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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 2012


Executive Summary1

Since initial publication in June 2008, the Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan has provided the U.S. Congress semi-annual assessments on developments in Afghanistan and the state of the international coalition’s civil-military campaign. The June 2008 report presented a bleak assessment of the situation in Afghanistan: “The Taliban regrouped after its fall from power and have coalesced into a resilient insurgency.” A year later the situation had declined further; as noted in the June 2009 report: “The security situation continued to deteriorate in much of Afghanistan.” However, these trends gradually began to change as shifts in strategy were supported by critical resources, and in November 2010, the report for the first time highlighted “modest gains in security, governance, and development in operational priority areas,” noting as well their uneven and fragile character. The last three iterations reported that progress has continued to expand, with the most recent report in October 2011 highlighting “important security gains” and “reversal of violence trends in much of the country.”

During the current reporting period of October 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its Afghan partners have continued to build on and expand this progress. The year 2011 saw the first year-over-year decline in nationwide enemy-initiated attacks in five years. These trends have continued in 2012. The performance of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the close partnership between the ANSF and ISAF have been keys to this success. As a result, the ANSF continue to develop into a force capable of assuming the lead for security responsibility throughout Afghanistan. Security progress and the development of the ANSF during the reporting period have enabled the security Transition process to continue in accordance with Lisbon Summit commitments. As of the end of the reporting period, nearly 50 percent of Afghans were living in areas where the ANSF have begun to assume the lead for security.

Despite these and other positive trends during the reporting period, the campaign also continued to face both long-term and acute challenges. The Taliban-led insurgency and its al Qaeda affiliates still operate with impunity from sanctuaries in Pakistan. The insurgency’s safe haven in Pakistan, as well as the limited capacity of the Afghan Government, remain the biggest risks to the process of turning security gains into a durable and sustainable Afghanistan. The insurgency benefits from safe havens inside Pakistan with notable operational and regenerative capacity. The insurgency remains a resilient and determined enemy and will likely attempt to regain lost ground and influence this spring and summer through assassinations, intimidation, high-profile attacks, and the emplacement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Additionally, the Afghan Government continues to face widespread corruption that limits its effectiveness and legitimacy and bolsters insurgent messaging.

The relationship between ISAF and the Afghan Government and its security forces endured significant shocks during the reporting period stemming from: the video release of U.S. Marines defiling corpses presumed to be Taliban fighters; the inadvertent burning of religious materials, including the Holy Quran, by U.S. personnel at Bagram Air Base; "green-on-blue" attacks in which members of the ANSF killed ISAF personnel, such as the killing of two U.S. military officers at the Afghan Ministry of Interior; and the killing of seventeen Afghan civilians in Panjwa’I District, Kandahar Province, allegedly by a lone U.S. Soldier. Although widespread demonstrations sparked by the Quran burnings triggered violence that led to the death of several Afghan citizens, the vast majority of ANSF personnel across the country responded professionally and played a critical role in managing the demonstrations, containing violence, and protecting both Afghan citizens and numerous ISAF and international community facilities and personnel. The effective ANSF response, conducted in accordance with training, demonstrated preparedness to respond to unexpected challenges, commitment to mission, and durability in the relationship with ISAF that withstood impassioned calls by demonstrators to exact retribution amidst a highly charged environment.

KEY MILESTONES (OCTOBER 1, 2011 MARCH 31, 2012)

The continuing decline in year-over-year violence (as measured by enemy-initiated attacks) was the most significant security-related development during the current reporting period. After five consecutive years in which enemy-initiated attacks increased sharply, enemy-initiated attacks decreased by 9 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and decreased by 16 percent in 2012 (as of the end of this reporting period) compared to 2011.

ANSF force growth and training efforts yielded significant operational improvements during the reporting period, and the operational partnership between the ANSF and ISAF remains strong. The ANSF, now responsible for leading security for almost half of Afghanistan’s population, partners with ISAF on nearly 90 percent of all coalition operations, of which the ANSF is the lead for more than 40 percent of those partnered operations. Additionally, the number of Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) units rated as “Independent with Advisors” increased substantially over the last six months. As of September 2011, no ANP unit, and only one ANA kandak,2 had been rated as “Independent with Advisors.” As of the end of the current reporting period, 13 ANA kandaks and 39 ANP units had achieved this rating. These ratings are regularly substantiated by the field performance of the ANSF, which continues to exceed expectations.

