Small Wars Journal

US Accelerates Abandonment of Afghan People

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US Accelerates Abandonment of Afghan People

Stephen B. Young

From the beginning of our engagement in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power and prevent them from re-establishing a control regime over the country, we use a Kabul-centered strategy with tactical operations radiating out into the countryside from urban enclaves and secure military bases.  The operational framework for strategy presumed a Westphalian nation state reality where a central government through its descending hierarchy of military commands and bureaucratic offices was a natural fit for the politics of the people.

It was not. And so a long war ensued to establish control over the countryside. The war has not gone that well. On May 1, Clayton Thomas of the Congressional Research Service, asserted that: insurgents control 12% of Afghanistan’s 407 districts and contest another 34% while the Kabul government asserts control over the remaining 53.8%, territory in which 63.5% of Afghans live. (R45122; crsreports.congress.gov)

Establishing a monopoly of violence over a territory is the requirement for a Westphalian state under international law. Failure to do so leaves the state subject to political unrest, civil disobedience, large scale criminality, violence, and economic uncertainty.

Not to focus attention on territorial security is, effectively, to abandon all serious efforts to assert central government authority.

Thus, in its April 30 2019 Quarterly Report, the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) revealed that the US military in Afghanistan is “no longer producing its district-level stability assessments of Afghan government and insurgent control and influence”.

The most probable reason for the suspension of such reports is that the mission of the UN in Afghanistan has changed to de-emphasize territorial control. This infers that the US is no longer that seriously committed to the eventual triumph of the Kabul government over its insurgent rivals.

The decision to suspend territorial security reporting may indeed indicate that the process of American withdrawal from Afghanistan is picking up speed.

No important statistic exists which might support a conclusion that the Kabul government is winning the war. Afghan security force casualties rose by 31% from December 2018 through February 2019 over the prior year with insurgent attacks up by 19% against the prior year with nothing to show for the fighting in increased territorial security. Afghan army and police are still under-strength. The US ceased training Afghan pilots after students experienced 40% AWOL.  The US has spent $9 billion combating opium production since 2002. Afghanistan remains the world leader in poppy cultivation. So who really controls the territory where poppies grow?

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SWJ Editor’s Note: The following is a summary of the 30 April SIGAR Quarterly Report’s key points:

-- This quarter, Resolute Support (RS) formally notified SIGAR that it is no longer producing its district-level stability assessment of Afghan government and insurgent control and influence, expressed in a count of the districts, the total estimated population of the district, and the total estimated area of the districts.

-- Despite its limitations, the control data was the only unclassified metric provided by RS that consistently tracked changes to the security situation on the ground. While the data did not on its own indicate the success or failure of the South Asia strategy, it did contribute to an overall understanding of the situation in the country.

-- According to RS, enemy-initiated attacks rose considerably: the monthly average attacks from November 2018 through January 2019 increased by 19% compared to the monthly average over the previous reporting period (August 16 to October 31, 2018).

-- The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 10,993 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2018, an overall increase of 5% compared to 2017. The number of civilians killed (3,804), increased by nearly 11% compared to 2017 and was the highest number recorded since UNAMA began recording civilian-casualty data in 2009.

-- Civilian casualties from attacks deliberately targeting civilians by Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) more than doubled from 843 in 2017 to 1,871 in 2018, mainly from suicide and other attacks, including deliberate sectarian-motivated attacks against the minority Shi'a Muslim population.

-- In 2018, UNAMA reported 1,015 total casualties as the result of aerial operations in Afghanistan, including 536 deaths. During the same period, Resolute Support reported 183 total casualties, including 71 deaths, as a result of aerial operations in Afghanistan.

-- USFOR-A reported that the number of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) casualties sustained between December 1, 2018, and February 28, 2019, were approximately 31% higher than the same period one year prior.

-- AC-208 pilot training classes in the United States were dissolved due to the number of Afghan trainees that were going absent without leave (AWOL). Over 40% of the students in the training went AWOL. The remaining students have been pulled back to complete their training in Afghanistan.

-- Following a significant drought in 2018, severe floods affected more than 163,000 people. Of those affected, more than 42,000 Afghans had been displaced. The UN reported that 63 people had died as a result of the floods and that an additional 31 people had been injured, as of March 19, 2019.

-- As of March 11, 2019, most Afghan households faced acute food insecurity - meaning they were likely to suffer acute malnutrition or be forced to deplete assets to meet minimum needs. Some households had resorted to selling children or forcing them into childhood marriages in order to survive, according to the State Department.

-- According to CSTC-A, the Afghan Attorney General's Office cannot effectively manage its caseload and maintains more than 6,000 outstanding warrants while Afghan government agencies responsible for executing warrants are ineffective and largely unwilling to perform the task. Individuals awaiting trial and convicted felons remain free.

-- The Department of Justice reported that they had "no opinion" on the Afghan government's political will to pursue major crimes and corruption cases, but that recent events indicate an improved commitment to prosecute major crimes and corruption cases. In its most recent report to the State Department, however, DOJ said that while the Afghan government has made some progress, it has not demonstrated it is serious about combating corruption. DOJ also said that the Afghan government needs to demonstrate real initiative to prosecute corrupt actors without having to be told to do so (presumably by international partners).

-- SIGAR analysis of World Bank data shows that foreign grants currently finance more than 70% of combined Afghan government expenditures and off-budget security and development spending. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that the Afghan government's domestic revenues will continue to cover less than 50% of government expenditures through 2023.

Full Quarterly Report: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2019-04-30qr.pdf

Quarterly Report by Section: https://www.sigar.mil/quarterlyreports/index.aspx?SSR=6

Report Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sigarhq/albums/72157708328326514

About the Author(s)

Stephen B. Young served with the CORDS program in the Republic of Vietnam from 1967 to 1971 as a Deputy District Advisor in Vinh Long province and as Chief, Village Government Branch. Young's service with CORDS was recognized by President Richard Nixon, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, and CIA Director William Colby. A fluent speaker of Vietnamese he has written on human rights in traditional Vietnam, Vietnamese legal history, Vietnamese nationalism, and with his wife translated Duong Thu Huong's novel The Zenith into English. Young is a graduate with honors of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He is a former Assistant Dean of the Harvard Law School and Dean and Professor of Law at the Hamline University School of Law. He is Global Executive Director of the Caux Round Table and the author of Moral Capitalism and The Road to Moral Capitalism. His most recent book is The Theory and Practice of Associative Power: CORDS in the Villages of Vietnam 1967-1972.