haqqani Network’s footholds and disrupt its access to Kabul, and secure the main economic border crossing point at Torkham.” These are goals where progress is being made, but the report treats them as de facto successes, and the new report conspicuously omits the map of RC East in the April report of “Public Perceptions (Do You Trust the Afghan Government?) (p. 28), and the detailed statistical survey data that accompanied it.
A Recent ICOS survey also produces a far less favorable picture of the situation than the surveys and comments in the text of the DoD report, which states that, “From April 2009 to April 2010, the numbers of Afghans who reported improved security increased by 20 percent” in RC East (p. 45), although it only describes future goals – not any progress in improving perceptions and support in the most critical areas of the fighting, which are in RC South (pp. 46-47), and RC Southwest (47-48).
Creating Afghan Forces for Transition
The report does make it clear that significant progress is being made in increasing ANSF numbers, and does a good overall job of describing both the impressive progress in force quality and the remaining problems that will take at least until 2014 to solve:
Both the ANA and ANP increased their size through increased recruiting, reduced attrition, and improved retention. In July 2010, the ANA and the ANP both met their JCMB growth goal of 134,000 and 109,000 personnel, respectively, three months before the JCMB’s October 31, 2010 deadline. The ANA end-strength for September was 138,164 and the ANP end strength was 115,525 personnel. If the ANSF continues to grow at a similar pace, it will also meet its October 2011 goal of 171,600 and 134,000 personnel. Although the growth accomplishments made during this reporting period are significant, the challenge of expanding the quality of the force remains, in particular in the area of developing leadership – the top priority moving forward. The emphasis on a near-term, COIN-capable ANSF created a heightened dependence on ISAF and exacerbated several challenges related to the development of leaders within the ANSF. (p. 17)
It is critical to note the extent to which the report reveals in need for strategic patience. The charts and text in the new CSIS report show only very slow – if significant – progress in creating effective Ministries of Defense and the Interior. The CSIS Report also finds that the serious leadership gaps in the ANA, problems in ethnic balance, and problems in attrition and partnering are continuing. Additionally the growth of the Afghan Air Force is slow and now at less of than a third of the goal for 2016 (pp. 25-28). Although NTM-A is making progress in solving these issues, this progress is slow and uncertain. The DoD report notes that,
“IJC partnering and partnered operations have successfully increased the quality of the fielded force. However, significant challenges remain. Partnered units continue to rely heavily on ISAF to control operations and long-term planning is often ineffective due to the focus on current operations. Staff members’ low literacy levels hinder their ability to use computers, effectively manage staff functions, and exercise command and control. Partnering is essential to provide necessary supervision and oversight of planning for supplies (i.e., fuel and ammunition).” (p. 31)
The DoD report also repeats past problems in rating Afghan forces in terms of training, equipment, and manning rather than actual performance; and in ignoring the ethnic, tribal, corruption, and power broker problems that are often far more critical in shaping ANSF capabilities. The maps showing the effectiveness of ANA and ANP forces by province have uncertain credibility, and are not defined in any meaningful sense in unclassified terms, (pp. 31 & 38). The report obfuscates this by stating that,
Since the previous report, IJC changed the ANSF assessments process from the Capability Milestone (CM) Rating System to the Commander’s Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and Rating Definition Level (RDL) system. The new rating systems measure operational effectiveness and readiness in comparison to the CM Rating System, which measured the preparedness. The CUAT assesses the ANSF using qualitative methodology that is underpinned by quantitative data. The RDL system allows for the subjective evaluation of capabilities or functional areas in ANSF units, as well as objective evaluation of status report information, such as personnel, logistics, and training data and statistics. The CUAT enables the Coalition force partner to address the challenges, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, in a narrative report. In addition, the CUAT addresses systems and doctrine, as well as simple status problems, and encourages problem solving within the chain of command. The CUAT provides inputs to a common database, thereby providing open access for analysis.…RDLs are specific, measured ratings with clear definitions that assess areas not considered under previous rating schemes. The RDL system differs fundamentally from the CM rating methodology, and therefore the two systems should not be compared. The RDL definitions are described in the attached unclassified annex. (p. 21)
