Published: July 10th, 2012
At the international aid conference in Tokyo there was another sign that the U.S. will continue to spend billions on aid to Afghanistan, despite serious questions about how aid dollars are spent.
At the conference donor nations pledged $16 billion in non-security aid to Afghanistan over the next four years. The U.S. contribution was not specified, but Secretary of State Clinton said that the administration intends to keep aid to Afghanistan “at or near the levels of the past decade through the year 2017.”
According to news reports the expected U.S. contribution to Afghanistan aid is $1 billion to $2.3 billion per year for the next five years. Given that U.S. non-security aid to Afghanistan has topped $1.5 billion per year since 2002, future aid levels seems likely to be at the high end of that range. That means total non-security funding will come to some $8 billion over the next four years.
Of course, that includes only economic and humanitarian aid. Security aid will cost even more. In 2013 the Pentagon requested $5.7 billion to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces, down from the previous year’s $11.2 billion. After 2014 the U.S. contribution to Afghan security aid will go down even further, possibly to $2.3 billion. Despite the steady downward trend, the four year total for security aid will easily surpass $10 billion.
The U.S. seems to be making a feeble attempt — very feeble; only in Afghanistan could $18 billion over four years be considered a cut — to stem the massive flow of aid dollars to Afghanistan. But what’s missing is an attempt to improve accountability in Afghanistan aid.
At the Tokyo conference donors paid lip service to accountability by making up to 20 percent of the $16 billion contingent on Afghanistan’s efforts to fight corruption and improve accountability. But individual nations direct their own aid dollars, and there is no sign that the U.S., which has poured billions into Afghanistan over the past decade despite evidence of rampant corruption, will change its policy.
An estimated 85 percent of Afghanistan aid is eaten up in overhead costs or lost to waste and corruption. Instead of taking steps to make aid dollars more efficient, U.S. policymakers keep sending billions to Afghanistan. In 2002, that policy was wasteful and foolish, creating an aid bubble in Afghanistan that will burst when NATO pulls troops and funding. In 2012, pouring billions into Afghanistan aid without ensuring that it is well spent is not just foolish, it is actually dangerous. With a sluggish economy and more important defense priorities, there are better uses for U.S. taxpayer dollars.
Published: March 21st, 2012
Afghanistan Study Group
To a war-weary American public, the killing of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier is another sign that the Afghanistan War needs to end. Whether policymakers agree is another story. The latest reports say that President Obama, some members of Congress, and U.S. allies are determined to stick to the current drawdown plan. That plan, developed at the 2010 Lisbon conference, is for Afghan forces to take on the primary combat role by 2014.
Even as the number of U.S. troops decreases, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is still considerable and thus the costs of sustaining that presence.
As U.S. troops come home the remaining war duties will shift to contractors. As of January 2012, there are over 25,000 U.S. defense contractors in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures. Exactly how much these contractors cost U.S. taxpayers is unknown, but we do know that DOD contractors’ salaries are second to none: on average, Pentagon contractors make $10,000 per year more than DOD civilians, and $36,000 more than the average non-federal employee.
When it comes to wartime contracting, the numbers are even more damning. The Commission on Wartime Contracting found that of the $206 billion the U.S. spent on contracts since 2002. As much as $60 billion of that total was lost to waste and fraud. That averages out to about $12 million per week over the last ten years.
Some members of Congress are trying to implement increased oversight of wartime contracting, as the Commission recommends. But it’s an uphill battle against congressional inertia and Pentagon incompetence (this is, after all, the agency that still cannot pass a financial audit).
Despite dwindling public support, the war in Afghanistan continues. Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are wasted at a time when Congress is considering cuts to other vital programs. Another $12,000,000 per week for Afghanistan contracting is fiscally irresponsible. Let’s keep that money at home.
Published: November 15th, 2011
Author: Mary KaszynskiMary Kaszynski
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
Ninety-seven thousand (97,000) US troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, but you might never have known that from Saturday’s debate. The Republican presidential candidates were eager to talk Iran and Pakistan, but generally fumbled their way through the few questions presented to them on Afghanistan. Here’s a breakdown of what they said – and what they should have said.
