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Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan
and
United States Plan for Sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces

April 2011


Executive Summary1

Since the last Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its Afghan partners have made tangible progress, arresting the insurgents’ momentum in much of the country and reversing it in a number of important areas. The coalition’s efforts have wrested major safe havens from the insurgents’ control, disrupted their leadership networks, and removed many of the weapons caches and tactical supplies they left behind at the end of the previous fighting season. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) continued to increase in quantity, quality, and capability, and have taken an ever-increasing role in security operations. Progress in governance and development was slower than security gains in this reporting period, but there were notable improvements nonetheless, particularly in the south and southwest. Overall, the progress across Afghanistan remains fragile and reversible, but the momentum generated over the last six months has established the necessary conditions for the commencement of the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces in seven areas this summer.

KEY EVENTS DURING THE REPORTING PERIOD

The most significant event in this reporting period was President Karzai’s March 2011 announcement of seven geographic areas that would begin the transition to Afghan lead for security later this year.2 Other key events during this reporting period included the NATO Lisbon Summit (which culminated in the Afghan-NATO Enduring Partnership Declaration in November 2010), the U.S.-Afghanistan Security Consultations Forum in February 2011, and the NATO Defense Ministerial in March 2011. Additional important developments included: the seating of the lower house of the Afghan Parliament in January 2011; the meeting of the Joint Afghan-NATO Inteqal (Transition) Board in February 2011; and the commencement, in March 2011, of U.S.-Afghan bilateral negotiations on a long-term, strategic partnership.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review also took place during this reporting period. Conducted in November and December 2010, the review included inputs from across the U.S. Government and from commanders in the field. The review assessed that the United States has made progress on its strategic objectives of denying safe haven to al-Qaeda and denying the Taliban the ability to overthrow the Afghan Government. The ANSF, in cooperation with the United States and its partners, are degrading the insurgency and providing time and space to allow Afghanistan to build sufficient capacity to secure and govern the Afghan people.3

THE SURGE HAS LED TO TANGIBLE SECURITY PROGRESS

The surge in U.S. and coalition forces that arrived in Afghanistan throughout 2010 is responsible for much of the progress seen over the last six months. The final component of that surge (the arrival of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division Headquarters, which assumed responsibility for Regional Command – South) occurred in November 2010. Complemented by an additional 70,000 Afghan security forces, the arrival of 10,000 additional coalition forces, and a tripling of U.S. civilians serving in Afghanistan to over 1,100 personnel, the United States and coalition partners put into place, for the first time, the necessary resources to achieve the objectives set forth in the comprehensive, civil-military campaign plan.

The surge in conventional forces and special operations forces, the increased pace and scope of operations, and the expansion of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program and Village Stability Operations have, together, placed unprecedented pressure on the insurgency. Together, these efforts have driven insurgents out of key population centers in the south, cleared safe havens that the enemy possessed for years, and disrupted its networks and plans. The additional forces have also allowed the coalition to expand operations, particularly into 34 districts that now have ALP units – a four-fold increase from September 2010, when only eight districts had ALP sites. These efforts have allowed coalition and Afghan forces to expand and deepen operations in key areas and to maintain an increased operational tempo throughout the winter months.

There has been security progress in each of the six regional commands in Afghanistan. In Regional Command – East, ISAF and ANSF partnered operations, along with improved crossborder coordination with Pakistan, led to the increased interdiction of insurgents and their supply lines along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In Regional Command – Capital, where Afghans are already in the lead for security on most operations, Kabul continued to enjoy a relatively high level of security, which has enabled economic development and improved governance. The surge also allowed ISAF to increase force levels in Regional Commands North and West, where economy-of-force operations are yielding expanded security and improved freedom of movement in major population centers.

In Regional Commands South and Southwest, ISAF and ANSF continued to focus their efforts on securing the population centers in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces, the traditional heartland of the Taliban. Although there has been an increase in security incidents in these two provinces, this was to be expected as coalition and Afghan operations have taken away long-held insurgent safe havens while the insurgents have fought hard to retain these areas. Noticeable security gains are evident in Kandahar City and several critical surrounding districts, in Uruzgan Province, and in several districts in Helmand Province.

