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May 28, 2013

The Impeding Funding Gap in Afghanistan

May 2, 2013 by

Afghan President Hamid Karzai looks on as President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

One of the most pressing issues currently facing Afghanistan is the difficult economic transition set to occur at the end of 2014. Although security is the concern that grabs headlines, it’s the economy, and the ability of the Afghan government to afford itself, that will determine the long-term success of the Afghan state. Sadly, it is highly unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to domestically source revenue to cover the military and security expenses it faces, let alone finance development and the social safety net, thus far provided largely by NGOs and donors nations, that the population has come to expect.

Although significant funding has been committed by donor nations it falls well short of the $10 billion a year through 2025 that President Hamid Karzai asked for. The $10 billion request represents significant figure for foreign donors, between 61% and 78% of GDP depending on which GDP estimates are used. The $4 billion committed by the international community at the 2012 Tokyo Donors Conference is not even a sure thing, as donor fatigue and historic failures to live up to development aid commitments are likely. This means, in the best-case scenario, that the government of Afghanistan would face a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion a year starting in 2014, but odds are it will be far greater.

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Fault-Lines in Afghanistan’s Political Settlement

April 15, 2013 by

A member of the U.S. military conducts a patrol in Wardak province, Afghanistan

During 2013 the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will continue to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan as coalition partners rapidly withdraw troops ahead of the end of the NATO Afghan mandate in 2014. However, 2014 will not be the end of the US or the International Community’s (IC) mission in Afghanistan. 2014 will mark the beginning of a new chapter for IC engagement in Afghanistan. To be successful NATO and the IC must immediately take several aggressive steps in order to prepare for the political transition.

Significant efforts have been made both in Europe and the US to set the stage for negotiations with the Taliban. The hope is that such negotiations will ready Afghanistan for a more productive post-2014 political environment. Despite the international community’s presence in country for more then a decade, these discussions are premature because of the inability of the Afghans and the IC to push for a robust internal Afghan political settlement. If Afghans cannot get along with each other internally, they certainly cannot coherently negotiate with an external force.

Rather than focusing on settling disputes between competing factions within the Afghan government in order to create a coherent and effective Afghan government, the IC has left such discussions up to the Afghans, and in doing so has allowed for the continuation of the inept and corrupt Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). In many respects this failure can be traced to the reason the IC remains in Afghanistan. Except for security, IC support in Afghanistan has failed to reform its political system, advance its economy significantly, or address systemic corruption in any substantive way. This failure is the result of competing internal political factions within the Afghan government.

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Hamid Karzai: Champion of Alienation

March 14, 2013 by

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul

Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai would like the world to perceive him otherwise, Karzai finds himself in an untenable position. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw the majority of its remaining troops, the country’s security forces remain woefully unprepared to assume responsibility for the country’s security, corruption remains endemic, and many observers admit that Afghanistan is in reality little better off today than it was when Karzai assumed power in 2004. With his leadership slated to end next year, there is little reason to believe that his successor will do any better in meaningfully addressing Afghanistan’s plethora of problems.

Hamid Karzai has never hesitated to challenge the U.S. publically, whether for a domestic or international audience, but the pace at which he is forcefully challenging the U.S. now is unprecedented. Equating the U.S. with the Taliban as forces working to undermine the government really is over the top, particularly given the tremendous resources the U.S. has provided to Karzai’s government over the past decade – and that he owes his position, as well as any progress that has been made to date – to the U.S. It is a little late to be attempting to change his image as “America’s Man”. We find ourselves wondering why he would be trying to do so in the first place. His legacy is clear to all. No pandering to domestic political interests is going to change that.

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Taking a Bite out of Terror: Battling the Taliban’s Influence in Schools

October 15, 2012 by

A crowd of more than 300 gathered for the first visit by the Paktia Province deputy governor to the Jani Khel district Feb. 15, 2009. It was the first such meeting in the district and many of the locals had never seen their provincial leaders

When US Major Lee and Captain Gil entered Ganat Kahiyl High School in eastern Afghanistan recently, a local teacher slipped them a small note: “The Taliban have visited our school and forced their curriculum upon us. Can the government help?”

This was not an empty threat. Insurgents burned down Sahakh High School in the same district a couple months earlier for teaching girls and the government’s curriculum. Taliban attacks on schools that defy insurgents are reported often, though difficult to confirm because of Taliban influence, say analysts. In fact, the US officers were visiting the school to promote the Village Outreach Program, devised by the local US Army and the district governor of Zormat to battle that type of Taliban influence on schools and children.