Rick Perry: Perry’s Afghanistan strategy seems to be to give as few strategic details as possible. Asserting vaguely that “The mission must be completed there,” Perry went on to say that “The idea that we will have wasted our treasure and the lives of young Americans to not secure Afghanistan is not appropriate.” If it were up to Perry, it seems that much more blood and treasure will be spent for the nebulous goal of securing Afghanistan.
Perry also ridiculed the idea of a drawdown timeline as “irresponsible”. Perry isn’t alone in this belief, and it’s not without strategic merit. But those who oppose a timeline are forgetting two things. First, contrary to what Perry says, the US is not “in conflict with” Afghanistan – Afghanistan is our ally in the fight against terrorism. It may seem like a technicality, but it’s important. Treating Afghanistan like an ally and partner surely means letting them in on our withdrawal plans. Secondly, the American people are paying for this war, with their lives and their taxes. Policymakers should be accountable to the public for their Afghanistan strategy, and that includes a drawdown timeline.
According to a recent CBS poll, 53% of Americans support a drawdown. Perry would do well to listen to the public.
Rick Santorum: Santorum certainly has a vision for victory in Afgahnistan: “The Taliban is a neutered force. They are no longer a security threat Afghan people, to our country. That would be victory.” Whether that vision is achievable at a viable cost is another question.
With Afghanistan out of the way, Santorum pivoted rather abruptly to “the bigger issue.” “This is the most important national security issue that we’re gonna be dealing with here in this year,” he said. “And that’s the issue of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.”
It’s worth noting that both Perry and Santorum were clearly more interested in talking about Iran than Afghanistan. Perry used half of his allotted time for Afgahnistan wrapping up his comments on Iran. Moderator Scott Pelley gave Santorum a break, acknowledging that Santorum was more interested in Iran, and actually posed Iran and Afghanistan questions simultaneously. Perhaps he suspected Santorum was going to talk about Iran no matter what the question was.
Michelle Bachmann: Let’s give Rep. Bachmann the benefit of the doubt and assume that when she referred to “the decision that by next September, our troops will be withdrawn” she meant the surge force will be withdrawn. That is the current administration’s plan – return to pre-surge levels of 68,000 by summer 2012 and transition to local security forces by the end of 2014.
Rep. Bachmann then made an interesting leap. If the drawdown progresses as planned, “How do we expect any of our allies to continue to work to– with us?” It’s unclear what exactly she means by this. Britain, France, and Germany have already announced plans to follow the US lead in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Bachmann concluded by asking “How can we even begin to seek the peace with the Haqqani Network that are in the eastern regions?” Again, this is an inexplicable leap. The presence of US soldiers and Marines has done little to facilitate the peace process thus far and this seems unlikely to change.
Jon Huntsman: Once again, Huntsman has shown that he can he articulate a clear stance on Afghanistan, he will stick to that position (Perry should be taking notes).
Huntsman laid out the mission:“I say this nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan. We’ve had free elections in 2004. We’ve uprooted the Taliban. We’ve dismantled Al Qaeda. We have killed Osama bin Laden.”He showed that he understands current priorities:“I say this nation’s future is not Afghanistan. This nation’s future is not Iraq. This nation’s future is how prepared we are to meet the 21st Century competitive challenges. That’s economic and that’s education. And that’s gonna play out over the Asia-Pacific region. And we’re either prepared for that reality or we’re not. I don’t want to be nation building in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs to be built.”
And he even outlined defense requirements:
“We still have work to do. We don’t need 100,000 troops nation building, many of whom can’t cross the wire. I think we need a component that gathers tactical intelligence. We need enhanced special forces, response capability for rapid response. And we need some ongoing commitment to train the local Afghan National Army. That’s not 100,000 troops. That’s well south of that. We are fighting an asymmetric threat, a counterterror threat. Not only there, but in Waziristan and every other corner of the world. And we need to prepare for that as a reality of our 21st Century foreign policy.”
Mitt Romney: After floundering on Afghanistan policy early in his campaign, Romney seems to have come up with an answer he’s happy with: “Our surge troops should have been withdrawn by December of next year, not by December. And the timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces.”