The effectiveness map for the ANP (p. 38) rates substantial elements of the police as “effective with assistance,” when they are at best “dependent on coalition forces for success.” This may reflect a rating system based more on resources and training than a realistic assessment of corruption, attrition, ties to power brokers, and lack of an effective judicial and criminal justice system; but such ratings are little more than meaningless in a country like Afghanistan. It is striking that the report makes no mention of a separate part of the new CUAT system that is supposed to cover these issues for both the ANA and ANP. This is particularly important because the report is quite forthright in noting that,
Corruption and the perception of corruption continue to negatively affect the reputation of the AUP among the Afghan population. Only a few areas have positive popular perception ratings of the AUP. Despite some efforts by the Government of Afghanistan to eliminate corruption and improve rule of law, overwhelming reports of corruption continue. If corruption activities continue to go unchecked at current levels, they threaten to keep the population separated from the government. Corruption at the provincial headquarters and district headquarters (PHQ/DHQ) level negatively affect the trust of the populace. (p. 38)
Reporting on ANA and ANP manning is improved to show the rates of attrition and recruitment, and focus on “actual” manning to the point such reporting can be trusted. It is clear from the text, however, that the ANCOP – the only effective paramilitary part of the police – is still far below the necessary strength level and still has serious, if greatly reduced, attrition problems: “The ANP reached its 2010 growth objective of 109,000 three months early, but the severe attrition rate in Afghan National Civil Order Policy (ANCOP) puts the 2011 growth goal of 134,000 at risk as 90 percent of programmed growth this coming year is in the ANCOP… ANCOP attrition, though declining, averaged 3.2 percent over the past six months, well in excess of the 1.4 percent goal.”
The charts in the text and CSIS report also show that progress in police partnering is slow, and the numbers do not adequate reflect actual quality in partnering effort. Moreover, the withdrawal of Canadian and Dutch forces will further degrade the police training effort.
The charts covering the overall availability of trainers reveal both major progress over past years, and potentially crippling problems in the numbers and skill levels of current trainers, as well as data that treated “pledges” as actual manpower. The current shortfall is actually 1,900 trainers out of 2,796 authorized (67%), and most skilled trainers are not actually in theater. As the text indicates, this also forces the US to devote 1,711 troops to training roles in a bridging operation. Moreover, the text notes that, “given the expanded requirements described in the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements version 10 (CJSOR v.10), released on September 1, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) will face a shortfall of ANSF trainers and mentors that will grow more acute through the fall and into next year, if troop contributions do not meet the growing need for training. If not adequately addressed, this shortfall poses significant strategic risk and threatens to delay the upcoming transition process.” (p. 9, and 19-20)
Logistics and sustainability are recognized as key problems, and it is clear from the text that ANSF will not be ready for transition in these areas until 2012 or well beyond. (pp. 30& 40)
The report is distinctly ingenuous in addressing the cost of building up the ANSF, and the fact that the UJS will have to pay virtually all of the costs of the ANSF until all fighting is over – not just until transition is scheduled to be largely complete in 2014,
Although the Afghan Government continues to show commitment toward funding the ANSF, the increase in size and capabilities of the ANSF, in addition to the challenges of increasing government revenue, suggest that the Afghan Government will rely on significant international support for funding the ANSF in the near to mid-term. The Afghan Government included approximately 455 million U.S. dollars (USD) in its Solar Year (SY) 1389 budget, covering March 2010 to March 2011, for funding the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Ministry of Interior (MoI). This is an increase of 140 million USD over the previous solar year, as mandated by the London Compact of 2006. (p. 18)
As other parts of the text make clear,
In December 2009, Congress appropriated 6.6 billion USD for the ASFF. An additional 2.6 billion USD was appropriated in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, signed July 29, 2010. The President requested 11.6 billion USD from Congress for ASFF for 2011, funds essential for future success… In a joint statement made on May 12, 2010, President Obama and President Karzai reaffirmed the need to further direct U.S. assistance through the Afghan Government. Pursuant to this effort, DoD is looking to develop a program to provide funding directly to the ministries. Such a program would allow the ministries to build capacity to meet the needs of the Afghan people. (p. 19)
The annual cost of supporting the ANSF could easily be $3-8 billion a year during 2012-2020. The US cannot afford the climate of illusions that helped end Congressional financial support to the ARVN, and may cause a similar lack of financial support for the INSF and a strategic partnership with Iraq.