Military progress throughout the country and the continued growth and development of the ANSF during this reporting period have enabled ISAF to transfer lead security responsibility to the ANSF. The inaugural tranche of areas for transition, announced in March 2011, have steadily progressed during this timeframe. In October 2011, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the second tranche of provinces, districts, and cities for transition to Afghan security lead. As of March 31, 2012, 20 of 34 provinces had either transitioned entirely or contained districts and cities undergoing transition, accounting for approximately 50 percent of Afghanistan's population. As of publication, discussions are ongoing to designate additional areas that are to transition in the third tranche, accounting for nearly 75 percent of the total population.

During this reporting period, the United States completed the first stage of the phased recovery of the U.S. surge. Consistent with the plan outlined by President Obama in June 2011, 10,000 U.S. troops departed Afghanistan by the end of 2011, and the remaining 23,000 personnel from the surge will return home by the end of September 2012. Despite the surge withdrawal, enemy-initiated attacks continued to decline, due in large part to the increased size and capability of the ANSF.

Following the redeployment of the West Point surge by the end of September 2012, approximately 68,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, and Department of Defense (DoD) planning on force level requirements for 2013 and 2014 will be considered in late 2012. Although U.S. force levels will gradually decrease over this period, the United States remains committed to the long-term security and stability of Afghanistan, and negotiations are progressing on a long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Afghanistan.

INSURGENCY SEVERELY DEGRADED BY ANSF-ISAF OPERATIONS

The ANSF and its ISAF partners capitalized on the operational failure of the insurgency’s spring and summer 2011 campaign and prevented the insurgency from regaining momentum in the fall and winter while consolidating and expanding security gains throughout the country. ANSF-ISAF operations have widened the gap between the insurgents and the population in several key population centers, limiting insurgent freedom of movement, disrupting safe havens in Afghanistan, and degrading insurgent leadership. Continued success of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program appears to be amplifying this trend by degrading Taliban cohesiveness.

During the reporting period, partnered counter-insurgency (COIN) operations by the ANSF and ISAF, complemented by partnered Special Forces targeting of insurgent leaders, produced sustainable gains that seriously degraded the insurgency’s ability to mount a major offensive during the fighting season of 2012. ANSF-ISAF operations remained focused on southern and southwestern Afghanistan. Enemy attacks in Regional Command – Southwest (RC-SW) declined and the overall security situation continued to improve, especially in the critical terrain of the Central Helmand River Valley. Afghan-led security in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province’s first district to begin the security transition process, is progressing well. Three additional districts, as well as Nimroz Province, entered transition during the reporting period. Northern Helmand, however, remains contested, and Nahr-e Saraj remains the most kinetic district in Afghanistan.

The security situation in Regional Command – South (RC-S) also improved during the reporting period, as evidenced by security progress in the decisive terrain of Kandahar and the Arghandab River Valley west of Kandahar City. Afghan-led security in and around Kandahar City is also expanding. Notably, Daykundi became the first province in RC-S to begin the transition process during the reporting period. Nevertheless, Kandahar remains among the most contested provinces in Afghanistan, due in part to insurgent safe havens and freedom of movement across the border in Pakistan's Balochistan province. RC-S terrain is of central importance to the insurgency, and insurgent operations during the spring and summer will likely focus on regaining lost territory and influence in the key districts of Maiwand, Zharay, and Panjwa’i in Kandahar Province.

The security situation in Regional Command North (RC-N) improved dramatically, with enemy-initiated attacks down 60 percent compared to the same period last year. The security situation in Regional Command West (RC-W) also continued to improve as insurgents conducted sporadic operations in an effort to divert ISAF resources and attention away from operations in the south and east. The transition process continues in earnest in both RC-N and RC-W, with various districts and cities in eight regional provinces currently undergoing transition to Afghan security lead.

