Afghanistan and Pakistan: Continuing Security Challenges For the United States

  • Sep 23, 2011

    The US confronts a wide range of challenges if it is to win the Afghan conflict in any meaningful sense, and leave a stable Afghanistan and Pakistan:

    • Decide on US strategic objectives in conducting and terminating the war. These objectives not only include the defeat of Al Qaeda, but deciding on what kind of transition the US wishes to make in Afghanistan, what goals the US can achieve in creating a stable Afghanistan, US goals in Pakistan, and the broader strategic goals the US will seek in Central and South Asia.
    • Defeat the insurgency not only in tactical terms, but also by eliminating its control and influence over the population and ability exploit sanctuaries in Pakistan and win a war of political transition.
    • Create a more effective and integrated, operational civil and civil-military transition effort by NATO/ISAF, UN, member countries, NGO, and international community efforts through 2014 and for 5-10 years after the withdrawal of combat forces.
    •  Build up a much larger, and more effective, mix of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
    •  Give the Afghan government the necessary capacity and legitimacy (and lasting stability) at the national, regional/provincial, district, and local levels by 2014.
    • Dealing with Pakistan in reducing the Taliban-Haqqani network in the NWFP and Baluchistan, and dealing with the broader risk Pakistan will become a failed nuclear weapons state.
    • Shape a balance of post-transition relations with India, Iran, “Stans,” Russia, and China that will help sustain post-transition stability.
    • Make effective trade-offs in terms of resources relative to the priorities set by other US domestic and security interests

    The most serious risk, however, has now become creating effective plans for a transition where most US and allied forces will leave the country no later than 2014, and US, allied, and donor spending in Afghanistan is likely to experience massive cuts that could trigger a depression or deep economic crisis.

    Although the US is making important tactical gains in the south, it must now deal with a “transition” where most US and ISAF combat forces will withdraw no later than the end of 2014, and where the US Treasury estimates that cuts in military and aid spending could reduce the Afghan GDP by 12% in the best case and over 40% in the worst case. This could trigger an economic and military crisis in the same year Karzai must leave office and a new Presidential election must be held. 

    These resource issues help make “transition” a high-risk effort the following reasons:

    • Weakness, divisions, lack of capacity and corruption of Afghan central government present a major risk.
    • Tensions with Pakistan could deprive transition of strategic rationale.
    • Uncertain can scale up victory enough to create a stable climate for politics, governance, and development: May not come close to 81 + 40 districts.
    • Little evidence that “build and transition” can fully match “clear and hold.”
    • Uncertain ability to sustain national unity after 2014, prevent Taliban and other from recovering and winning battle of political attrition and accommodation.
    • Uncertain US and allied willingness to sustain funding, force, and civil aid at required levels before and after 2014.  Already risk of aid cuts triggering “recession” (crisis) in 2014.
    • US budget debate could have even more drastic impact, as could unrealistic Afghan demands for strategic partnership.
    • Serious issues remain in Afghan Army, police, local police, and justice capabilities.

    It also means that the US has one fiscal year, and some 28-40 calendar months, to come to grips with following issues:

    • Plans to deal with challenge of 2014 elections and post-Karzai transition, and ensure the resources are available to create an effective political structure and capable Afghan governance.
    • Honest plans, mechanisms, and funding for negotiations with insurgents and for reintegration vs. cover for exit without a strategy.
    • Near and mid-term force development and funding plan for Afghan National Security Forces at a time the US has already provide guidance that could cut the future funds for the ANSF by 40-60%, particularly after 2014. This requires the ANSF and entire security plan to be reshaped around a realistic set of commitments to future funding as well as to develop:
      • Real world understanding of what may be a transition from NTM-A to de facto USF-A

      • Clear link between size, quality and resources.
      • Realistic picture of relations between ANP, ALP, and justice system.
    • Near and mid-term analysis of impacts of coming funding cuts in military and aid expenditures.  (USCENTCOM working on such a plan). This requires detailed economic analysis of the impact of the coming cuts, and a plan for a post-transition Afghan economy, or “new Silkroad” that is not based on vague regional hopes or trillions of unexploited minerals, but concrete plans and funding for specific projects and aid efforts by US. Plans tied to UN, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, with no illusions about real world level of allied/donor efforts.
    • Clear plans for reductions in the US presence going from 14 PRTs to five embassy entities – plans linked to clear allied commitments to a given level of continuing effort and resources.

    The Burke Chair has drawn together a wide range of official sources and data from the US, ISAF, World Bank, and USCENTCOM to provide a basis for analyzing and making decisions on these issues. This briefing is entitled “Afghanistan Win or Lose: Transition and the Coming Resource Crisis”, and is available on the CSIS web site at

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Anthony H. Cordesman