Critical Limits and Problems in Governance,
Development, and the Civil Aid Effort
The report makes it clear that civil side of the war has made far less – if any – major progress. A close reading shows that most of this effort still consists of unimplemented or weakly implemented concepts supported largely by massive flows of aid and good intentions.
The report is frank in many areas, such as its statement of the problems that still exist in dealing with the Afghan government and in US and other ISAF aid efforts,
“President Karzai has forthrightly recognized, corruption continues to fuel the insurgency in various areas. ISAF, in coordination with the international community and the Afghan Government, established the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force (CJIATF)-Shafafiyat (“Transparency”) to develop a common understanding of corruption, to support Afghan-led anti-corruption efforts, and to integrate ISAF anti-corruption activities with those of key partners. CJIATF-Shafafiyat achieved initial operational capability in late August, with full operational capability expected in October 2010. (p. 10)
Embassy-Kabul, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and ISAF, together with the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), continue to work with the Afghan Government to help improve governance and accelerate development. The Karzai Administration has improved its stance against corruption by prosecuting several high-profile senior officials. However, progress remains uneven and incremental. The Afghan Government also has improved inter-ministerial coordination, but faces several challenges and has yet to establish unified control over border control and customs – one of the primary sources of government revenue. The Kabul Bank episode continues to foster uncertainty in the financial sector and poses potential threats to investment and economic growth. (p. 10)
At the same time, the new DoD report conspicuously omits key maps and metrics included in the previous report for April 2010 that dealt with civil progress by district, and would probably make it clear that progress is still far slower than is needed to make the new strategy successful:
- The map showing popular support for the Afghan government is omitted (Overall Assessment of Key Districts, March 18, 2010, p. 36).
- So is the map showing the trends in popular support (Comparison of Overall Assessment of Key Districts, December 24, 2009 - March 18, 2010, p. 36).
- The are no maps like the one in the April report Comparison of Security Assessment of Key Districts, December 24, 2009 - March 18, 2010 (p. 37.)
- The report drops virtually every potentially embarrassing metric dealing with the civil course of the war contained in the April report. This includes the map of the quality of District Level Governance Assessment, March 2010 (April, p. 45), the statistical detail on popular perceptions of government corruption (April, p. 45), and the map of the quality of District Level Development Assessment, March 2010 (April, p. 60).
- It also omits many details on progress in fighting narcotics found in the April 2010 report ( See pages, the map of UNODC Expected Opium Cultivation Level in 2010 (p. 75), and the figure on Narcotics and Precursor Chemical Seizures in Kilograms, October 1, 2009-March 31, 2010, (p. 76). The December report discusses narcotics largely in terms of their interaction with other forms of agriculture. (pp. 75-76), and the level of counternarcotics activity (pp. 81-87). There are no discussions of progress in terms of output, prices, or reductions in overall levels of activity.
When the text does address key issues, , the text provides a disturbing picture of the problems and risks that could still lead to failure. For example, if one ignores vague calls for future improvement and new calls to fight corruption, the section on governance states that,
Bringing sub-national governance across Afghanistan is a slow, challenging process. Low levels of literacy, limited educational opportunities, competition from international aid organizations (which offer much higher salaries to educated and experienced Afghans than the government can afford), and widespread corruption complicate efforts to recruit, train, and retain quality personnel. Poor inter-ministerial coordination and the slow appointment of key cabinet and governorship offices limit effective governance.
… The September 2010 assessment of governance in the 124 focus districts shows that 38 percent of the population live in areas rated as having “emerging” or “full authority” Afghan governance. This reflects no substantial change since March 2010. An important aspect of progress in governance is the people’s perception of improvement. The latest nationwide survey shows that 48 percent of Afghans polled believe that Afghanistan is heading in the right direction.