TALIBAN INFLUENCE IS DECREASING

The surge in forces and an increased operational tempo have enabled ISAF to disrupt and degrade the insurgency’s capabilities, contributing to a loss of Taliban influence in key areas across the country. The Taliban remained enormously unpopular in Afghanistan during this period, with 75 percent of the population believing it would be bad for the country if the Taliban returned to power (compared to 68 percent at the end of the last reporting period).4 Insurgent capabilities appear to be declining as well: the proportion of complex attacks (attacks conducted by multiple elements involving at least two types of weapon systems) this reporting period was one-half as high as in the previous six months, and the proportion of effective attacks declined as well. As a result of coalition operations, hundreds of low- and mid-level insurgent commanders have been removed from the battlefield, the insurgents’ freedom of movement is more restricted, and their logistics and plans are increasingly disrupted.

Additionally, several indicators suggest that ISAF operations are steadily eroding insurgent morale. Recent reports point to increased friction between rank-and-file insurgents in
Afghanistan and their senior leadership in Pakistan. Moreover, the progress made by Afghan Government-led initiatives, such as the High Peace Council and the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), in drawing insurgents away from the battlefield suggests that discord within the insurgency may be increasing. Since the APRP became operational in July 2010, more than 700 former Taliban have officially reintegrated into Afghan society, another 2,000 insurgents are in various stages of formal reintegration, and still others have put down their weapons and informally rejoined Afghan society.

THE ANSF ARE KEY TO LONG-TERM AFGHAN SELF-SUFFICIENCY

Capable, professional ANSF are perhaps the most critical precondition for a stable, secure Afghanistan; this reporting period saw significant gains in improving the quantity and quality of those forces. Since September 30, 2010, Afghanistan has added 36,229 new recruits to the ANSF – 21,199 to the Afghan National Army and 15,030 to the ranks of the Afghan National Police. An additional 30,000 ANSF have completed literacy training and roughly 60,000 others are in literacy training on any given day. Two new branch schools opened in the past six months – the armor and signals schools – bringing the total number of branch schools to eleven (of twelve planned). The Ministries of Interior and Defense have also instituted a series of reforms, which are expected to free up leadership billets and encourage merit-based promotions throughout the ranks.

In addition to increasing their numbers, army and police units have also grown more capable and effective. By the end of the reporting period, 75 percent of ANP units in key terrain districts were rated as either “Effective with Advisors” or “Effective with Assistance,” although none were yet rated as independent. In the ANA, 74 percent of battalion-sized units were now rated as “Effective with Advisors” or “Effective with Assistance,” compared to just 51 percent at the end of the last reporting period.

More ANSF units are now operating alongside ISAF partners and mentors as well. As of March 2011, 95 percent of all ANA units and 89 percent of ANP units in key terrain districts were partnered with ISAF troops, and 95 percent of all ISAF operations are conducted side-by-side with the ANSF. ANSF units also comprise a larger percentage of the force in major operations. In early 2010, the ANSF comprised just 30 percent of committed forces in Operation Moshtarak in Helmand Province; six months later, in Operation Hamkari in Kandahar Province, the ANSF comprised approximately 60 percent of overall forces. This greater participation by ANSF in security operations has allowed Afghan forces to assume greater security responsibilities in several areas of the country, including Kabul, where they are already in the lead for security operations.

Even with this progress, challenges remain. NTM-A is currently facing a significant shortfall of ANSF trainers and mentors, which, if not adequately addressed, poses a strategic risk to ANSF growth and an increased risk to transition. Beyond the need for additional trainers, ANSF attrition levels continue to present challenges to force generation. To mitigate attrition, ISAF has expanded incentive programs, including expeditionary pay and a leave transport program for ANSF personnel.

EFFORTS TO IMPROVE GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT CONTINUE

Governance and development are progressing, as may be expected, more slowly than security in most places; nevertheless, some concrete gains have been made in the last six months. At the end of this reporting period, an assessment of 138 of Afghanistan’s 403 districts showed that 49 percent of the Afghan population lived in areas rated as having “emerging” governance or “full authority” – up from 38 percent reported in September 2010. The Afghan Civil Service Institute graduated 16,000 civil servants during this reporting period and instituted an internship program that placed 3,000 college graduates in national and sub-national civil-service positions across the country. In March 2011, residents of Marjah District – the one-time hub of narcotics trafficking in Helmand Province – held elections for a community council in which nearly 75 percent of registered voters participated.

