The Council on Foreign Relations just released a task force study on U.S. options for future policy in Afghanistan. The council's report comes out a month before the Obama administration is set to complete a review of the war effort in that country.
According to a council statement, the study found "that the current approach to the region is at a critical point." It concludes that "for now, the United States should assume the lead, with the goal of encouraging and enabling its Pakistani and Afghan partners to build a more secure future. Yet even the United States cannot afford to continue down this costly path unless the potential for enduring progress remains in sight. After nine years of U.S. war in the region, time and patience are understandably short." Further:
While the Task Force offers a qualified endorsement of the current U.S. effort in Afghanistan, including plans to begin a conditions-based military drawdown in July 2011, the Obama administration's upcoming December 2010 review should be "a clear-eyed assessment of whether there is sufficient overall progress to conclude that the strategy is working." If not, the report argues that “a more significant drawdown to a narrower military mission would be warranted.”
The Task Force, chaired by former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage and former national security adviser Samuel R. Berger, and directed by CFR Senior Fellow Daniel S. Markey, notes that nine years into the Afghan war, the outcome of the struggles in the region are still uncertain and the stakes are high. "What happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan matters to Americans," affirms the report. It warns that "militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan pose a direct threat to the United States and its allies. They jeopardize the stability of Pakistan, a nuclear power that lives in an uneasy peace with its rival, India."
The Task Force supports the U.S. investment in a long-term partnership with Pakistan, but underscores that it is only sustainable if Pakistan takes action against all terrorist organizations based on its soil. Concrete Pakistani actions against terror groups "are the bedrock requirements for U.S. partnership and assistance over the long run." In Pakistan, "the United States aims to degrade and defeat the terrorist groups that threaten U.S. interests from its territory and to prevent turmoil that would imperil the Pakistani state and risk the security of Pakistan's nuclear program."
The Task Force notes that these goals are best achieved through partnership with a stable Pakistani state, but that "the challenge of fighting regional terrorist networks is compounded by the fact that Pakistan draws distinctions between such groups." Flood-ravaged Pakistan also faces "enormous new stresses on the state—already challenged by political, economic, and security problems—increasing disaffection among its people, and weakening its ability to fight extremists in its territory."
In Afghanistan, "the United States seeks to prevent the country from becoming a base for terrorist groups that target the United States and its allies and to diminish the potential that Afghanistan reverts to civil war, which would destabilize the region." Afghanistan faces the challenges of "pervasive corruption that breeds the insurgency; weak governance that creates a vacuum; Taliban resilience that feeds an atmosphere of intimidation; and an erratic leader whose agenda may not be the same as that of the United States."
The report's top recommendations, according to the council statement, are:
-"To further enhance Pakistan's stability, the United States should maintain current levels of economic and technical assistance to help military and civilian leaders reconstruct and establish control over areas hard-hit by the flood, including those contested by militant forces." The Task Force recommends "continued and expanded training, equipment, and facilities for police, paramilitaries, and the army."
-"To reinforce U.S.-Pakistan ties and contribute to Pakistan's economic stability in the aftermath of an overwhelming natural disaster, the Obama administration should prioritize—and the Congress should enact—an agreement that would grant preferential market access to Pakistani textiles."
-"As it cultivates a closer partnership with Islamabad . . . the United States still needs to seek a shift in Pakistani strategic calculations about the use of militancy as a foreign policy tool. Washington should continue to make clear to Islamabad that at a basic level, U.S. partnership and assistance depend upon action against LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, and related international terror groups."
-"In Afghanistan, core American security aims can best be achieved at a lower cost if the United States manages to shift a greater burden to Afghan partners," explains the Task Force. "The United States should encourage an initiative with three complementary elements: political reform, national reconciliation, and regional diplomacy."
-"Political reforms should aim to grant a greater voice to a broader range of Afghan interests," states the Task Force. "Rather than leaving the reconciliation process to [Afghan] President Karzai and his narrow support base, Washington should participate fully in guiding a broad-based, inclusive process, bearing in mind that a rapid breakthrough at the negotiating table is unlikely. Afghan reform and reconciliation should then be supported by a regional diplomatic accord brokered by the United States."
-"To foster Afghanistan's viability as a security partner, the United States must continue to build cost-effective Afghan security forces appropriate to the capabilities necessary to protect the population. This will require more army and police trainers, as well as an expansion of community-based stabilization forces."
-"Afghanistan needs a self-sustaining foundation for generating jobs and revenue that will reduce dependence on international assistance. To meet this need, the United States should encourage private sector investment in Afghanistan's considerable mineral and energy resources, its agricultural sector, and in the infrastructure needed to expand trans-Afghan trade."
Another recent study on the region, this one a "Year in Review" from the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, finds that leadership and training deficiencies are the main challenges for NATO trainers as the security force nears the end of its first full year helping build the Afghan National Security Force, Inside the Pentagon reports this week:
The report comes as President Obama's proposed July 2011 draw-down of U.S. forces nears, and as the newly elected Republican-controlled House of Representatives prepares to define its goals for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report, released Nov. 9, details the force's challenges, progress and goals in its aims to help the Afghanistan National Security Force professionalize and train its own forces.
"Assisting our Afghan partners to build an enduring and self-sustaining force remains a distinct challenge, and the attainment of the growth objectives for the next year is not assured," the report adds.
"There will continue to be leader shortfalls in the Afghan National Army, and some corrupt and inefficient leaders remain in the Army and Police," writes NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan commander Lt. Gen. William Caldwell in the report. "Attrition also is a constant challenge that undermines professionalization, delays growth, and degrades quality. NTM-A will support our Afghan partners to continue growth, build support and enabling forces, develop self-sustainable security systems and enduring institutions, and begin the process to professionalize the force."
-- John Liang