Afghanistan: Why the UN via ISAF will win
Under the command of the brilliant U.S. General David Petraeus, the 133,000 soldiers strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – operating under the UN Security Council mandate resolution 1386 from December 20, 2001 with 48 nations and in partnership with the government in Kabul and its Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) – will win the war in Afghanistan.
In our estimation, “victory” will take place between 2016 to 2020, embedded into an international UN agreement including all neighboring states – this is the surprising summary of a fact-finding tour in Afghanistan and discussions with experts from different nations and organizations.
Long-term “victory” can be defined from the wording and aims of UN Security Council resolution 1386 and accordingly is the implementation of the following six objectives:
1. Realization of the Principles of the Charter of the United Nations for all Afghans. This includes (a) practicing tolerance and living together in peace with one another as good neighbors; (b) to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples; and (c) promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
2. All Afghans will enjoy inalienable rights and freedom unfettered by oppression and terror.
3. The Afghan forces strictly adhere to their obligations under human rights law, including respect for the rights of women, and under international humanitarian law.
4. Terrorism is rooted out.
5. The provision of security, law and order throughout the country resides with the Afghans themselves.
6. Commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Afghanistan.
These aims of the international community supported by all Islamic states and neighbors represented in the UN run contrary to what the Taliban fight for. Until now they do not accept the principles of the UN, namely: tolerance, human rights, religious freedom, women’s and equal rights or the self-determination of the people.
They fight against the aims of the United Nations and this fundament of global peace.
Success in Afghanistan is neither a victory by the United States of America, nor NATO and other allies, but in core the victory of the United Nations including all 190 member states, as they have instructed ISAF to achieve these objectives.
NATO and ISAF are the main enablers for the UN (only) – something we all should remember.
UN 1386 with a rule of international law and human rights or the nation-building concept of the Petersburg Agreement of December 2001 were very and most probably too ambitious aims which cannot be realized within ten years in a country which is starting from one of the lowest levels of development in the world.
Now pragmatism and an adequate realism prevails for the last several years in the international community, and ISAF should do the doable and not the unreachable with two phases:
First success by ISAF, ANSF, the Afghan government and all supporters by stabilizing the situation (in old NATO terms, a containment and roll-back policy versus the insurgents), by a gradual and lasting development in all areas of security, economics, basic supplies, education, farming with less illegal poppies. With a take-over of all responsibilities by the Afghans themselves in steps – now set to the end of 2014. This has to be combined with peace-negotiations with the Taliban on the national and international level to end the war at the conference table and the prevention of terrorist activities.
Second, after 2014, a long-term "victory" by a peaceful development implementing more goals of UN 1386 step-by-step over the next 10 to 20 years by the Afghan government.
"Victory" or "winning" means in the short-term to achieve a non-reversible development and security progress – like a big boat floating in the right direction – combined with sealing reconciliation and peace agreements locally and internationally preventing any terrorist support.
Our analysis that the UN will win through ISAF is not wishful thinking but is based on the summary and dynamic of ten specific factors:
1. It was only in June 2009 that new ISAF commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal adapted a new counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. This brand new ISAF strategy was implemented step-by-step on the ground and promoted by U.S. President Barack Obama in his West Point speech of December 2009. It includes many hard and soft factors of peacemaking and takes the experience in Iraq into consideration. The primary elements include sufficient military power with a three-fold increase in U.S. forces, a large buildup and partnering of the Afghan National Security Forces with Afghan Local Police in the villages, reduction of collateral damage and the protection of the population, an active double-strategy including improved civilian coordination with much more financial recourses.
An action gap between 2003 until the full implementation of all reinforcements in mid 2010 led to alomost eight lost years because of the concentration of U.S. forces on Iraq, the focus on a central government without experience in Kabul and inadequate, unrealistic and uncoordinated civilian and military planning which started with just 3,000 ISAF soldiers. This enabled the return of the Taliban outside of Kabul, their control of larger areas mainly in the south since 2006 combined with an inefficient centralized government, and a more and more frustrated population.
Not in the last ten years – as is the public perception – but only in the last eight months has ISAF had the proper strategy, satisfactory resources and sufficient Afghan support to win. And the Afghan forces have woken up and grown in strength. The implementation of the aims of UN 1386 can be done only now.
For eight years, ISAF had only a small tool set and was dramatically under-resourced; now it has a complete assortment and many more craftsmen to handle the job.
The power play is completely different now in Afghanistan, in which everything has changed in favor of ISAF and the ANSF and against the insurgents.