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The Future of Afghanistan: Why its easy to be Pessimistic on Afghanistan

August 9, 2012 by

Charlie Rose had a recent discussion on Afghanistan with John Podesta, Former White House Chief of Staff and Stephen Hadley, Former National Security Advisor about their Foreign Affairs article, “The Right Way Out of Afghanistan: Leaving Behind a State That Can Govern“.

Rose also interviewed Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post about his latest book “Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan“.

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In Tokyo, the International Community Pledges $16bn for Afghanistan

July 14, 2012 by

A close-up of an opium poppy in Afghanistan. Zalmai/UN

The major donor’s conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo attempted to shore up a slew of issues in Afghanistan as the 2014 deadline approaches when coalition forces are scheduled to leave, ostensibly leaving Afghanistan’s nascent security forces on there own.  The donor’s conference aimed at setting aid levels for the crucial post-2014 period.  The “Tokyo Declaration” adopted at the end of the conference, pledged $16 billion for development projects over the next four years, when most NATO- led foreign combat troops will leave.

Japan, the second largest donor, after the United States says it will provide up to $3 billion through 2016, and Germany has announced it will keep its contribution level at current levels of $536 million a year, at least until 2016.

Similarly, India committed $2 billion including $500 million committed during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kabul last year out of which a large portion of this assistance has been disbursed or is committed to ongoing projects.

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The Fallacy of Choosing Favorites in Afghanistan

July 10, 2012 by

President Barack Obama meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 28, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution has written a piece in the Washington Post “Picking a Winner in Afghanistan” that argues that whoever replaces Karzai in 2014 will prove to be as important in holding the country together as whether a return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda can be prevented.

O’Hanlon takes the position that the United States should in essence help facilitate selection of the next Afghan president once Karzai’s second term ends, and do whatever it can to encourage the election of a reformer. He places a lot of faith in the supposition that Karzai won’t find a way to extend his term under some emergency law, or have Afghan lawmakers loyal to him make it possible for him to run for a third term. He also assumes that a viable, desirable alternative to Karzai will prove to be acceptable to a Loya Jirga.

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Damned by Riches: How Afghanistan’s Mineral Wealth Undermines NATO Mission

June 27, 2012 by

Uzbek workers build a signal station on the new railway spur between the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif and Uzbekistan. Image via Assignment Afghanistan

It is like something out of a movie: deep in the archives of a war torn country a team of intrepid scientists discovers forgotten maps leading to buried treasure. Fantastical as it seems, such a scene played out in 2004 when American geologists found a cache of charts in the Afghan Geological Survey’s library dating from the days of Soviet occupation.  Returned to the library after the NATO invasion, these Russian charts were protected in geologists’ homes through the tumultuous 1990s’ and for good reason: the data indicated under Afghanistan’s mountains and dry plains lay vast mineral deposits.

Guided by Soviet charts, aerial surveys in 2006 and 2007 covered 70% of the county and produced the most comprehensive geologic study in Afghan history and estimate the nation’s untapped mineral wealth at $1 trillion.  Today the Afghan government believes this wealth buried in their rugged provinces could exceed $3 trillion, but as frequently asked of buried treasure: is it cursed?

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Afghanistan: Why a ‘Limited-Win’ is Sustainable

June 18, 2012 by

Rising disenchantment with the “good war” in Afghanistan ultimately stems from the unrealistically high expectations set by NATO in the early years of the conflict, as well as a rising degree of frustration at the lack of tangible, sustainanable progress.

Afghanistan was always going to be an impoverished, conflict-ridden, landlocked, and fractured country; it was never going to be the Switzerland, or even the Philippines, of Central Asia. Last-ditch attempts at nation building, after years of under-resourcing due to the Iraq war, were simply doomed to fail.  Although NATO cannot create the Afghanistan it once hoped to build, it is probably still able to achieve some narrow security objectives past 2014, a strategy somewhat derisively known as “Afghanistan Good Enough”.

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The U.S. and the Afghan Train Wreck

April 16, 2012 by

U.S. Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division return fire during a firefight with Taliban forces in Barawala Kalay Valley in Kunar province, Afghanistan, March 31, 2011

The recent decision by the Taliban and one of its allies to withdraw from peace talks with Washington underlines the train wreck the U.S. is headed for in Afghanistan.