Although progress in development has been uneven, there have been some notable gains. During this reporting period, the Afghan public’s perception of the provision of basic services has improved, numerous important infrastructure projects have progressed, and efforts to bolster the agriculture sector have been yielding results. A new railway link from Mazar-e Sharif to Uzbekistan has been completed, as has a power transmission line to supply electricity to Kabul, a runway extension at Herat Airport, and extensive renovations to the country’s highway network. Other notable achievements in development included progress in streamlining customs collections via automated systems and ongoing efforts to improve the agricultural sector by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Although Afghanistan is currently reliant on international aid, economic growth is steady, and there is great future potential to generate revenue through mineral extraction and through new regional economic trade agreements. Nonetheless, external support will continue to be critical in the near and medium term to help mitigate shortfalls in infrastructure, human capacity, security, and anticipated government revenue.

DIFFICULT WORK STILL LIES AHEAD

Despite the gains in security and in ANSF growth and development, the Afghan Government faces significant political challenges at the national and sub-national levels, which could potentially threaten the progress made in the last six months. At the provincial and district levels, slow development of governance capacity continues to hamper both the reach of the Afghan Government and its effectiveness. Corruption and criminal patronage networks continue to undermine state institutions, and allegations of voter fraud in the September 2010 elections and delays in seating the newly-elected parliament until January 2011 undermined perceptions of legitimacy. Issues of Afghan capacity, including a lack of human capital that impedes budget execution and service delivery, are exacerbated by extensive bureaucracy and areas of corruption that continue to present serious challenges.

Civilian casualties remain a serious concern, despite the fact that a March 2011 United Nations study showed that civilian casualties caused by ISAF and Afghan forces decreased by 20 percent in 2010, even as coalition and ANSF numbers surged and combat operations intensified. In contrast, casualties attributed to the insurgents accounted for 75 percent of all casualties and increased by 24 percent over the previous year. Nonetheless, several incidents in the first quarter of 2011 led to some friction between ISAF and the Afghan Government, which prompted ISAF to establish a civilian casualty mitigation working group to review further the tactical directives governing the use of force. Even as the coalition does its utmost to avoid civilian casualties, it will not impose overly-restrictive rules of engagement that prevent troops from defending themselves.

SUMMARY

The 2010 surge of ISAF forces and civilian personnel, and the ongoing surge of ANSF, has allowed ISAF to get the inputs right in Afghanistan for the first time. As a result, security gains have been made, as have improvements in governance and development. The Taliban’s momentum has been halted and much of their tactical infrastructure and popular support removed, although hard fighting is expected through the spring, summer, and fall of 2011. Key insurgent safe havens have been eliminated, hundreds of insurgent leaders have been captured or killed, and more than 2,000 insurgents have begun re-integrating into Afghan society. The ANSF continue to translate training into operational capacity, and are now regularly operating side-by-side with ISAF troops and proving themselves increasingly capable in combat. Overall, a sound strategy and sufficient resources have given the coalition sufficient momentum to capitalize on these gains through the summer and, in July 2011, to begin the process of transitioning security to the Afghan Government. Nonetheless, the months ahead will see setbacks as well as successes. There will be difficult fighting and tough losses as the enemy tries to regain momentum and key areas lost in the past six months.


1 This report is submitted consistent with section 1230 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Public Law 110-181), as amended. It includes a description of the comprehensive strategy of the United States for security and stability in Afghanistan. This report is the seventh in a series of reports required every 180 days through fiscal year 2012 and has been prepared in coordination with the Secretary of State, the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, and the Secretary of Agriculture. This assessment complements other reports and information about Afghanistan provided to the Congress; however, it is not intended as a single source of all information about the combined efforts or the future strategy of the United States, its Coalition Partners, or Afghanistan. The information contained in this report is current as of March 31, 2011. NOTE: This is a historical document that covers progress in Afghanistan from October 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011. The next report will include an analysis of progress toward security and stability from April 1, 2011, to September 30, 2011.

2 On March 22, 2011, President Karzai publicly announced that transition would begin in July 2011 for the provinces of Kabul (excluding Sarobi District), Panjshir, Bamyan, Balkh (beginning in the municipal district of Mazar-e Sharif), Helmand (beginning in the municipal district of Lashkar Gah), Laghman (beginning in the municipal district of Mehtar Lam), and Herat (beginning in the municipal district of Herat City).

3 The Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review laid out the following priorities for 2011: intensify regional diplomacy to enable a political process that will promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, and exploit the momentum created by recent security improvements to complete transition by 2014 as agreed at the November 2010 NATO Lisbon Summit.

4 Afghanistan National Quarterly Assessment Research, Wave 10, January 5, 2011. Question: "If the Taliban were to return to power, would it be a good thing for the people and the country?"


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