The main deficiencies in key terrain district governance remain corruption, lack of education/training of government officials, and lack of appropriate funding of districts. Of note, the IDLG has initiated the transition of approximately 180 district governor positions and 14 Deputy Provincial Governors as part of the implementation of its sub-national governance policy. Transition will require the establishment of a transparent, merit-based hiring process, and the creation of a civil service cadre that should improve local governance.
Many public officials in Afghanistan are ill prepared for their roles, although the Afghan Government and IC are attempting to address this problem. Training programs by the European Union (EU), the Afghanistan Stabilization Initiative (ASI), and the Afghan Government are ongoing in different districts at the moment. RC-East has made progress in developing civil servant capacity in Sar Kani, which has already been discussed in previous reports. In addition, the Afghan Government is investing substantial resources in programs (84 million USD in 2010) with signs of progress visible in locations such as Herat District. The Afghanistan Civil Service Institute (ACSI), in particular, is very active, training civil servants throughout the country, currently focusing in Zabul, Kandahar, and Logar Provinces. The ACSI offers courses on various topics including financial management, project management, procurement, human resources, and strategic planning…
The lack of available government personnel hinders district governors from filling tashkils. Although not enough data is available to accurately assess the level of fill for governance tashkil in Afghanistan, a lack of line ministry and other personnel is indicated in RC reports (eight key terrain districts out of 83 reports this problem). Only 15 key terrain districts have an assessed tashkil, and of those, only three can show a tashkil fill of over 50 percent (Injil and Herat in RC-West and Marjeh in RC-South).
This is particularly true in districts where the security situation is dangerous and officials appear reluctant to accept positions due to the hazards. The IDLG is conditions are also problematic. In many districts even the basic facilities are missing and it is very difficult to start expensive projects without proper funding. As many as six key terrain district assessment reports highlighted the lack of facilities for government offices as a problem..
Security still limits the development of governance capacity. Efforts are underway to assess and improve freedom of movement for Afghan personnel and goods along the national road network. Increased freedom of movement will enable elected officials to operate effectively within their district and to facilitate economic growth through commerce and exchange. (pp. 58-59)
These problems have a potentially crippling strategic impact. It is now nine years into the war, and this level of progress affects virtually every key combat area in the south, makes success in the civil dimension far more questionable than in the military dimension. So does the lack of progress in the rule of law. The report provides a misleading metric on Afghan Confidence in Afghan Government Rule of Law Capacity (p. 58) that seems to deliberately avoid measuring the number of districts where Afghans turn to the Taliban for prompt justice. At the same time, it states that,
Progress is slow in the justice sector. Extensive work is needed to improve the Afghan Government’s ability to provide rule of law and justice to the Afghan people. The latest survey of Afghan perceptions of the Afghan Government’s rule of law capacity (see Figure 16 below) shows an almost 7 percent decline in Afghans’ confidence in their government’s ability to deliver reliable formal justice. This is likely due to continued corruption and to the slow progress in hiring and placing justice professionals at the provincial level. Additional polling shows that fewer than half of Afghans polled trust the Afghan Government to settle a legal dispute.
The Afghan Government still has not met its Rule of Law commitments from the London Conference. Specifically, the MoJ has abandoned plans to develop the promised national policy on relations between the formal justice system and dispute-resolution councils and instead has formed a committee to draft a new law. In addition, despite ambitious intentions, the Afghan Government still lags in implementing key legislative and administrative reforms: the enactment and implementation of the Criminal Procedure Code is still pending; the Taqnin (legal review) department lacks the capacity to cope with its workload; and despite promised initiatives, the outreach of the justice system has not improved over the reporting period. (pp. 59-60)
Government reform is described in one paragraph, which includes the following statement, “Capable ministry executives and civil servants are vital to increasing and improving the capacity of the Afghan government at the national and sub-national levels. Significant progress in this area will not be achieved in months but in years” – raising serious questions as to whether the civil side of the government can possibly be ready for “transition” in 2014. (p. 64) The same is true of civil service reform, which is addressed in less detail and substance than in the April report.
