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Saving Afghanistan: More Than Just Troops

by S. Rebecca Zimmerman

November 5, 2015

Источник: http://warontherocks.com/2015/11/saving-afghanistan-more-than-just-troops/

President Obama recently revealed two changes to Afghanistan troop commitments. He also made another, vaguer commitment has received far less attention. But it is this commitment — to “continue to support President Ashraf Ghani and the national unity government as they pursue critical reforms” — that will determine whether the U.S. troop commitment to Afghanistan has any value.

Obama’s intention to slow the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2016 and to preserve a force of 5,500 in the country thereafter comes with no change of mission for America’s military. Troops will continue to conduct two tasks: countering terrorist threats and advising Afghan security forces on development and operations. The truth, though, is that these two missions alone cannot save Afghanistan from an unfortunate future.

Terrorist threats in the region are growing: The Islamic State in Khorasan Province, the group’s affiliate in the region, is making strides in parts of eastern and southern Afghanistan. Last week, U.S. and Afghan forces conducted an intense operation to destroy two Islamic State training camps in the south. In addition, the Taliban takeover of Kunduz was a show of strength by that organization’s new leader, seemingly designed to demonstrate his ability to lead his forces to victory. The Taliban campaign in Kunduz is still not over, though Afghan forces have largely beaten back the opposition. Elsewhere in the country, government control is tenuous and, according to United Nations reports, the Taliban now holds greater sway than it has since 2001.

To a significant degree, insecurity in the provinces is exacerbated by confusion in the capital. Afghanistan’s government exists in a state of sustained constitutional crisis, due to the power-sharing agreement that followed its stalemated and contested election. Every decision the government makes provokes concerns that it will upset the delicate balance of forces at the nation’s center, resulting for example, in the failure to name a defense minister able to receive parliamentary confirmation. In a government already burdened with patronage and corruption, jockeying for power and attention in the government takes an inordinate amount of attention and distracts from the business of governing. As a result, the Afghan people often express frustration with the government’s inability to respond to popular needs.

With the central government in crisis, the influence of sub-national power brokers is on the rise. To some extent, this has been sanctioned by the government, as has the use of factional militias reconstituted largely along old ethnic and partisan lines. But these forces are extremely difficult for the government to control, and with scores to settle amongst themselves, the militias often complicate the security picture at the local level by switching sides or pursuing their own agendas. As the government struggles to exert its influence, these actors often fill the vacuum.

The U.S. troop presence cannot halt the devolution of authority in Afghanistan, should it continue on that path, but it can have a dampening effect on any consequent insecurity. There is no point to that effort, though, unless the other half of Obama’s promise — to support real reform of the Afghan government — also materializes. There are four areas where the U.S. government can provide key contributions to stabilize the Afghan central government and secure its writ in the country’s periphery.

First, the United States can support efforts to resolve questions related to the structure and future of the national unity government. The present arrangement is not provided for in the constitution. Responsibilities are informally allocated and the future of this arrangement is unclear. The process of changing the constitution to formalize the procedures of the unity government is challenging and contentious, but there must be some push for legitimization of these high-level relationships.

Next, the United States must work to accelerate the Afghan government’s timeline for reforming electoral processes. Parliamentary elections have been indefinitely delayed because of the poor performance of electoral institutions in the presidential elections. But while badly managed parliamentary elections would sap confidence in government, so too will continued failure to hold them at all. Without solid provincial representation at the national level, informal provincial leadership will be strengthened.

Third, the United States ought to work with Afghanistan to clarify the increasingly murky relationships between sub-national power players and the central government. As sub-national actors are gaining in influence, their tendency to look to the center for legitimacy and direction may be on the wane. Particularly because so many of these powerful actors and their armed affiliates have re-formed along old ethnic and partisan lines, there is strong potential for them to reactivate old rivalries with each other, complicating the security and governance picture. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to such an endeavor, but the United States can help the Afghans to extend and enforce conditions that could help keep these actors engaged with the central government.

Finally, the Afghan government has placed a high priority on peace negotiations with the Taliban and the United States should work to support this outcome while being wary of the risks associated with negotiating peace. Few insurgencies conclude with a grand bargain, and it is unlikely that the Taliban will conclude such an agreement while the international community retains forces in Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban might prefer to make local bargains with increasingly powerful sub-national actors from whom they could be able to extract the kind of concessions about an Islamist legal code that the central government would be unlikely to allow. The United States can best contain the risks of negotiation in two ways. First, it should seek to foster conditions under which the central government can better influence who militias are fighting, in order to maintain maximum clarity between pro- and anti-government actors and reduce the possibility of sidebar alliances with the Taliban. Second, it should synchronize negotiations with military operations so as not to allow for splintering of the Taliban into factions, limiting the utility of an agreement, weakening the government, and prolonging conflict. If adequate pressure can be kept on Islamic State affiliates and other groups opposed to reconciliation, then they cannot use a Taliban peace to take on the mantle of conflict as their own.

