U.S. National Intelligence Estimate: Gloomy Afghanistan’s future?

According to WaPo’s report a new American intelligence assessment on the Afghan war predicts that the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017 if Washington and Kabul don’t sign a security pact that would keep an international military contingent there beyond 2014.

Questions:

What is your opinion? Is it what we should realistically expect in Afghanistan?

Answer:

Jorrit KammingaVisiting Fellow, Netherlands Institute for International Relations Clingendael

I think the US intelligence assessment report is a bit too pessimistic, especially after my recent trip to Afghanistan with NATO’s Transatlantic Opinion Leaders to Afghanistan (TOLA) tour. Of course a worst-case scenario can be easily constructed if we both pull out our troops and stop funding the Afghan security forces. However, as long as training efforts will continue under a robust new NATO mission and the international community will ensure payment of the salaries of the ANA and ANP, I don´t think we have to worry about a total collapse in 2017.

The most important first step is a stable outcome of the presidential elections. I really think there will be a stable political outcome as all presidential candidates have one thing in common: They know the west will stop funding the government and Afghan security forces if there is no stable government in Kabul. That is also the reason why most (Pashtun) election tickets are quite balanced and include coalitions with the other ethnic groups (vice-presidents, etc). There is a lot of wheeling and dealing going on that I think all leads to a relatively stable outcome. On the other hand, even if the outcome is not completely stable, the west will not immediately stop funding. A collapse in 2017 will of course not only be a defeat for Afghanistan. It will be a defeat for more than 50 countries that have taken part in NATO’s ISAF mission since 2001 – something that is difficult to explain to national parliaments and voters at home after all the sacrifices (dead soldiers) and huge costs involved.

Mark SedraPresident, Security Governance Group (SGG), Executive Director, Centre for Security Governance (CSG), Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Waterloo

On its current trajectory there is a significant probability that we will see significant backsliding in Afghanistan. If the international community withdraws the bulk of their military and development assistance, a return to civil war is a distinct possibility. Many of the gains that have been made in Afghanistan, particularly in the security sector, are simple not sustainable on a political or security basis. To maintain stability, the international community would have to subsidize the Afghan state for the foreseeable future. Moreover, an international security presence would be required for at least a decade. This does not mean that we will see a return to Taliban rule in the short to medium term. Rather we would likely see an Afghanistan where the state maintains real control over only a selection of urban centres and their environs, with the rest of the country divided among local power brokers (including the Taliban). Internecine violence along the borders of these mini fiefdoms would be commonplace.

David IsbyPolitical and defense analyst, Author of books and articles on military and security

The Washington Post article is based on a classified document, the National Intelligence Estimate. So you have to take the world of whoever is willing to tell the Post his or her version of its contents.  But the situation in Afghanistan is indeed frightening.  To the Afghans, like Europeans in 1938-39, it seems that it’s going to happen again, a new war, only more destructive than the last.  Some are looking to escape.  Others to rearm.  Many are concerned the US are willing to prevent a war by making concessions to Pakistan and the Taliban, and that Karzai would be happy to do this to cement his legacy (while he has refused to form a party of designate or groom a successor).  This raises the issue of Pushtun vs, non-Pushtun division, which could contribute to continued radicalization and mobilization.

Simbal Khan, CEO, Indus Global Initiative, Senior Research Fellow Islamabad Policy Research Institute

Nothing in that report is surprising. The successes of the last three years that the report mentions had appeared  reversible from the beginning. Insurgents were never decisively defeated by the coalition. There was a status quo of sorts that was maintained through the transition to Afghan security forces. It would be counter intuitive to believe that the ANSF would be indefinitely able to maintain the status quo with the draw down of coalition troops. The only silver lining is that there is far more consensus within Afghanistan to move towards a political reconciliation process today than there was in the past. This is the only way to prevent the post Bonn framework in Afghanistan from collapsing. The contest of power in Afghanistan must be moved from the battlefield to the political realm. that is the only way of reducing the pressure on the fledgling ANSF and other Afghan state institutions. Most regional countries endorse this path forward.

Anand GopalFellow, New America Foundation

The intelligence estimate appears to be an accurate portrayal of conditions on the ground. The attrition rate of the Afghan army is quite high in places in the south, and its rank and file fight mostly for a paycheck. While the Taliban are relatively weak now, they are likely to reverse at least some of the gains of US forces in the coming three years. Furthermore, many of those gains are the result of the creation of militias that are nominally aligned with the Afghan government. If the government grows weaker, and if the US slacks on funding them, we could see them go rogue or even join the Taliban. Everything depends on how much patronage the Afghan government is able to accrue from outside sources, particularly the Washington. If funds dry up, we might see something similar to the disaster of the mid-1990s.

Linda Robinson, Senior International Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation

My view is that the NIE is overly negative as the previous ones were. The course of Afghanistan’s future security depends heavily on the willingness of the United States to continue providing advisory support to the Afghan security forces as well as financial assistance. The Afghans also need to have a successful election in the spring for the US Congress to be willing to continue this support.

Ryan Evans, Assistant Director, Center for the National Interest, Editor-in-Chief War on the Rocks

The result in Afghanistan depends in large part on the form that U.S. military and financial aid takes post-2014, which will depend on a bilateral security agreement. But no matter what happens, we can expect the following to happen:

1) Much if not most of the rural south and east will fall under the control of the insurgent forces – namely the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin.

2) There will be some level of fragmentation in the security forces, especially the police who are divided and strained by local conflicts and rivals. This will, of course, be much worse should American and allied aid cease due to the lack of a bilateral security agreement.

As I wrote in The National Interest, The United States cannot expect to effectively counter and combat transnational militant groups without a special operations and intelligence infrastructure in Afghanistan—which the zero option would uproot—that provides physical and signals intelligence reach into Pakistan and other parts of the region.” And “If financial support were cut, the Afghan National Security Forces, now numbering nearly 350,000 members, might fracture into a plethora of disgruntled, unpaid militias.”

“True, as I have argued elsewhere, some fragmentation of the security forces may be inevitable, but with continuing U.S. support, fragmentation would likely be limited to the south and the east, and the army would be less affected than would be the police. The zero option could thus lead to chaos across all of Afghanistan.”

“Such instability would inevitably bleed over into Pakistan—a nuclear-armed power and a hotbed of anti-Americanism and extremism—and strengthen groups like the Pakistani Taliban in their quest to usurp the state. It would reinforce Islamabad’s reliance on armed non-state proxies”

 

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