As for the economic side of hold and build, the report warns how critical the problems still are, and shows why Afghans have little material reason to trust in the government,
Poverty is widespread in Afghanistan. National poverty rates in Afghanistan are approximately 35 percent, or approximately nine million Afghans who are not able to meet their basic needs. The poverty rate varies between provinces, ranging from 20 percent in Helmand, Farah, Jawazjan, and Baghlan, to over 55 percent in the south and central provinces of Paktika, Paktya, Logar, and Wardak. In some provinces, the poverty rate is as high as 90 percent. From 2006 to 2010, economic growth averaged 12 percent annually, with a surge to approximately 22 percent in 2009-2010 as a result of an increase in rainfall and a subsequent bumper crop. However, job creation remains slow. ISAF and the international community are working with the Afghan Government to increase efforts to establish an economy that supports private sector trade and investment. (p. 73).
At the same time, there is no discussion of income distribution, no meaningful analysis of “un” or underemployment in total or among young men, of the impact of demographic pressures, dependence on UN food aid in a sub-subsistence economy, or the other economic realities that will determine the outcome of the war. The capability to support “hold, build and transition” at the civil level does not receive meaningful analysis.
The discussion of the parliamentary election does touch on election fraud, but does not address its scale. More importantly, it does not address the question of how the parliament will function, and whether it will be a positive or weak, divisive force (pp. 65-66).
The discussion of reintegration dodges around the fact the program is still not really operational on any meaningful scale and is not producing meaningful results (pp. 61-62.). The detailed discussion of corruption dodges around an equal lack of meaningful progress, although there are some positive indicators that offer hope for the future (pp. 62-63 and 65-66).
The most promising sections on progress in governance occur at the local level in the form of Village Stability Operations (VSO) and local police. As the report makes clear, however, it is too soon to know how successful these efforts will be, whether they can be scaled to meet national needs, and whether they can be sustained over time. (pp. 67-69)
The key focus of the section on Reconstruction and Development is yet another set of plans for the future, shifts in the organization of the aid effort, and calls for more coordination. (pp. 69-70). There is little indication that the aid side is taking hold in implementing the new strategy, or that it as yet has overcome any of the major problems in validating requirements, reducing waste and corruption, establishing adequate fiscal controls, creating an effective contracting system, and creating valid measures of effectiveness that have crippled US State Department, USAID, and allied efforts over the past nine years.
The number of people in the PRTs seems to be the main measure of progress by region. (pp. 71-72). Key areas like land reform will be in the “pilot” phase through 2013 (p. 60), Discussions of government expenditure and revenues ignore the reality that no progress is being made in creating an Afghanistan that can fund its own government, forces, or food supplies. (p. 73). Similarly, the discussion of borders largely ignores corruption, and focuses on volume of activity in an economy where increases in imports are largely war and aid driven. (pp. 73-74)
More than nine years of effort in agriculture are still discussed largely in terms of numbers of aid workers and programs. The impact of UN food aid is never discussed, nor are critical problems in demographics, security, processing and distribution. The progress that is described is essentially climate driven, and leads to price rises that impose a burden on the general population,
During April – September 2010, food security in Afghanistan improved, due in part to above average production of cereals during the summer of 2009. USAID’s Famine Early Warning System projects that up to 21 provinces will be “Generally Food Secure” during both the second and third quarters of 2010, compared to 11 provinces during the same period the previous year. Afghanistan is expected to have a national wheat deficit of approximately 700,000 tons in 2010. Since June, market wheat prices steadily increased in all reference markets. The monthly wheat price increase was higher in July than in August indicating sufficient wheat supply and production in the country between July and August. However, food security conditions are expected to deteriorate in cereal deficit provinces in southern, eastern, and central Afghanistan due to wheat shortages in Afghanistan’s traditional suppliers, Russia and Kazakhstan, and flooding in Pakistan. (p. 76)
It is clear that progress is being made in electrification, although it is not possible to relate this to need or demand. (pp. 77-79) Progress in mining is limited to Chinese efforts and hype about Afghanistan’s prospects at time when the war will be over. (p. 80)
Health remains a critical problem, and the report does not indicate what percentage of real world improvement is taking place in coverage or its effect – even after nine years of aid. (p. 80) Education is making progress, but again, the report uses numbers that it makes no effort to validate or describe in terms of quality. It is fine to say that seven million Afghans are in school, but who did the count, and what does this mean in country where the report states that, “Almost two-thirds of all children that attend school do not have proper facilities and often have to study in tents or under the open sky?” (p. 82).
