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Initial United States Forces - Afghanistan (USFOR-A) Assessment

Initial Assessment

The situation in Afghanistan is serious. The mission is achievable, but success demands a fundamentally new approach -- one that is properly resourced and supported by better unity of effort. Important progress has been made, yet many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating despite considerable effort by ISAF. The threat has grown steadily but subtly, and unchecked by commensurate counter-action, its severity now surpasses the capabilities of the current strategy. We cannot succeed simply by trying harder; ISAF must now adopt a fundamentally new approach. The entire culture -- how ISAF understands the environment and defines the fight, how it interacts with the Afghan people and government, and how it operates both on the ground and within the coalition1 - must change profoundly.

As announced by President Obama in his March 27, 2009 speech outlining the new U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the mission in Afghanistan has been historically under-resourced, resulting in a culture of poverty that has plagued ISAF's efforts to date. ISAF requires a properly-resourced force and capability level to correct this deficiency. Success is not ensured by additional forces alone, but continued under- resourcing will likely cause failure.

Nonetheless, it must be made clear: new resources are not the crux. To succeed, ISAF requires a new approach - with a significant magnitude of change -- in addition to a proper level of resourcing. ISAF must restore confidence in the near-term through renewed commitment, intellectual energy, and visible progress.

This assessment prescribes two fundamental changes. First, ISAF must improve execution and the understanding of the basics of COIN -- those essential elements common to any counterinsurgency strategy. Second, ISAF requires a new strategy to counter a growing threat. Both of these reforms are required to reverse the negative trends in Afghanistan and achieve success.

ISAF is not adequately executing the basics of counterinsurgency warfare. In particular, there are two fundamental elements where ISAF must improve:

  • change the operational culture of ISAF to focus on protecting the Afghan people, understanding their environment, and building relationships with them, and;
  • transform ISAF processes to be more operationally efficient and effective, creating more coherent unity of command within ISAF, and fostering stronger unity of effort across the international community.

Simultaneous to improving on these basic principles, ISAF must also adopt a profoundly new strategy with four fundamental pillars:

  • develop a significantly more effective and larger ANSF with radically expanded coalition force partnering at every echelon;
  • prioritize responsive and accountable governance -- that the Afghan people find acceptable -- to be on par with, and integral to, delivering security;
  • gain the initiative and reverse the insurgency's momentum as the first imperative in a series of temporal stages, and;
  • prioritize available resources to those critical areas where the population is most threatened.

There is nothing new about these principles of counterinsurgency and organizational efficacy. Rather, they represent profoundly renewed attention to pursuing the basic tenet of protecting the population, specifically adapted for this diverse force and unique conflict, and targeted to work through the most challenging obstacles that have hindered previous efforts.

ISAF's new strategy is consistent with the NATO Comprehensive Strategic Political Military Plan and supports the implementation of President Obama's strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and prevent their return to Afghanistan. ISAF's new approach will be nested within an integrated and properly-resourced civilian- military counterinsurgency strategy.

This will be enormously difficult. To execute this strategy, ISAF must use existing assets in innovative and unconventional ways, but ISAF will also require additional resources, forces and possibly even new authorities. All steps are imperative and time is of the essence. Patience will see the mission through; but to have that chance, real progress must be demonstrated in the near future.


1 - "coalition" hereafter refers to ISAF's coalition of troop and resources contributing nations




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