Ten years of war in Afghanistan and still relying on a failing strategy

On this tenth anniversary of the start of the war against Taliban rule and an al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, the central strategy of those who started the war now comes down to mounting a force of 352,000 armed Afghans to take over all the fighting in 2014.

“Winning,” in the sense of defeating the insurgency by military means, has long been off the table. Although reconciliation and political accommodation are rhetorically embraced by the Government of Afghanistan and some of the international combatants, serious peace-making has yet to gain the political will and resources needed.[i]
So the choice of expedience has come down to an effort to shift the burden of the fighting fully to the Afghans.

Canada is helping to train the new recruits for Afghan police and military forces in the service of this strategy, but there are key questions that training won’t answer. Who will pay the Afghan forces, year in and year out? How will Afghan forces vanquish an insurgency that has steadily strengthened in response to the combined operations of Afghan and international forces?

It will cost $6 billion a year to sustain a force 0f 350,000 plus Afghan police and soldiers.[ii] Since Afghanistan’s GDP is only $15 billion, a $6 billion security burden is, to say
the very least, rather daunting. The Government of Afghanistan can now raise only
a total of $3 billion per year in revenues, [iii] meaning that Afghanistan could itself realistically sustain only a force of less than 0ne-tenth of the size projected (consuming about 20 percent of total revenue). In other words, nine-tenths will have to be covered by the international community indefinitely.

The primary funder, the United States, is currently spending about $12 billion per year to build up the Afghan forces to the proposed level, and Washington has already begun to focus on finding ways to radically reduce its obligation.[iv] It is safe to say that the international community won’t long be pouring $6 billion a year into Afghanistan’s security forces – an amount that rivals the international community’s annual aid and reconstruction contributions to Afghanistan.[v]

The plan to mount an absurdly large security force in one of the world’s poorest countries is at best unrealistic for the long term, but the plan to do this in support of a strategy that is manifestly failing is downright irrational. Afghan forces are being asked to take over a counterinsurgency war that has seen the unrelenting growth of the insurgency. The combined Afghan and international forces now number well over 400,000, and they are presiding over a situation of steadily increasing insecurity. Indeed from 2005 through
2011 every report of the Secretary-General on the security situation in Afghanistan opens with the sombre assessment that during the previous year there has been a substantial deterioration in security. [vi]

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been important improvements in some areas. Many urban Afghans have seen huge improvements in their social and economic conditions, but overall the decline in security is persistent and unrelenting, and 2011 is on track to being the deadliest year yet for civilians in Afghanistan.[vii]

Ten years after starting a regime change war that lacked any credible plan for ending the decades of violent division in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies in the International Security Assistance Force have now tired of the fighting, but they still lack any credible plan for ending the war and the violent divisions that have now claimed another decade. The Afghan Analysts Network’s Thomas Ruttig,[viii] sensibly calls for a major strategic shift that privileges the pursuit of a political solution over the pursuit of an unaffordable and ineffective military-centered strategy. He calls it a shift from the current strategy of “shooting and talking” to one of “talking instead of shooting.”



[i] See previous post (4 October 2011).

[ii] “Commander: Maintaining Afghan Security Forces Could Cost Less Than Expected,”  26 September 2011. http://www.talkradionews.com/news/2011/9/26/commander-maintaining-afghan-security-forces-could-cost-less.html.

[iii] “Funding the Afghan National Security Forces,” at Threat Matrix, the blog of “The
Long War Journal,” 16 September 2011. http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2011/09/funding_the_afghan_national_se.php.

[iv] Joshua Partlow, “In helping Afghanistan build up its security forces, U.S. is trimming the frills,” 26 August 2011, The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/in-helping-afghanistan-build-up-its-security-forces-us-is-trimming-the-frills/2011/08/24/gIQAwYmhfJ_story.html.

[v] That makes Afghanistan the world’s leading aid recipient according to the World
Bank. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.ODA.ODAT.CD.

[vi] The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security: Report of the Secretary-General:

2011 – “During the reporting period, the number of security incidents was 51 per cent higher than in the same period in 2010.” 23 June 2011 (A/65/873–S/2011/381), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/498/72/PDF/N1149872.pdf?OpenElement

2010 – “During the reporting period, the number of security incidents was 66 per cent higher than during the same period in 2009.” 10 December 2010 (A/65/612–S/2010/630)http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/667/78/PDF/N1066778.pdf?OpenElement

2009 – “The security situation in Afghanistan has worsened over the reporting period, with an average of 1,244 incidents per month in the third quarter of 2009. This represents a 65 per cent increase over the incidents in 2008.” 28 December 2009 (A/64/613–S/2009/674) http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/662/25/PDF/N0966225.pdf?OpenElement

2008 – “The overall situation in Afghanistan has become more challenging since my previous report. Despite the enhanced capabilities of both the Afghan National Army and the international forces, the security situation has deteriorated markedly.” 23 September 2008 (A/63/372–S/2008/617) http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N08/511/79/PDF/N0851179.pdf?OpenElement

2007 – “Although the expanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the increasingly capable Afghan National Army have accrued multiple military successes during the reporting period, the Taliban and affiliated insurgent groups continue to prevent the attainment of full security in a number of areas. Access to rural areas of south and south-eastern Afghanistan for official and civil society actors has continued to decline. The boldness and frequency of suicide bombings, ambushes and direct fire attacks
have increased.” 21 September 2007 (A/62/345–S/2007/555) http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N07/502/15/PDF/N0750215.pdf?OpenElement

2006 – “Since my previous report (A/60/712-S/2006/145), the most significant development in Afghanistan has been the upsurge in violence, particularly in the south, south-east and east of the country.” 11 September 2006 (A/61/326–S/2006/727) http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/492/46/PDF/N0649246.pdf?OpenElement

2005 – “Although most observers had expected a resumption of violence in the spring, the extent and reach of the violence have exceeded the levels of previous years. Afghanistan today is suffering from a level of insecurity, especially in the south and parts of the east, not seen since the departure of the Taliban.” 12 August 2005 (A/60/224–S/2005/525) http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N05/453/57/PDF/N0545357.pdf?OpenElement

[vii] Katherine Haddon, “Afghanistan on brink after decade of war,” AFP, 2 October
2011. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5ihG694DvtQDf1TNDhF-_ipfnF5MQ?docId=CNG.631c5ea2dcbab22ab75f4694683c42c8.301.

[viii] As noted here Oct 4.

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