A Critical Failure to Address the Threat from the Afghan and Pakistani Governments
In fairness, the portions that deal with allied contributions, and the support and effectiveness of the Afghan and Pakistani governments, have to be written with the careful restraint that an official US government report must show. This, however, but this presents serious problems in assessing the US ability to win the war, as does the need to understate the impact of the fact that key allies are leaving and pledge more than they deliver.
At this point in time, the US faces threats from its allies, and particularly from the Pakistani and Afghan governments, that cumulatively are more serious than the threat it faces from Al Qa’ida and the insurgents. The US can probably ride out its problems with its allies, Key allies are staying in the fight, and are committed to playing a critical role in the war. Even those allies who are removing combat troops seem committed to playing some role in the conflict.
The failures of the Pakistani and Afghan governments, however, are far more critical. The US cannot win at the tactical, strategic, or grand strategic levels without more effective support from both governments than it has had to date. It is unrealistic to expect either the DoD or December reports to address these issues, but the lack of such support poses a critical threat to any hope of meaningful or lasting victory, and the resulting problems and risks are more critical than any of the previous military and civil problems and risks.
It is also important to note that the sections on Pakistan in the December report omit the operational data and maps shown in the previous April report, possibly to disguise the lack of real military progress over the least six months, (See April report, pp. 33). Moreover, several the key sections on Pakistan ignore the serious problems in Pakistani support for the war, relations with Afghanistan, and tensions with the US. (pp. 50-51, 88).
This is deeply disturbing because other parts of the report make it clear that the military situation along the border has deteriorated rather than improved:
The porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to allow insurgent groups in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPk) Province to conduct cross-border operations in the Pashtun-dominated areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan. Pakistan’s domestic extremist threat and the recent flood reduce the potential for more aggressive or effective COIN efforts over the next three months. Militant groups in Pakistan’s FATA and KPk are part of a broader syndicate of extremist groups, including al Qaeda, Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Militant groups in KPk are capitalizing on the 2010 flood by providing relief aid and other assistance to KPk residents, especially in areas deemed either too remote or dangerous for aid workers to reach. Islamic charities linked to militant groups will continue to use the natural disaster to demonstrate to Pakistanis their ability to provide aid and services that the Government of Pakistan cannot provide…Iran continues to provide calibrated support to the Afghan insurgency in the form of small arms, ammunition, RPGs, and materials used to create IEDs. An assessment of Iranian support to the Afghan insurgency over the past year indicates neither a significant increase in Iranian support, nor the provision of more advanced Iranian signature weaponry. (p. 43)
Pakistan remains more a “rental” than an ally. It generally goes along with the US only to the extent it is bribed and pressured by the US, or when it regards extremists as an internal threat. It still keeps important ties to the Haqqani network and Taliban, and Pakistani strategic objectives still focus far more on India and using Afghanistan for strategic depth than support of the strategy the US is pursuing or accepting that Al Qa’ida and key elements of the Taliban are critical threats.
The coverage of the Afghan government presents more critical, but even more unavoidable, problems. The report’s description of the problems in dealing with the Afghan government, and its uncertain support of the new strategy and the war, has to be far more frank.
There is little point in further provoking the Karzai government by stating that it has made no real progress in fighting corruption, that it faces another potentially paralyzing election scandal, that it still has to show that it is really and effectively committed to the new strategy. There is little point in documenting the fact that Afghan governance remains too weak and corrupt at every level in many provinces and districts to either implement “hold and build” or provide a basis for “transition” except in areas where the US and ISAF effectively provide the security and services the government cannot.
As Iraq is now showing, and as Vietnam and Afghanistan have shown in the past – winning at counterinsurgency does not create lasting regimes and stable states. It is the mid-term internal dynamics of Afghanistan and Pakistan that will determine whether the war is worth fighting, even if it has the most successful possible military outcome and implementation of the new strategy.
