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Abstract

Afghanistan approached in 2009 a tipping point. Its stabilisation hangs in the balance. The strategy for Afghanistan which President Barack Obama presented in March 2009 and which was accepted by the allies at NATO’s StrasbourgKehl Summit in April –amounts to a step-change. However, it came a year too late. The 2008 Bucharest Summit could have agreed new contributions, above all from Europe. Another year was been lost in Afghanistan’s stabilisation. Neither the US’s counter-terrorist operation Enduring Freedom nor the European reconstruction strategy has so far proved effective. The approval of Obama’s new Comprehensive Approach in Bucharest offered the first framework that brings together political, economic, social and military aspects. In this regard, the EU missed out on the chance to position itself as a key player in this conflict
Nº 10 - MAY 2009
> > POLICY BRIEF
I S S N : 1 9 8 9 - 2 6 6 7
David García Cantalapiedra
Is there a better strategy
for Afghanistan?
>>Afghanistan is approaching a tipping point. Its stabilisation
hangs in the balance. Increased international commitment has
been forthcoming for the August 2009 elections.
The strategy for Afghanistan which President Barack Obama presented
in March – and which was accepted by the allies at NATO’s Strasbourg-
Kehl Summit in April – amounts to a step-change. However, it comes
a year too late. The 2008 Bucharest Summit could have agreed new
contributions, above all from Europe. Another year has been lost in
Afghanistan’s stabilisation.
Neither the US’s counter-terrorist operation Enduring Freedom nor
the European reconstruction strategy has so far proved effective. The
approval of Obamas new Comprehensive Approach in Bucharest offered
the first framework that brings together political, economic, social and
military aspects. In this regard, the EU has missed out on the chance to
position itself as a key player in this conflict.
ADVANCES
The new US strategy reflects some of the lessons learned in Iraq.
Nobody should overlook the fact that the ultimate aim of the new
strategy, according to the document itself, is the defeat and disman-
tling of Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Efforts are to be focused on disrupting
and destroying terrorist networks in Afghanistan; building a capable
and effective Afghani government and local institutions; and develop-
ing security forces capable of taking on the insurgency with minimum
international help. The new strategy is predicated on an integrated
• While the new US strategy
for Afghanistan includes some
encouraging moves towards
a more integrative approach,
shortcomings remain.
• The new strategy has
implications for European
policies far beyond the
headline-grabbing question of
new troop commitments.
• The areas of policy related
to governance and security
sector reform are particularly
in need of improvement on
the European side.
• Effort is being made to
link the Afghanistan and
Pakistan questions, but these
fall short of the fully
regional approach needed.
HIGH L I GHTS
2
IS THERE A BETTER STRATEGY
FOR AFGHANISTAN?
approach which aims to coordinate all interna-
tional institutions located in Afghanistan.
The objective is to achieve a united front in car-
rying out the goals of the Comprehensive
Approach in every district of the country. In this
regard, the integrated approach is based on three
inter-connected objectives – development, secu-
rity and governance. This view accepts as its
starting point the argument that a purely mili-
tary solution does not exist. Any solution must
be political and be put in place by the Afghans
themselves. Whilst this process is underway, the
security forces must protect the population by
providing a secure zone, good governance and
development. The security forces carry out their
operations following the dynamic of “Shape,
Clear, Hold and Build”.
The integrated approach respects the principles
of the new form of counterinsurgency designed
in the wake of Iraq. This is a kind of COIN-
plus strategy: unity of effort, prioritising the
political, understanding the environment,
intelligence guided operations, isolation of
insurgents, security under the rule of law, and a
long term commitment. Besides, it is vital that
there is significant adaptability to situations on
the ground in the political, economic and mil-
itary spheres. Capacities and powers must be
conferred to those working at the grass roots
level. ISAF PRTs and United Nations teams,
along with provincial authorities, are to devel-
op a vision more in tune with the needs of the
local population.
The increase in troops is only part of an integrat-
ed approach which must be sought equally in
terms of development, security and governance.
Besides, it must have the Afghan popu-
lation at its centre. Without security, it will
be impossible to establish development pro-
grammes or create institutions - fundamentally
local government, the army and police. ISAF
commander, General David McKiernan, has
made it crystal clear that the whole strategy
is focused on the Afghan population. This is
not just “Afghanisation” in terms of granting
increased capacities and responsibilities to the
Afghans themselves. It also comes in the shape of
needs-oriented institutions.
The problem with putting the integrated
approach into practice is that whilst “Afgha-
nisation” is taking place, a substantial contribu-
tion in terms of security is required. But that
contribution is not only necessary in terms of
the number of troops on the ground. Providing
more troops by itself is not enough. Troops
must be deployed in certain areas, charged with
carrying out specific functions. To a large
extent, the lion’s share of the combat forces will
be deployed in the south and east of the coun-
try. Some of these forces will be earmarked to
train the Afghan army and police, above all
through the new programme Focused District
Development (FDD).
IMPLEMENTATION PROBLEMS
The application of the integrated approach will
encounter serious problems arising from exist-
ing institutional dynamics and the insurgency.
The early phases of the strategy have run into
three basic problems: a lack of coordination;
the need to prioritise “more government” as
opposed to “more governance”; and the lack of
emphasis on the broader regional context.
First, the integrated strategy must solve the
problem posed by a lack of coordination and
cooperation between ISAF, the UN, Afghan
institutions and governments still in command
of PRTs. A dearth of unity in effort and com-
mand can be observed. There is a reluctance in
some quarters to accept ISAF’s leading role. In
the security-development-governance trinity, in
theory ISAF should only be responsible for the
first of these three aims. But in practice it has
led on all three elements due to its enhanced
capacities, established presence in the country
and superior coordination with the Afghan
institutions; and, of course, because guarantee-
ing security has imposed itself as the priority
objective due to the situation on the ground.