It’s hard not to see this answer as trying to appeal to a broad base. On the one hand, by critiquing the timeline for surge troops, he differentiates his position from the administration, and appeals to traditional hawks. But by sticking to the 2014 date, he can appeal to the fiscally minded, and the ever growing segment of the public that wants a drawdown.
All in all, not a bad answer – but not a great answer either.
Newt Gingrich: After the vagaries and equivocations of the other candidates, the former speaker of the House was refreshingly straightforward. “I think this is so much bigger and deeper a problem than we’ve talked about as a country that we– we don’t have a clue how hard this is gonna be,” Gingrich said. He was referring to the strategic complexities of fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan and a shadow war in Pakistan, but his point applies to Afghanistan policy as a whole. How hard will it be to “secure Afghanistan”? Will it take another ten years and a trillion dollars? Anyone who wants to stay in Afghanistan should consider these questions carefully.
Herman Cain: Cain’s contribution to the discussion of Afghanistan policy was limited to noting how complicated it is. “There is a lot of clarity missing..in this whole region,” he said. Asked whether he would send US forces into Pakistan “to clear out those safe havens of the enemy,”
Cain replied, “That is a decision that I would make after consulting with the commanders on the ground, our intelligence sources, after having discussions with Pakistan, discussions with Afghanistan. And here’s why. We pointed out earlier that it is unclear as to where we stand with Pakistan. It is unclear where we stand with Afghanistan.” A diplomatic answer, perhaps, but one would like a presidential candidate to have a greater command of the details.
Cain finished with a valid point: “Victory is not clearly defined.” But you have to wonder if he would be able to follow through on his promise to “make sure that the mission is clear, and the definition of victory’s clear.” He certainly wasn’t able to articulate a clear mission in the debate.
Overall, it was a disappointing showing from the GOP candidates. When they weren’t fuzzy on the details, they were dismissive. The 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan probably would not agree with Cain’s assertion that Afghanistan is less important than Iran or Pakistan. They, and all Americans, deserve better answers.
Published: October 31st, 2011
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
The announcement that the US will withdraw virtually all troops from Iraq, as mandated by the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), has been met with praise, criticism, and speculation. Mostly about the behind-the-scenes negotiations. Setting aside the political questions – who’s “to blame” for the withdrawal, – let’s take a look at what the facts of the Iraq case may mean for the future of US policy in Afghanistan.
The Good: The SOFA timeline was never set in stone. Just a few weeks ago we heard of negotiations to keep 3,000 to 5,000 troops in Iraq. Then there was the withdrawal announcement, and the story seemed to be that Iraq simply hadn’t asked us to stay. Later, we learned that immunity for US troops was the sticking point in negotiations.
Clearly domestic politics was a factor for both countries. Ultimately, however, when all the politics played out, the Status of Forces Agreement held up. And that’s a good thing for Afghanistan.
2014, the administration’s planned deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan, is still several years away, and a lot can happen in the meantime. But sticking to the Iraq drawdown timeline is a step towards strategic and fiscal discipline.
The Bad: All of the troops are leaving Iraq (with the exception of about 150 to guard the embassy) but some 5,000 security contractors will remain. Add to that approximately 4,000 contractors who will assist diplomats, as well as a still-to-be-determined number of military trainers. It’s clear that the US will be maintaining a significant presence there for some time.
An enduring presence in Iraq and Afghanistan translates into enduring costs. In addition to personnel costs in both countries, the US commitment to maintaining Iraqi and Afghani security forces may be substantial. And as the base defense budget starts to feel the squeeze of budget cuts, non-war spending is making its way into the war budget. All of these factors will combine to keep war costs high, even as the drawdowns progress.
The Ugly: Critics equate the US withdrawal from Iraq to a victory for Iran. This is a twisted version of an ugly truth. The US invasion, and subsequent operations, undoubtedly pushed Iraq into the Shiite/Iran camp. This was undoubtedly a mistake. But it’s a past mistake that cannot be corrected with troops, whether we leave ten or ten thousand.