Indeed, for an administration touted as sophisticated and intelligent, virtually every decision the White House has made vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been a disaster.  On Mar. 15 the Taliban ended preliminary talks with Washington, because, according to a spokesman for the insurgent organization, the Americans were being “shaky, erratic and vague.” The smaller Hizb-i-Islami group followed two weeks later.

That both groups are refusing to talk should hardly come as a surprise. In spite of the Obama administration’s talk about wanting a “political settlement” to the war, the White House’s strategy makes that goal little more than a mirage.

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Lessons Hidden in Afghanistan

April 10, 2012 by

U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Streeter scans a nearby hilltop during a search of the Qual-e Jala village, Parwan province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 21, 2011

What should be striking about the reported news out of Afghanistan lately is the extent to which the headlines have been about tragic, non-military events. Korans were defaced and a U.S. servicemember is suspected of murdering seventeen Afghan civilians.  These acts have both had a profound, negative impact on U.S.-Afghan relations and, by extension, have put our troops and our mission in Afghanistan in greater jeopardy.

But what is today’s mission? To what extent is there still a military mission in Afghanistan? How do we distinguish a military mission from a political mission more than ten years into the post-9/11 global world? As a service to our men and women who volunteer to defend us we ought to answer these questions.

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On Power and Delusions of Grandeur

March 18, 2012 by

U.S. military personnel take cover to avoid flying debris as they prepare to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a mission in Kunar province, Afghanistan

First the video of United States Marines urinating on bodies of Afghans who had been killed. Then the revelation that copies of the Quran had been burned at Bagram Air Base, which also serves as an American prison camp in Afghanistan. Nearly thirty Afghans and several NATO troops died in the violent reaction. And as I mentioned in my column of March 4, the BBC Kabul correspondent described these events, and the violent public reaction to them, as the tipping point for NATO in the Afghan War.

Just as the U.S. commander Gen. John Allen and President Obama hoped that apologies from them would help calm the situation comes another disaster. If official accounts are to be believed, an American soldier left his base in the middle of the night, entered villagers’ homes, woke up Afghan families from sleep and shot his victims in cold blood. After the killings, the soldier was reported to have turned himself up to U.S. commanders, and was flown out of the country. He has since been named as St. Sgt. Robert Bales. Other reports tell a different story, indicating that a group of soldiers was involved. Looking drunk and laughing, they engaged in an orgy of violence, while helicopters hovered above.

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Rethinking Afghanistan After a Decade

September 19, 2011 by

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpls. Joshua Prall (left) and Derrick Wastart (right) provide security while fellow U.S. Marines help Afghan soldiers clear a compound during Operation Tageer Shamal in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Jan. 4, 2012

Reading what I wrote about Afghanistan a decade ago reminded me of how much my understanding of the role of war and hard power in upholding security for the nation and the world has changed.  Actually, it seems clear to me that my views on Afghanistan back in 2001 were an exception to my general skepticism about Western interventions in the non-Western world, a view formed during ten years of opposition to the American role in the Vietnam War.

At the time, with the Al Qaeda attacks so recently seared into my political consciousness, and some anxiety that more attacks of a similar kind were likely to follow, it seemed logical and helpful to adopt a war strategy as part of an overall effort to disrupt the mega-terrorist capabilities to inflict further harm either in this country or somewhere else on the planet.

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Afghanistan: The War Enters its 10th Anniversary

March 12, 2011 by

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Gilio, with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, prepares to return fire during an engagement with enemy fighters during a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, on Oct. 29, 2010

The war in Afghanistan has lasted for nearly ten years and shows no sign of abating.  

Furthermore, the Afghan War has the dubious distinction of being America’s longest conflict surpassing U.S. involvement in Indochina.  However, military progress has been made in wrestling significant portions of the country from the Taliban and eliminating Al Qaeda elements. Despite these gains there is widespread doubt that the war can be successfully brought to a conclusion. What gains have been made are increasingly tenuous and any military successes could be reversed once some American troops begin to leave in July 2011 as scheduled.

Additionally, there are concerns that the war could prove to be a colossal waste of effort and lives once the U.S. military completely evacuates by 2014 with the exception of support units. There are legitimate concerns that U.S. and NATO forces are propping up the Afghan government which will be unable to hold onto major population centers without a direct American troop presence.

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