Summer 2010 was the turning point and the start of a new era in Afghanistan.
2. A first litmus test of the new comprehensive strategy combining hard and soft factors of peacemaking shows it has worked well in the last eight months in ISAF RC North as well as in the Taliban heartland in the south as clearly seen in the in the city of Marjah. Change is real in many parts of the country according to the assessments of Gen. David Petraeus, then RC North commander Maj. Gen. Fritz, the commander of the 209th Afghan National Army (ANA) Corps Brig. Gen. Wesa and British generals. Or as U.S. Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, the commander of RC Southwest said:
“The real sign of progress is to see these young children out here whose parents trust the environment enough to let their children run free, to see an Afghan army soldier standing by my side who is helping us provide security, seeing the policeman up and down the street doing what policemen do, protect and serve and to see the shops open.”
With new methods and more tools, ISAF and ANSF are on the move and have regained the initiative, placing the insurgents under pressure everywhere.
3. The perhaps 20,000 hardcore insurgents have no chance to win against the now 20-times stronger ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces, which in addition have much more firepower, better logistics and intelligence recourses.
But they can effectively use self-built bombs (IED) to attack ISAF and the ANSF.
The first 4,500 Afghan Local Policemen support the holding of villages against the insurgents as was done successfully in Iraq with home guards.
The insurgents have lost momentum, men, land and weapons like never before in previous years.
There has been real progress on the part of ANSF and ISAF on the battlefield in the last eight months, including conquering large former insurgent territory in the north, west and south with the support of the people living there.
4. The forceful buildup of ANA and ANP with now 270,000 to 306,000 by the end of this year is proceeding according to plan. The important mentoring and partnering with ISAF from the corps to battalion level works well. This includes education, training, motivation, leadership and battle support of the new soldiers.
5. ISAF casualties were the highest per year with 711 in 2010, very tragic but limited for such a large campaign with many more soldiers and the clearing of large insurgent territories.
The soldiers and the top general do want to continue the fight so as not to have lost their comrades in vain. The morale is good.
According to new polls, a majority of Americans favor bringing their boys home as soon as possible, as is also true many other western countries. This is an understandable mood after so many years of action in a country far away and with casualties.
But the reduction in phases is supported, as proposed by U.S. President Obama in his West Point speech, and no majority wants the Taliban back. This position is supported by the Republican opposition and by the majority in the U.S. Congress.
This support is rooted in the American trauma of 9/11 and a consensus in this leading country.
The International Community and America in the first place will remain after 2014 with greatly reduced troop levels to avoid a vacuum such as that in the 1990s, which lead to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as Secretary of Defense Gates mentioned during his visit to Kabul on March 7, 2011.
6. The transition process will start this summer with the aim that in 2014 only the ANSF will be responsible for the security in all provinces. Kabul is quite safe where the Afghan government has been responsible for security since 2008 and shows that transition is possible.
7. Reconciliation offers have been accepted by 1,000 Taliban foot soldiers, which seems to me a good number and start of such a new approach. This is combined with first talks with their different leadership. These negotiations should be formalized and should include Pakistan, all other neighboring states and the UN as well.
8. There is a lack of support for the insurgents from neighboring countries which fear the radicals in their homeland. They receive no effective weaponry as did the Mujahideen in the 1980s, with the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles supplied by the U.S. They are isolated. The support of weapons from Iran, including 40 120 mm rockets found last week, remains limited but should be addressed in the UN Security Council as a violation of resolution 1386.
9. Reduced acceptance of the Taliban in the population that wants peace, security, education and jobs and does not accept their wrong interpretation of the Koran. They are quite frustrated by the Karzai government but are not supporters of the Taliban.
The Taliban’s stone-age concept no longer fits the demands of the people. This is different than in the 1990s, when they were brutal but peacemakers in a long civil war, which has been over now for ten years.
Their concept for Afghanistan is vague and ages away from the demands and dreams of the young elite, the Facebook generation, as seen in Egypt and Tunisia.
It will not produce a prospering Islamic state as in Turkey, but rather chaos once again as in the last 30 years. Nobody likes this idea. What the insurgents really want remains undefined, and they represent a variety of groups.
Their erroneous interpretation of the rule of Sharia without mercy is not in line with the Hadiths of the Prophet and the true teaching of the Holy Koran where each Sura begins: “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate (al-Rahman) and the Merciful (al-Rahim)” – they promote just the opposite.