The fact of the matter is that threats to US national security interests still exist, and will continue to do so, regardless of the number of US boots on the ground. Recognizing this fact, scaling back our ambitions for the region, and investing in the right tools to achieve limited goals is crucial if we are to achieve any kind of success.
Published: October 18th, 2011
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
In her recent Foreign Policy op-ed on forward deployed diplomacy in the Asia Pacific, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote, “With Iraq and Afghanistan still in transition and serious economic challenges in our own country, there are those on the American political scene who are calling for us not to reposition, but to come home. They seek a downsizing of our foreign engagement in favor of our pressing domestic priorities.”
Sec. Clinton went on to argue for a comprehensive foreign policy that employs a wide range of diplomatic tools; she did not explicitly equate the Afghanistan drawdown with downsized engagement. However, others have made that claim, calling the drawdown “neo-isolationism” and equating “leaving Afghanistan” with “abandoning Afghanistan.”
This argument overlooks the nuances of a balanced foreign policy – a policy that relies on more than just military strength. As Admiral Mike Mullen, former JCS Chair, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “American presence and interest and commitment are not defined by boots on the ground, but rather by persistent, open and mutually beneficial engagement.” Bringing the troops home will not mark the end of the US commitment to Afghanistan, but a new approach that will be not only more effective but also more cost-effective.
The violence of the past several weeks, particularly the assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani and the collapse of the peace negotiations, have highlighted the multifaceted nature of Afghanistan’s troubles: poor governance, faltering economy, not to mention ongoing tensions with Pakistan. US soldiers and Marines cannot provide solutions to these problems – they are not trained to do so, they shouldn’t be asked to try.
Developing a more nuanced strategy that includes fostering economic development and regional diplomacy will be not only a more effective approach, but also far less costly. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimates that the cost to deploy one civilian is about $570,000, compared to $697,000 for a soldier. According to a recent report from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the State Department will spend $25-$30 billion in Iraq over the next five years. That’s more than twice what the Department of Defense spent in the first year alone, according to CRS.
We should be spending smarter, not more. Bring the troops home, and revise our approach to make the most of our many foreign policy tools.Our economy will be the better for it, and our soldiers will thank us.
Published: April 6th, 2011
Author: Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
The Century Foundation International Taskforce on Afghanistan has produced the most comprehensive document yet on the prospects of reconciliation in Afghanistan. Their conclusion: a political process should be implemented immediately to end the conflict. In order to sustain this peace process, political reforms, regional diplomacy and economic development are needed.
As Afghanistan Study Group (ASG) Director Matt Hoh puts it, if the ASG report that was published in August were expanded by about 100 pages, it would look remarkably similar to the Century Foundation Report. The main difference is the tone of the Century Foundation document, which remains strikingly optimistic, despite the myriad of challenges facing coalition forces. Here are some highlights:
There is a consensus that some sort of political process is needed
“The war in Afghanistan may already be settling into a stalemate: Neither ISAF nor the Afghan government is likely ever to subdue the insurgency in the Pashtun heartland or indeed in other areas of the country. Neither side can expect to vanquish the other militarily in the foreseeable future. This growing sense of stalemate helps to set the stage for the beginning of a political phase in the conflict.”
Although it is true that the current “stalemate” has created seemingly ideal conditions for a negotiated settlement , several challenges to reconciliation remain, including a lack of trust between the major participants, lack of coordination and control within and among insurgent groups, and perhaps most critically a lack of experience at negotiation among pro-government and pro-insurgent groups alike.
On a similar note the Century Report reaches the right conclusion that now is the optimal time for negotiations, but they gloss over the negative effects that our current strategy has on the prospects for peace. As several analysts have noted, the COIN strategy is killing off the more moderate leaders who are then replaced with younger, more radical insurgents making successful negotiations less likely as well as undermining any ability among insurgent leaders to enforce peace agreements.
There is a difference between reintegration and reconciliation
“Reintegration—understood as the effort to bring Taliban defectors, individually or in small groups, out of the insurgency and back into normal society, with jobs, income and security—is an important tactical tool in a military campaign, but is not in itself a political strategy.”