As a result of insurgent safe havens within Pakistan, such as the Haqqani network's sanctuary in North Waziristan, as well as financial and operational support from various outside sources, the security situation in eastern Afghanistan remains volatile. Although enemy-initiated attacks decreased by eight percent during the reporting period as compared to the same period last year, eastern Afghanistan accounted for 34 percent of all enemy attacks throughout the country, a relative increase of three percent compared to the same period last year. In Regional Command Capital (RC-C), ANSF-led operations resulted in improved security throughout Kabul, highlighted by the successful Afghan-led security operations in support of the Loya Jirga in November and the re-opening of Ghazi Stadium in December. The ANSF response to the April 15 insurgent attack on Kabul demonstrated the clear progress of the command and control of the Afghan Security Ministries as well as the fighting ability of the Afghan National Security Forces. The coordinated response by the ANSF effectively contained the insurgent threats to such an extent that ISAF response forces, although prepared, were not required to assist. Nevertheless, the capital continues to face persistent threats, many of which are planned in and controlled from Pakistan.

The Taliban-led insurgency remains adaptive and determined with a significant regenerative capacity, and retains the capability to emplace substantial numbers of IEDs and conduct isolated high-profile attacks that disproportionately fuel a sense of insecurity. As insurgent capacity to contest ANSF-ISAF gains has eroded, insurgents have increasingly resorted to asymmetric efforts in an attempt to regain territory and influence, including assassinations, kidnappings, intimidation tactics, and strategic messaging campaigns. The insurgency will likely expand its asymmetric operations as a result of its diminished operational capability and in order to conserve diminishing resources.

INCREASINGLY INDEPENDENT, THE ANSF CONTINUES TO MAKE PROGRESS

The ANSF are the backbone of long-term security and stability plans for Afghanistan. During the current reporting period, the ANA and ANP made qualitative progress, displaying growing operational effectiveness.

The ANSF are ahead of schedule to achieve the October 2012 end-strength of 352,000, including subordinate goals of 195,000 soldiers and 157,000 police. Since March 2011, the ANSF have grown from a force of 284,952 to a force of 344,108, including 194,466 soldiers and 149,642 police.

As the ANA and ANP have achieved growth goals, the ANSF and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) have shifted focus from force generation to training and development. More than 112,045 ANSF personnel are currently enrolled in literacy training, which serves as a force multiplier and an incentive for Afghans to join the ANSF. Also during the reporting period, the ANSF, in partnership with NTM-A, gradually developed their nascent logistics, intelligence, communications and other enabling capabilities, which are essential for mission effectiveness and long-term sustainment of the force. In addition, the Afghan National Army Special Forces (ANASF) have emerged as the most capable component of the ANSF and have made impressive strides toward becoming an independent and effective force.

Nevertheless, the ANSF continue to confront challenges, including attrition, leadership deficits, and limited capabilities in staff planning, management, logistics, and procurement. The ANSF also continue to lack enabling support, including air (both transport and close air support), logistics, ISR3, and medical, from coalition resources to perform at the level necessary to produce the security effects required for Transition. Despite polls showing that the ANSF continues to rise in public esteem, corruption and the influence of criminal patronage networks, particularly in the Afghan Air Force (AAF), Afghan Border Police (ABP) and Afghan Uniform Police (AUP), remain a concern that could jeopardize the legitimacy of the ANSF and pose a threat to the Transition process. The managed force reduction of U.S. and international forces will have a corresponding effect on the number of operational partnering opportunities with the ANSF. It remains to be seen what influence this will have on ANSF development.

INSURGENT CAPABILITY DEGRADED AND CONTINUES TO FALL SHORT OF OBJECTIVES

ANSF-ISAF conventional operations, complemented by Special Operations Forces targeting, continue to steadily degrade the influence and the operational capacity of the insurgency. The insurgency failed to regain momentum during the fall and winter following the operational failure of their summer 2011 campaign, and the gap between insurgent intent and capability continued to grow. This has been further exacerbated by the increasing success of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) where reconciliation efforts appear to be hurting Taliban cohesiveness. Since March of last year, there has been a more than three-fold increase in the number of formal reintegrees choosing to leave the battlefield through the APRP.

The Taliban-led insurgency, however, remains adaptive and determined with a significant regenerative capacity and retains the capability to emplace substantial numbers of IEDs and conduct isolated high-profile attacks. As insurgent capacity to directly contest ANSF-ISAF gains erodes, insurgents have increasingly resorted to asymmetric efforts in an attempt to regain territory and influence, including assassinations, kidnappings, intimidation tactics, and strategic messaging campaigns. The insurgency will likely expand its asymmetric operations as a result of its diminished operational capability and in order to conserve diminishing resources.