President Obama’s decision to preserve troop strength in Afghanistan is a major step in the right direction for U.S. policy there. These forces maintain flexibility to respond to a range of scenarios, demonstrate confidence in the Afghan government, and stake a claim for American interests in the region. But the ultimate success of these endeavors rests upon Obama’s commitment to continue to encourage reforms in the Afghan government. Without smart policies to stabilize the center and maintain participation from the periphery, no amount of troops can be the solution.

Expanding the Caliphate

by Seth G. Jones

June 11, 2015

Источник: http://www.rand.org/blog/2015/06/expanding-the-caliphate.html

For over a year, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has been attempting to expand into South Asia. ISIS has developed a loose organizational structure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided money to local groups, and adopted a confrontational approach to the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda—all on al Qaeda’s home turf, no less. Its goal is straightforward: to co-opt disaffected local militants in an effort to build influence and power in the region.

ISIS in South Asia, which it calls the Islamic State of Khorasan, is larger than most recognize, boasting between several hundred and several thousand fighters. And its push into the subcontinent has led to numerous skirmishes with the Afghan Taliban, the largest and best-organized militant group in Afghanistan. In early June, for example, ISIS and Taliban fighters engaged in pitched battles in Shinwar, Achin, and other districts in Nangarhar province.

Despite these developments, some analysts have dismissed the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan as fictitious at worst or grossly exaggerated at best. In a May article in Al Jazeera, for example, Aimal Faizi, a journalist and former spokesperson for Hamid Karzai, argued that ISIS’ presence in Afghanistan is largely a “manufactured myth,” used by Afghan and U.S. officials for political purposes.

There may be a kernel of truth to his assertion. Some Afghan officials, for instance, have likely exaggerated the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan as a way to pressure Washington to keep U.S. forces in the country or to blame Pakistan for meddling in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Local authorities have certainly exploited concerns about ISIS to their own advantage: Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that officials in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province had manufactured a story about ISIS beheadings in an attempt to draw military support from Kabul in 2014.

To be sure, it will be difficult for ISIS’ South Asia branch to dominate the other extremist groups in the region. A variety of competing jihadist organizations already exist there and ISIS’ ideology does not have strong local roots.

Even so, ISIS’ recruitment strategy in the region has already met with some success. As the group gains a toehold among Afghan and Pakistani militants, the region could be in store for more conflict, including between militant groups.

Setting Up Shop

In the spring of 2014, as ISIS was consolidating its hold on the city of Raqqa in Syria and expanding into Iraq’s Anbar Province, the group’s leaders contacted militants in South Asia. ISIS apparently hoped to gauge the possibility of expanding its influence in the region and recruiting fighters to come to Iraq and Syria.

ISIS had just been kicked out of al Qaeda following a series of personal, ideological, and command-and-control disputes. Yet its plan for expansion into Afghanistan and Pakistan followed a strategy its former ally had perfected: try to co-opt local militants. Al Qaeda had done so to great effect in Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and North Africa, and had thereby avoided the inefficient, labor-intensive process of building foreign affiliates from scratch.

As ISIS leaders began a series of discussions with groups in Egypt (including Ansar Beit al-Maqdis), Libya (including factions of Ansar al-Sharia), and later in Nigeria (including Boko Haram), they also began to contact militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. South Asia seemed promising for ISIS. The region had a long history of nurturing jihadist groups, dating back to the anti-Soviet wars in the 1980s; relatively weak governments, which provided the opportunity to secure safe havens in areas under limited state control; and ongoing wars against “infidel” regimes and their Western backers.

As they eyed expansion into the region, ISIS leaders also concluded that there were serious problems with the ideologies and strategic visions of several local groups, including al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. In the December 2014 edition of its online magazine, Dabiq, the group’s propagandists published a blistering cover article (PDF) that outlined those concerns. The author accused al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban of selling out Islam by supporting tribal law over sharia, failing to effectively conquer and control territory, neglecting to target Shiite populations, and erroneously recognizing international borders. The article also brazenly criticized Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, for practicing and preaching a bankrupt, distorted version of Islam.