The Century Report notes that reintegration programs are more successful once a peace settlement has been reached. For obvious reasons, armed combatants are reluctant to throw down their weapons and re-enter society when there remains a strong chance they will be shot at.
A Detailed Blueprint for Reconciliation
“A More Promising option, and one that in the past quarter century has had the most successful track record in bringing long standing conflicts to a negotiated end, is reliance on an internationally designated facilitator.”
Unlike the ASG Report, the Century Reports draws up a specific blueprint for how to achieve reconciliation, first by with feelers using current communication networks, an international mediator (preferably the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan*) and finally a peace conference to settle outstanding issues. They point out the need for confidence building measures such as a ceasefires or partial withdrawals.
They also discuss the roll of including regional players, but seemingly miss the crucial need manage the role of spoilers. As the Mullah Baradar saga illustrates, the Pakistani military will do everything in its power to scuttle negotiations—including the arrest and capture of high-level Taliban leaders—if it feels it is not being included in the peace process.
In sum, of all the policy papers which have been produced since last August, the Century Foundation Task Force Report hues closest to the Afghanistan Study Group Report. Both their interpretation of the likelihood of reconciliation and their detailed description of a potential mediation process is optimistic, nevertheless it provides a useful guide to policymakers.
*It might be appropriate to point out that the Century Foundation Task Force Co-Chair Lakhdar Brahimi, the Former United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan, would be a natural choice to lead mediation if the UN takes this role.
Published: December 14th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
The Center for American Progress (CAP) paper illustrates that among progressives there is broad agreement on how to adjust our Afghan policy. We all agree on the need promote government reforms, reconciliation with the Taliban, regional diplomacy and a reduced U.S. footprint. However, in presenting these recommendations there is often no unified strategic vision.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious: A negotiated settlement is the key to a U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan. Every other policy needs to work toward this goal. Thus increasing the likelihood that the Taliban negotiates a peace deal which preserves core U.S. interests.
Regional diplomacy is important not because talking to Afghan’s neighbors can resolve all our problems, but because countries like Pakistan and Iran are perfectly capable of disrupting the peace process. CAP recognizes this fact saying “Pakistan is clearly the biggest challenge and the most likely of Afghanistan’s neighbors to serve as a spoiler for a peace settlement.”
Reducing the U.S. military footprint will likewise ensure that peace talks go forward. A military drawdown might act as a confidence builder. Paul Pillar has suggested that distrust is sometimes the biggest obstacle to successful negotiations—reducing troops will proove to the Taliban that the U.S. is negotiating in good faith. A military drawdown also creates an incentive for Karzai and local leaders who benefit from U.S. largess to approach the negotiating table. Currently, “Afghan Leaders have few incentives to compromise and to exert leadership as long as a large foreign military presence remains”
Last, the question of government reform is potentially a key bargaining chip with which to entice Taliban leaders to the negotiating table—after all, political grievances are a main cause of the insurgency. The Council on Foreign Affairs had it right when it recommended that constitutional reforms along the lines the CAP suggest should be implemented in tandem with the reconciliation process. This policy both incentivizes reconciliation and increases the likelihood that a peace agreement lasts.
Policy recommendations, which encourage a negotiated political settlement is an important step to building a broader political coalition and eventually end the war.
Published: December 7th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenney
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a policy paper in November. The introduction provides a sobering assessment of the war in Afghanistan, which is contrary to the rosy reports of progress the administration is favoring.
“While success is being measured in numbers of insurgents killed or captured,
there is little proof that the operations have disrupted the insurgency’s
momentum or increased stability. The storyline does not match facts on the ground.”
What are the “facts on the ground”? ICG describes in some detail the increased violence, the inadequacy of Afghan Security Forces, and the graft and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government in Kabul. The problem, suggests the ICG, is that the U.S. policy is wrong headed:
“The exit strategy sounds fairly simple: try to pound the Taliban, build support by protecting
civilians, lure disillusioned Taliban over to the government, expand access to basic services and create
resilient security forces. The problem is that none of this is working.”