>>>>>>
POLICY BRIEF - Nº 10 - MAY 2009
3
The Afghan Ministry of Defence is requesting
more cooperation and coordination of different
national positions. It complains of a gap between
real needs (for example, paramilitary training for
the police) and EU donors’ focus on implanting
European standards of policing. Many training
programmes are of little practical use for the kind
of situation the Afghan police is most likely going
to encounter. Yet
police bodies like
the Spanish Guardia
Civil, the Italian
Carabinieri or the
French Gendarmerie
would be ideal for
this task. The Af-
ghan police has been
offered training gea-
red to policing secu-
rity situations typical
of western democra-
cies operating under
the rule of law. As a
result it has found
itself in paramilitary and counter-insurgency situ-
ations which it simply has not been trained for.
Casualties have been high.
The FDD is advancing towards a kind of train-
ing and assessment more focused on paramili-
tary situations. The creation of up to seven dif-
ferent police bodies dedicated to different tasks
could be avoided by creating one body with
similar characteristics to European police
forces. However, the German GPTT and the
EUPOL programmes would not seem to be
appropriate to the environment in which
Afghan security forces have to function.
GOVERNMENT VERSUS GOVERNANCE
Governance does not seem to be one of the pri-
orities for the Afghan authorities so much as
the creation of a “government” capacity. This
means building institutions with capacities and
resources sufficient for self-governance and a
move to autonomy in relation to the current
dependency on international organisations. For
Afghans, as well as some organisations on the
ground, institution building is the first and
foremost priority. The procurement of
resources for security, infrastructure, regional
and local government, and above all, the recon-
struction of the economic and education sys-
tems are considered the first steps towards
meaningful independence.
The dearth of institutions, and their dysfunc-
tionality, is the most serious problem in the
short term. The absence of the kind of security
forces that would really protect the population,
along with malfunctioning or poorly executed
infra-structure programmes, creates a lack of
trust among the population at large. This cre-
ates the sensation of a lack of commitment.
Subcontractors in turn subcontract, leading to
infrastructure of inferior quality, more acci-
dents in the workplace and public work proj-
ects being abandoned owing to fear of the
insurgents. ISAF forces quickly abandon
secured areas, allowing insurgents to return, or
even worse still, find it impossible to hold an
area due to insufficient troop numbers. In cases
like these, the return of the insurgency leads to
terror being spread throughout the local com-
munity. The latter is dissuaded from support-
ing the government and international organisa-
tions, even though the vast majority of the pop-
ulation do not support the Taliban.
This identification of “more government” as a
goal is reflected in the need to prioritise securi-
ty both quantitatively and qualitatively. This
matter has been identified as a priority not only
by ISAF but also by members of PRTs, and
even by NGOs situated in “hot spots” like Kan-
dahar. Some PRT staff are aware that the
approach which they wanted to project in their
zones was erroneous (for example in Mazar-i-
Sharif, under Swedish command). Making
reconstruction the priority is called into ques-
tion even by development advisors, who are
increasingly giving security priority and have
even denominated the PRT as the Provincial
Security Team. >>>>>>
Many training
programmes are of
little practical use
for the kind of
situation the Afghan
police is most
likely going to
encounter.
A REGIONAL APPROACH
Debate is only now beginning on the need for a
regional approach. The insurgency is not just a
national problem, but a regional one too. Even if
the stabilisation of the country is secured
through the Integrated Approach and a policy of
reconciliation and reinsertion of the Afghan
insurgents, success will be elusive while a third
of fighters have their command centres in
Pakistan. Yet the Integrated Approach is not
designed to tackle this aspect of the conflict. The
Obama Administrations new strategy focuses on
the need for a solution to the Pakistani Taliban
Al-Qaeda insurgency. But the broader regional
dynamics, involving Iran, India and the states of
Central Asia, are still ignored.
SOME LESSONS
Carl von Clausewitz stated that the first thing
that a commanding officer must do is correctly
identify the kind of conflict he is going to take
part in and then establish the right strategy to
deal with it. Neither the US nor its European
allies forecast the situation in Afghanistan
accurately. Besides, fewer resources than those
required were put on the ground.
Sending reinforcements to areas which are
already largely stable as a temporary support
over the election period will not help in the
long term. Nor will it send a strong message to
the insurgency in terms of NATO’s commit-
ment. We are witnessing an Americanisation of
security and development aid. PRTs, like the
one at Mazar-i-Sharif under Swedish control,
are carrying out their projects thanks to money
from USAID. The EU’s absence and the inca-
pacity of some member states to establish a
coordinated strategy in Afghanistan could lead
to the irrelevance of the EU as a key actor in
the prevention and resolution of conflicts.
Besides problems in putting the new strategy
into place, the reality amounts to a complex
environment; several fronts at once, in both
Afghanistan and Pakistan; two conflicts, one
top of the other, against Al Qaeda and the
Taliban groups; different regional and interna-
tional views and interests in the West and
neighbours, above all Iran and India. If the
Taliban insurgency continues to gain ground in
Pakistan, all efforts will have been in vain,
because a regional conflict in Asia would by
then be a real possibility.
David García Cantalapiedra, Department of
International Studies, Complutense University,
Madrid. Dr Cantalapiedra has just returned
from a NATO sponsored trip to Afghanistan.
4
IS THERE A BETTER STRATEGY
FOR AFGHANISTAN?
4
>>>>>>
e-mail:fride@fride.org
www.fride.org
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