One of the few groups to escape ISIS’ excoriation was the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), formed in December 2007 as an umbrella organization of various militant groups in the region. The TTP “were upon great good,” the Dabiq article concluded. “They carry the Salafi creed and hope and strive to establish the laws of Islam in their region.” ISIS had matched its words with deeds. Around September 2014, ISIS sent representatives to Pakistan to meet with local militants, including some TTP leaders, following several months of discussions. Around the same time, Pakistani officials began receiving reports of pro-ISIS leaflets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

By January, Hafiz Saeed Khan, the former chief of the TTP’s Orakzai branch in Pakistan’s tribal areas, had been named leader of ISIS’ South Asia branch. His deputy was Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, an Alizai tribesman and former Taliban commander from Helmand Province who rose to prominence after his 2007 release from the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Saeed and Khadim’s established networks would become crucial to ISIS’ recruitment efforts. Saeed was particularly helpful in expanding the terrorist group’s footprint in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the Afghan border provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar, where some TTP operatives had fled following Pakistani military operations. Khadim, on the other hand, helped develop ISIS’ network in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province and in the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Farah.

By late 2014, U.S. and Afghan officials had become sufficiently alarmed about Khadim’s activity and threat to U.S. forces that they began to consider a strike against him. On February 9, 2015, a U.S. drone locked onto Khadim’s vehicle in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and fired a missile at it, killing Khadim and several others.

Over the following months, ISIS focused on co-opting more fighters and expanding its networks in eastern, southern, and western Afghanistan, and in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province and tribal areas.

Everyone Loves a Winner

ISIS’ expansion strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan includes three main components. First, ISIS has attempted to attract new members by exploiting personal and factional grievances within established jihadist networks. Indeed, the earliest leaders of the South Asian branch joined up following disputes within their former organizations. In Pakistan, Saeed had grown disenchanted with the TTP after he was passed over for the organization’s top spot, following the death of several leaders, including Hakimullah Mehsud, in 2013. In southern Afghanistan, Khadim had taken issue with what he claimed was an unbalanced tribal representation in the Taliban’s inner shura, or consultative council, according to interviews with his aide conducted by theAfghanistan Analysts Network. Khadim and other Afghan Taliban commanders had also grown disillusioned with Mullah Omar, whose unknown status and whereabouts has led to speculation about whether he is still alive.

Second, ISIS doled out money to encourage defections. ISIS was flush thanks to smuggling oil, selling stolen goods, kidnapping and extortion, seizing bank accounts, and smuggling antiquities in Iraq and Syria, among other activities. Its leaders were willing to spend money—perhaps as much as several hundred thousand dollars—to build networks in South Asia.

Third, ISIS used its victories in Iraq and Syria to attract some recruits. The group continues to hold substantial territory in the Middle East following its 2014 blitzkrieg campaign. “Some locals appear to be attracted to their battlefield success in Iraq and Syria,” a senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan said. “And everyone loves a winner.” ISIS has been quick to exploit these victories through a sophisticated social media campaign.

A Crowded Neighborhood

Despite these developments, ISIS leaders in Iraq and Syria do not appear to exercise operational or tactical control over commanders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For now, ISIS in South Asia is closer to a loose affiliate than a direct arm of the organization.

What’s more, ISIS faces substantial hurdles in the region because of a crowded field of jihadist groups and its lack of an ideology with strong local roots. Populist militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan have generally latched on to extreme interpretations of locally established strains of radicalism, such as Deobandism. But ISIS’ ideas remain imports—and not necessarily popular ones.

Still, ISIS could benefit from progress on reconciliation discussions between the Afghan government and the Taliban. There are some Taliban factions that would almost certainly defect to groups like ISIS in the event of a peace deal. But if ISIS wants to expand in South Asia, it will likely need to recruit a more charismatic leader in Afghanistan who can attract more fighters and funding. ISIS commanders have expressed interest in Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, a hard-line former military commander of the Afghan Taliban who stepped down last year after an internal power struggle. ISIS will also need to continue co-opting local militants. In this respect, the allegiance of fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group traditionally tied to the Taliban, could provide additional momentum.

Finally, ISIS will have to fight other groups, particularly the Afghan Taliban, to expand its market share. In early June, ISIS apparently suffered heavy losses during clashes with the Taliban in the western province of Farah, suggesting that it will be an uphill battle. Fighting the Taliban may be its most difficult challenge, and one that could have profound implications for violence in the region.

Afghanistan and “Failed State Wars”: The Need for a Realistic Transition

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Oct 15, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/afghanistan-and-failed-state-wars-need-realistic-transition

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President Obama has decided on a limited change in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. He will keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2017, rather than reduce the number to a nominal 1,000 or less deployed around Kabul at the end of 2016. An article in the Washington Post indicates that this will cost about $15 billion a year, about $5 billion more than the smaller, 1,000-person Kabul-based force.