Up to this point the ICG report seems to echo many of the points the Afghanistan Study Group has made. Further along it blames bureaucrats and timelines for what is going wrong in Afghanistan:
“Chains of command for both decision making and the monitoring of
outcomes have been unclear, in part due to a proliferation of ambassador-level
diplomats, war czars, special envoys and generals.”
The ICG believes that too many people are involved in the decision-making. While this could indeed be a problem, evidence for such a claim is missing. The paragraph goes on to say:
“Whatever policy there was has been undercut by President Obama’s
call for a July 2011 drawdown, which erased any belief on the ground
that there was a commitment to stay the course”
This oft-repeated argument against timetables presumes that absent a clearly defined exit strategy, the Afghan government would assume that U.S. commitment is open-ended. In other words, that the U.S. can perpetually dupe Karzai into believing we have his back. The reality, of course, is that the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan was never open-ended, a fact which is recognized by U.S. and Afghan policymakers alike. The question is not whether or not to utilize timelines. The question is whether the U.S. plans for an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan or a chaotic one. In this case, the former is clearly the better alternative.
This ICG paper is that it is much better at diagnosing the problems in Afghanistan, than offering real solutions. In particular, the paper is quick to discount the prospects of a negotiated settlement, resting it’s argument on dubious assumptions.
1. “Talks with the Taliban have been going on for years at every possible level. These negotiations have failed because the Taliban believed that they were winning militarily”
The Taliban were certainly not winning between 2001 and 2006. Even as the insurgency has grown, the likelihood that the Taliban could march on Kabul and retake the government the way they did in the 1990s has remained remote. The Taliban are still reviled by most Afghans and their powerbase remains confined in the south. Negotiations have failed for a far simpler reason. The U.S.—the proverbial elephant in the room—has steadfastly refused to cooperate.
2. “Deal-making even in the shape of reintegration, let alone reconciliation, will not address the many problems that Afghan citizens face…rule of law will be undermined, warlordism encouraged and momentum on security sector reform reversed”
The Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force has a different view of reconciliation writing:
“The national reconciliation process offers a potential opening for
constitutional reform. Insurgent leaders have explicitly rejected the
present constitution and are unlikely to re-enter national politics without
certain amendments. The two political initiatives reform and
reconciliation—should therefore be managed in tandem”
The ICG has it completely backwards. In the present environment, rule of law is undermined and warlordism encouraged. It is only through the process of reconciliation that many necessary reforms are likely to take place. A functioning peace process is the best tool potential reformers have.
3. “If deals are made, particularly at the local level, they are likely to be temporary at best, mirroring the appeasement deals made by the Pakistani military…
This argument merely underscores the necessity of a broad based reconciliation effort that addresses the key grievances of the insurgency. Nothing else will work.
4. Only when access to sanctuaries and resources are cut off will there be an incentive for the Taliban leadership to accept a negotiated process.
Parties engaged in combat will have an incentive to enter negotiations if the cost of the conflict exceeds the payoff from a settlement. While the presence of resources and sanctuaries undoubtedly affects this cost-benefit analysis, their presence does not represent an insurmountable obstacle to peace. If it were, Karzai, who receives billions of dollars of “resources” from the U.S. would also refuse to negotiate.
Two factors suggest that political settlement is actually quite promising. First, the war is in a bloody stalemate with increasing costs in both blood and treasure for both sides. Neither the U.S. nor the Taliban has a clear path to victory. Second, the U.S. shares several strategic goals with the insurgency: a reduction of the U.S. footprint in Afghanistan and an increase in the “rule of law”. The potential benefits from negotiated settlement could be quite high and the prospects of such a peace settlement may be much higher than most analysts expect.
Even if you believe that resources and sanctuaries are an insurmountable obstacle, the report offers no solution on how to deal with this the root of the problem: Pakistan. The Pakistanis view India as an existential threat to their country and see Afghanistan as a useful buffer. There is absolutely nothing the U.S. can do to change this strategic calculation. Holding out hope that the Pakistanis will see the error of their ways, as the report seems to suggest, is no way to conduct foreign policy.