The insurgency also continues to receive critical support – including sanctuary, training infrastructure, and operational and financial support – from within neighboring Pakistan. In fact, key elements of the insurgency remain potent and threatening due to the availability of sanctuary inside of Pakistan including the Afghan Taliban based in Balochistan Province and the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan Agency.

AFGHAN GOVERNMENT CAPACITY REMAINS LIMITED

The civil-military COIN strategy continues to expand security for the Afghan population, providing the necessary conditions for the Afghan Government to extend effective governance and promote economic and social development.

During the reporting period, the Afghan Government made limited progress towards effective and sustainable governance. The executive branch focused primarily on supporting the security Transition process and negotiating a long-term strategic partnership with the United States. The Loya Jirga, Afghanistan’s highest consultative body, reaffirmed the country’s commitment to such a partnership with the United States. Afghanistan has reached similar agreements with the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Turkmenistan. The Afghan Parliament resumed operations following the resolution of fraud allegations from the September 2010 Wolesi Jirga4 elections and made progress on important legislative initiatives, including approval of the supplementary budget request to recapitalize the Afghan Central Bank for costs related to the Kabul Bank bailout. Importantly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a three-year, $133.6M extended-credit facility program, which is intended to support strengthened economic and financial governance. Considerable progress was also made in the health and education sectors, and critical infrastructure continued to develop.

However, the capacity of the Afghan Government and the extension of effective governance and rule of law have been limited by multiple factors, including widespread corruption, limited human capacity, and uneven concentration of power among the judicial, legislative, and executive branches. Setbacks in governance and development continue to slow the reinforcement of security gains and threaten the legitimacy and long-term viability of the Afghan Government. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Ministry of Interior (MoI) are working closely with ISAF to develop and implement initiatives to combat corruption. Minister of Defense Wardak has personally taken ownership of anti-corruption reforms within the Ministry of Defense and is fighting to make the MoD an example for the rest of Afghanistan. The United States and the international community will continue to work closely with their Afghan partners to address these challenges.

The closure of the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) as a consequence of the November 26, 2011 cross-border incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed remains a strategic concern. The resultant standoff has hampered ANSF equipping and fielding efforts by backlogging thousands of tons of equipment. Failure to settle the GLOC issue will also significantly degrade redeployment and retrograde operations in support of the drawdown of coalition forces. Access to Afghanistan via the Central Asian nations along the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) has ensured the sustainment needs of coalition forces and allowed initial proof of principle shipments for retrograding material from Afghanistan to the United States. Reopening the GLOCs would improve the U.S. and coalition forces' mission flexibility and build capacity. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of the NDN shows the concern Afghanistan's neighbors have for success in Afghanistan and their leaders willingness to work with the ISAF coalition to achieve shared interests towards Afghanistan's security and stability.

CONCLUSIONS

The progress of the civil-military COIN campaign has severely degraded the Taliban-led insurgency, limiting their operational capacity and undermining their popular support. The decline in insurgent capability, coupled with improvements in the operational effectiveness of the ANSF and a resilient ANSF-ISAF partnership, has enabled the security transition process to expand. The transition of security responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014, as agreed at Lisbon, remains on schedule.

The mission in Afghanistan, however, faces long-term challenges. The insurgency draws strength from safe haven and support from within Pakistan and garners popular support by exploiting areas where the Afghan Government has failed to provide sufficient governance, rule of law, and economic opportunities. Afghan Government progress toward key governance and development initiatives remains critical for the sustainability of security gains. Nevertheless, the mission in Afghanistan remains integral to U.S. national security objectives, and the strategy is sound. The United States and its coalition partners are committed to achieving long-term stability and security in Afghanistan to ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for al Qaeda or its affiliates.


1 This report is submitted consistent with both House Resolution 2219 (Report 112-110) and 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 ninth in a series of reports required every 180 days through fiscal year 2014 and has been prepared in coordination with the Secretary of State, the Office of Management and Budget, 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 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 September 30, 2011. NOTE: This is a historical document that covers progress in Afghanistan from October 1, 2011, to March 31, 2012. The next report will include an analysis of progress toward security and stability from April 1, 2012, to September 30, 2012.

2 "Battalion"

3 Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

4 Lower House of the Afghan Parliament


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