Other insurgencies have shown that short term and largely tactical victories are meaningless unless they can be scaled up to win an entire conflict, sustained over time, and provide an enduring transition to a reasonable degree of lasting security and stability.
The US achieved every goal in Vietnam that it is now seeking to achieve in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Once again, short-tem success can easily become defeat. When the US left, it had the equivalent of "Vietnam good enough". A defeated insurgency, an outside enemy forced to the conference table with a formal agreement to political accommodation, a strong set of ARVN security forces, a democratic government, reasonable levels of human rights, and two Nobel peace prizes.
That victory, however, provided as hollow as Batista's defeats of Castro, or the long series of Chinese Nationalist and Japanese defeats of the Chinese communists. As may still be the case in Iraq, the US lacked the strategic patience and domestic political support to sustain its efforts to help the South Vietnamese government turn an apparent victory into lasting strategic gains (although it is far from clear that such help would have mattered). Moreover, North Vietnam provided far more adaptive, resilient, and committed to achieving a favorable grand strategic outcome than the US calculated.
Giving Victory a “Chance,” Without Becoming Wrapped in a Morass
Yet, once again, it is critical to stress that the glass is still being poured. The new DoD report reflects real progress as well as real problems – in spite of the sharp contrast between the reporting on military progress and the lack of any meaningful reporting on civil progress and the fact that the report drops so many previous measures of progress in security, governance, and aid. It is still too early to condemn the new strategy or call for the kind of political accommodation that simply provides a façade for withdrawal and defeat.
At the same time, this is the last time such a report can be excused for its inability to show there is a steadily improving weight of evidence that the new strategy can work and the war can be won. The US and ISAF have much to prove in the next 6-12 months, as do the Afghan and Pakistani governments. This DoD report, and the “December review” that will follow in a few weeks can only be stepping stones toward making such judgments. The next reports -- due in June and December 2011--must be decisive. They must show whether the US should stay or go, and this report is a further warning that the US must quietly make it clear to the Afghan and Pakistani governments that it will leave if they do not make far more effective strategic commitments than they have made to date.
The US role in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be allowed to become a morass, funded by a blank check. At some point by the end of 2011, the US will have to deal with a war all too similar to Iraq in that many of its allies will be going or gone. It must make a clear national decision as to whether there is a credible chance of overcoming enough of the problems in “clear, hold, build, and transition” to win some meaningful level of security and stability in narrow strategic terms. It must also use the coming year to objectively and ruthlessly decide whether it is worth pursuing the war over enough time to achieve some meaningful degree of grand strategic outcome.
Making this decision, however, requires realism on the part of both those who support the war and those who oppose it.
- First, those who argue to stay must accept the fact that the US commitment to this war is optional and not a vital strategic interest. They must be ready for similar annual reviews of its cost-benefits in the future -- each of which must be progressively more demanding of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moving the “deadline” from beginning transition in 2011 to largely completing it in 2014 represents the limits of what the US should pursue.
- Second, those who argue for leaving must be equally honest about the probability that all the past efforts at democracy, human rights, and development will probably collapse --regardless of what the Taliban and other insurgents may appear to agree to. The war cannot be won by military means alone. This is equally true, however, of political accommodation at a time when the enemy feels it is winning, the Afghan and Pakistani governments are perceived as ineffective and corrupt, and Afghan and/or Pakistani forces have not demonstrated they can either endure or turn tactical victories into civil-military success.
Moreover, any change in US strategy this broad must consider the future role of the US and the West in Central and South Asia, and the impact of what will be a very real defeat on the broader challenge from Islamic extremism. Far too many who talk about exit strategies forget that every exit strategy ends in creating a new destination with new problems and risks. It may be possible to reduce the costs of defeat to acceptable levels, but it is almost impossible to believe that these costs will not be serious and potentially critical. Running away from a problem is only a sound strategy if there is somewhere better and safer to run to.
Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, November 2010 Report to Congress, In accordance with section 1230 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Public Law 110-181), as amended, Washington, November 23, 2010, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/.