The report also hints—it doesn’t say this directly—that Karzai must be removed from power for U.S. policy to succeed. Even though The Afghanistan Study Group has been as critical of the Afghan government we believe deposing Karzai is a dangerous suggestion. For all of his faults, Karzai remains the most popular politician in Afghanistan. Forcing Karzai out would only inflame sections of Afghanistan that currently support the US. Furthermore the Afghan governance problem is rooted in the country’s institutions. Shuffling the leadership does nothing to address the underlying problems.
Published: November 29th, 2010
Author: Edward Kenny
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
What Went Down In Lisbon?
The President has just returned home from a relatively successful trip to Lisbon for the the NATO summit. For Afghanistan junkies there are really two take-home messages.
1. Obama still has strong support for his Afghanistan strategy from European leaders.
2. Differences between the administration and Karzai are sharpening.
One of Obama’s main goals was to shore up support among NATO member countries for a sustained commitment in Afghanistan. Inside Europe there have been rumblings about NATO commitments decreasing in Afghanistan. The French were hoping to transfer from Sarobi District next year. In England, where support for the war is at 32%, the defense minister has called for a speedy drawdown.
Perhaps in an effort to gain support from these NATO allies, President Obama set a date of 2014 to end major combat activities. Although the President’s statements are fuzzy enough to allow flexibility and most news reports acknowledge that there will still be a large troop presence in Afghanistan in three years, 2014 nonetheless represents the closest thing to an established end date to the war. All in all, the new deadline was a small price to pay in order to achieve support among crucial NATO allies.
In Latest Dispute with Washington, Karzai has the Right Idea
The Lisbon conference also highlighted the growing public feud between Washington DC and Kabul. At Lisbon, Obama responded sharply to Karzai for his recent comments criticizing U.S. special operations and night raids. Karzai had also banned private security contractors, which are often hired to protect development projects. On the surface, Obama is entirely justified in his critique:
“He’s got to understand that I’ve got a bunch of young men and women… who are in a foreign country being shot at and having to traverse terrain filled with IEDs, and they need to protect themselves. So if we’re setting things up where they’re just sitting ducks for the Taliban, that’s not an acceptable answer either.”
However, Karzai’s main beef with Obama is on the current U.S. strategy; it is not on the tactical level. A recent column by Ahmed Rashid highlights the essence of the dispute:
“In a suggestion that alarms and infuriates western officials, [Karzai] says there is a political alternative to Nato—to depend more on regional countries, especially Iran and Pakistan, to end the war and find a settlement with the Taliban”
Both Iran and Pakistan are moving to maximize their bargaining positions in the event of a settlement. This explains Iran’s recent surge in support for elements in the Taliban, when in the past Iran had always supported the Taliban’s enemies the Northern Alliance. It also explains why Pakistan is reluctant to free Taliban leaders prematurely. The main obstacle to a negotiated settlement continues to be the Americans themselves, for as long as the U.S. clings to the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Doctrine, there is no incentive for the critical players—the Quetta Shura, the ISI, the Haqqani Network, and Iran—to come to the table and negotiate. Instead of embracing Karzai’s attempts at diplomacy, the U.S. criticizes his efforts to end the conflict. This is what should “alarm” and “infuriate” anyone who favors a sensible policy in Afghanistan.
START and Afghanistan
In Lisbon, Obama also had success gaining the support of NATO members for a strategic arms treaty with Russia. The main reason to sign a nuclear deal with Russia is that it will foster greater cooperation between the two countries on other issues. Last year, Russia stepped up big for the U.S. when it agreed to establish economic sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council. Further, Russia has also been playing a bigger role in Afghanistan. Last month they even conducted a joint drug raid—the first military operation for Russia in Afghanistan since the Russian army retreated in 1989. If the START Treaty facilitates greater cooperation with Russia in Afghanistan, this could assist with a U.S. drawdown, a factor which the anti-war libertarians should consider in deciding whether to back the treaty.
The Refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Two interesting articles appeared in the Washington Post on the refugee problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although the articles focused on the same theme—locals who have been forced from their homes because of war—they highlighted two different problems.