The problem is, that like so many of the President’s decisions, this is an awkward compromise with reality. It is not conditions-based and designed to meet Afghan needs, but rather than absolute minimum a U.S. military responding to the President’s clear desire to leave by the end of 2016 could have asked for.

Too Low a Number, No Real Strategy, and Media that Don’t Ask the Right Questions

The new number is almost certainly too low to be effective. Like all of the President’s previous manpower totals, it is not explained and exploits news media that never seems to realize that total personnel numbers are almost meaningless as a measure of effectiveness.

There is no way to no how many personnel are now in – and will remain in — given aspects of the train and assist mission, be involved in the counter terrorism force, have a role in providing air support, be dedicated to protecting other U.S. forces and the Embassy, or be involved in various logistic and support functions. There is no indication of what other kinds of support the U.S. will really provide, the role it expects its allies to play, U.S. goals in trying to improve various parts of the Afghan security forces, and the scale and distribution of future military aid and equipment transfers.

The White House has gotten away with announcing meaningless manpower totals in the past, rather that describing a real strategy. It seems to have little fear that the media will asking meaningful questions this time, probe hard, or examine the range of options that led to a 5,500 man total.

Too Little and Not Late Enough

What is clear from the problems in the present nominally 9,800 personnel effort is that the existing numbers are not adequate to meet Afghan needs, much less a 5,500 personnel figure roughly half the present total. The new total will only apply through 207, not be tailored to a realistic time scale. It will be far too little to properly cover every Afghan corps, much less major combat units. It will not be large enough to provide advisors and train and assist efforts that can deal with the Afghan police and local police.

It does not mark any clear commitment to keep some form of U.S. combat capability like the counterterrorism force to help in emergencies, and does not commit the U.S. to providing the combat air support which is the only way the U.S. can ensure that Afghan forces have the combat power to prevent more Taliban and insurgent victories until – and if – the Afghan Air Force can really become effective. It is to be blunt, a half-assessed compromise – rather than a shift that goes from simply set a deadline to getting out before the President leaves office to conditions-based strategy designed to meet enough Afghan needs to have a credible change of success.

Changes in the U.S. military effort that are lean and demanding might make the present 9,800 adequate, but lean and mean is not the present American way. Past contingency studies created figures around 13,000 military personnel and above and looked towards phasing out around 2020. Times may have changes, but too little too early has not reduced most requirements and may have increased them.

At a minimum, the President should explain the options, justify his choices, and describe a real strategy.

A Military and Not a Civil-Military “Strategy”

The other critical problem is that the military dimension is only half of a credible strategy. The Afghan forces may have recovered Kunduz –at least for the present – but the overall situation in the country continues to deteriorate in terms of politics, governance, economics and security.

The U.S. can only justify a meaningful military effort if it has both a strategy to deal with the Taliban and insurgent threat, and with the critical problems on the civil side. These problems are analyzed in depth in an updated briefing by the Burke Chair at CSIS.

This briefing examines current trends and metrics in depth, provides comparison data in key areas, and provides further evidence that Afghanistan cannot stand on its own and will requires U.S. help in terms of aid, train and assist support, and airpower well beyond 2016.

It is entitled Afghanistan and “Failed State Wars”: The Need for a Realistic Transition, and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/150929_Cordesman_Afghanistan_Failed_State_Wars_1.pdf.

It has 21 main sections. The content of each section covers the following issues in detail:

  • Key Lessons of “Failed State” Wars summarizes the key lessons that the U.S. should have learned to date.
  • Uncertain Claims of Success highlights the fact that many U.S. claims of success to date are exaggerated and uncertain
  • A Nation Under Acute Population Pressure and with Critical Ethnic
    and Sectarian Divisions
    provides detailed tables and comparative charts and maps describing the impact of population growth, Afghanistan’s deep ethnic and sectarian divisions, and the impact of its exceptionally young population and youth “bulge” on the need for jobs to maintain stability.
  • Key Civil Challenges provides a detailed analysis of the real world civil challenges that Afghanistan still faces and the extent to which the State Department and USAID have made exaggerated claims of progress and success. It provides metrics on Afghanistan’s level of corruption, human development indicators, real world progress in education, and how the Afghan people view such challenges.
  • Uncertain Politics and Large Areas of Failed Governance highlights the critical problems in the quality of Afghan governance, and the political problems that limit public support and trust.
  • The Corruption Challenge summarizes the problem of official corruption in Afghanistan, and highlights studies provided by Transparency International and others on how much of a threat corruption in the Afghan government is.
  • The Budget Challenge underscores the key budgetary challenges facing the Afghan government and the fiscal challenges to Transition, including declining levels of aid, increased dependency on civilian and military aid, increasing government expenditures, and investment in the public services sector and physical infrastructure.
  • Economic Challenges details the economic factors driving civilian unrest, including the slow rate of GDP growth, the threat of ignoring growing demographic pressures, corruption cost and impacts, and critical problems in governance and budgetary planning and execution.
  • Economic Stability and Development Challenges highlighting major challenges that are not war related, including poverty and demography, aid dependence, security and fragility, corruption and governance, lack of confidence in private sector job growth, and societal differences and divisions.
  • Poverty Challenge summarizes the growing challenges posed by Afghanistan’s lagging economy, and the demographic pressures of a society leaving the rural agricultural regions to find work in the cities, creating urban slums and exacerbating poverty.
  • Business, Investment, Mining, and LoC Challenges highlights the barriers to investment, development, and doing business in Afghanistan, key problems in the transport, agriculture, and power sectors, massive dependency on outside aid and uncertainty of future aid.
  • Narco-Economy Challenge underscores the challenges of Afghanistan shifting back towards a narco-economy, the pervasiveness of opium, cannabis and other drugs, problems with the counter-drug effort, the negative impact of power brokers and the Taliban, and the flow of Afghan drugs into Europe, Russia, and Asia.
  • Warfighting and Violence Challenges highlights the continued levels of violence challenging Afghan stability, the failure of the Afghan “surge” in defeating the Taliban, and the continued threat posed by Afghan insurgents and extremist networks.
  • A Focus on Tactical Outcomes Disguises a Lack of Meaningful Reporting on the Key Impact of the Insurgency: Growing Insurgent Influence and Control and Declining Support for the Government uncovers the problems in reporting, “Lying By Omission,” and underscores the threat levels of districts that have limited government presence or none at all, and the fact that 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces suffer from violence levels rated “high” or “extreme”.
  • Casualty Challenge details the discrepancy between reporting that disguises growing insurgent influence and increased casualty levels.
  • ANSF Force Strength and Readiness Challenge highlights the most critical challenges to the Afghan National Security Forces, the heavy reliance on Afghan National Police forces to carry out paramilitary functions they are not trained for, and the lack of unclassified reporting on army and police readiness by the media and government officials.
  • U.S. and Allied Transition and Force Levels underscores the failures of the Transition plan, the errors in delaying preparing for Transition, and the mistakes of decisions on troop reduction levels out of step with realities on the ground.
  • NATO and US Advisory Manning Levels summarizes the missteps surrounding the advisory role, including not providing sufficient numbers of advisors, and misplaced advisory emphasis on sustainment and not combat.
  • Afghan Air Force vs. US and Allied Air Support highlights the unworkable Afghan Air Force development plan that is disconnected with the actual combat needs, contributing to the reliance on outside air support.
  • U.S. Civil and Military Aid warns of repeating the same mistakes the U.S. and Allied countries have made historically, namely cutting aid too soon, inability to follow through on aid commitments made at Tokyo conference and elsewhere, and the dangers of declaring “victory” and leaving Afghanistan to fend for its own with rising dependence on foreign aid and decreased development assistance.
  • An Uncertain Pakistan highlights the critical but destabilizing role that neighboring Pakistan has in the stability of Afghanistan despite rhetoric and efforts at senior levels, underscoring the challenges of mistrust and high levels of violence.
  • Post-2014 Security Challenge summarizes the key warfighting challenges, urges reshaping U.S. and other partner roles to win popular support, support the Afghan government and ANSF, shifting the response to address new and continued threats, encourages plans and strategies that address Afghan problems from an Afghan perspective, and demands meaningful reporting and net assessments that have been largely absent since 2012 and 2013.

Time for a Real Strategy and Real Transparency

The risks are simply too high to task about 5,500 men through 2017. Some 14 years of poorly structure strategies which never honestly assessed costs and risks, described real longer-term strategy in any detail, and made “whole of government” a slogan that never led to serious integrated civil-military efforts have wasted billions, cost American and allied lives, and left Afghanistan unready for Transition.

The white House need to start asking itself serious question about what a realistic civil military strategy should be, the costs involved, the risks, and whether a serious conditions-based effort is worth it. The Congress and the media need to put real pressure on the White House to do this, do it openly, and allow the kind of review and debate that will decide whether a meaningful U.S. commitment should be made.

The President’s 5,500 figure may be a way to leave office before the cost of a failed approach becomes fully clear, but it is not a strategy. It is also an effort in political expediency that may be a clear failure before the President make it to the exit door.