The article on Afghan refugees focused on a group of Pashtuns from Helmand province who have moved to Kabul as a result of the war. In many cases these refugees favored neither the U.S. nor the Taliban, but were nonetheless caught in the middle of the fighting. As one Afghan put it:
“If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us. If we shaved the Taliban gave us a hard time,” he said. “What are we supposed to do, shave half our beard?”
In a country where kinship and family ties are very important, the Taliban had one crucial advantage; they were local. As one refugee illustrated:
“Who are the Taliban? They are our brothers, our cousins, our relatives. The problem is the Americans”
The U.S. strategy, which is based on winning the hearts and minds of local Afghans, needs to confront this reality. Afghans caught in the middle of a conflict will surely back their family and tribesmen over a foreign force from a distant land.
The second article looked at a policy to repopulate regions of South Waziristan that have been cleared of insurgents. So far the program, which pays refugees $300 to move back to Waziristan, has garnered only mixed results. A major problem continues to be a lack of governance and an inability to consolidate military gains. As a White House report noted:
“Congress noted that an absence of government authority has resulted “in short lived military gains that allow militants to regroup in these areas”
As a result, the resettlement program has been “repeatedly postponed” with many prospective families voicing concern over a “Taliban resurgence”. Many of the same lessons the Pakistanis are learning in Waziristan are also true in Afghanistan. The military success in Kandahar is terrific, but without a return to governance, these gains will almost certainly be temporary.
Last post, discussed the importance of the wars in Afghanistan with respect to the long-range fiscal outlook of the United States. Several Afghanistan Study Group Members, as well as other foreign policy experts, signed a letter address to Deficit Reduction Commission Co-Chairs Bowles and Simpson arguing along similar lines. The letter emphasizes the source of the U.S.’s power is our massive and dynamic economy. Unless the U.S. moves away from ill-advised military adventurism, the necessary military cuts will not be made and American power will erode.
“ The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed the limits of military power. Avoiding these types of operations globally would allow us to roll back the recent increase in the size of our Army and Marine Corps.”
Afghan Confidence Game
This blog and the members of the Afghanistan Study Group advocate a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan in the way that saves face and protects U.S. interests, while bringing stability to Afghanistan and the region. There are many challenges to a policy of negotiation: How much power should Karzai cede to Islamic militants? What roles should Pakistan and Iran play? One unanticipated obstacle, however, was figuring out whom to talk to. After all in a policy of reconciliation, talks must take place with high-level political leaders in the Quetta Shura and Haqqani Networks. Surely you would think that the U.S. has the intelligence capabilities to identify the leaders of the Taliban. Well, think again. Last Tuesday’s Washington Post has a story that can only be described as a monumental intelligence screw-up. Apparently some “lowly shopkeeper” claiming to be Akthar Mohammad Mansour, the second ranking Taliban leader in Quetta Shura, was flown to Kabul and possibly managed to con NATO out of “large sums of money”. For months the Taliban has denied reports floating around the western press that they were engaged in negotiations. Now the Taliban’s denials seem more credible.
This story obviously paints a very troubling picture of the U.S.’s intelligence apparatus in Afghanistan. As Jeremy Scahil points out, how can anyone trust the Pentagon’s assurances that civilians aren’t being killed in the secret drone attacks and night raids after reading this?
The Taliban impostor incident also calls into question scores of deadly night raids that have resulted in the deaths of innocent Afghans. Several survivors of night raids recently told The Nation that they believed they were victims of bad intelligence provided by other Afghans for money or to settle personal grudges.
When it comes to night raids and drone attacks the stakes are much higher. As Afghanistan Study Group Director Matt Hoh illustrates, the death of one civilian can lead to ten more insurgents.
“We might get that one guy we’re looking for or we might kill a bunch of innocent people and now make ten more Taliban out of them.”
Since we can’t seem to differentiate between the Taliban and the locals, this observation should cast doubt on the current war strategy, which presumably relies on solid intelligence. Guess we can thank the intelligence community for giving us yet another reason to rethink Afghanistan.
Published: November 9th, 2010
Author: Matthew Hoh