Their perception of women in Islam is opposite to how the Prophet treated his four daughters Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kultum and Fatimah and his loved first wife Khadijah bint al-Khuwaylid (an emancipated and successful business women who financed him and the birth of Islam). This is true of his other wives after she passed away: always gentle, kindly, joyful with his working, learning and camel-riding women.
The Taliban do not know the Koran and the Prophet well, the true application of Sharia and how a faithful Muslim should behave with respect toward other human beings created by Allah including the “people of the book”. They do not know what the Prophet told his followers in his farewell address or how he treated his enemies when he conquered Mecca, or that you never kill civilians in any Jihad.
Unfortunately they have lost their souls and contact to Allah and have become false Muslims – this will be one of the main reasons for their defeat.
They have turned into lonely fanatics and have become de-humanized like the Crusaders, who killed all without mercy when they conquered Jerusalem in 1099 controlled by the lust for power.
The Prophet has criticized this kind of human behavior many times.
He is with the spirit of UN 1386 and not with the Taliban.
Many have become drug dealers, which is no good for a true Muslim and a sin.
When ISAF leaves province by province to the ANSF leading up to the end of 2014, the main arguments for recruitments in Pashtun tribes – namely, fighting the unbelievers from aboard – will fade away.
Where the Taliban continue to rule, they are not regarded as freedom fighters as were the Mujahideen in the 1980s; rather, they are only feared. They stick to the illusion that they bring order and Sharia justice to the people, but underestimate that many people only come to respect them out of fear.
According to a recent UN report, 75 percent of civilian casualties are caused by insurgents adding to more than 2,000 victims in 2010, which makes them more of a threat than a liberator for the population.
The Taliban are increasingly losing contact to reality and the sympathy of the people not only in the few cities but the thousands of villages as well, which each guerilla movement needs to survive.
They have become outdated fanatics with limited attractiveness, or just plain criminals or drug dealers who terrorize the poor people.
10. After many lost years, an improved civilian buildup in the provinces has begun, pushed by the allies under their integrated approach, and also, hopefully a change from an over-centralized state to local responsibilities.
Any peace strategy worthy of the name needs a stable foundation of good governance, security and a better life for the citizenry.
The time of autocratic leaders who stockpile millions for themselves but are unable to provide dignity and services to their people is over, as the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya show.
This development should be a clear signal for President Hamid Karzai as well. He himself and his government are committed to UN 1386 as well and not to their personal wishes.
The improvement of services to the people must be addressed now by the UN and all donors at the next Petersburg conference and by Afghan politicians on all levels and the parliament, focusing on corruption and good governance.
75 percent of the Afghans see corruption as the greatest problem of their country – a shame for Karzai who did not deliver what a president should according to his oath, the UN task and as a good Muslim as well.
Time is needed for this new strategy to become irreversible, so realistically peace will prevail between 2016 and 2020 compared with the timing of other postwar situations.
We have to shape reality not only adapt to it, as Pentagon strategist Dr. Fritz Kraemer demanded. This means we need not only react to different crises but establish a creative and forward looking Afghanistan policy.
When few realized the dangerous weakness in the ISAF concept, the World Security Network (WSN) five years ago demanded a new efficient strategy for Afghanistan in the newsletter “Afghanistan & NATO mission impossible: A Radical New Grand Design is needed or Defeat is Guaranteed”:
"The West needs a new NATO Double Strategy of Power and Reconciliation and Reconstruction.
Power: The Western nations must continue to maintain power there for some years to come in order to contain the Taliban and defeat the terrorists of al-Qaeda.
Till now, a convincing, credible, efficient and intelligent political-military strategy for Afghanistan has been lacking – a sensible consolidation of power and reconciliation, a genuine political-psychological peace policy derived from the roots of Afghan tribal mentality.
Five years after the start of the mission in Afghanistan, all plans by NATO, the EU and the U.S. should be put to the test from a military and civilian perspective. There can be no taboos and no mere justifications of earlier decisions.
A new emphasis should be placed on the thus far failing and too-weak pillars of real reconciliation and rapid reconstruction. This policy will be realized in the areas of visible and rapid reconstruction aid (infrastructure, police, judiciary, education, middle-class), the inclusion of the Pashtun tribes in the peace process, up to and including negotiations with the Taliban and a ceasefire. Till now, the billions in international reconstruction aid intended for the population have either not reached them at all or too slowly, have vanished or were committed and never delivered.
The conflict should be quickly demilitarized step-by-step with peace being anchored locally. The primary focus will no longer be on a strong central government in Kabul, but rather on a local balance in the many different tribal areas – the atomization of peace making. New police units will be recruited locally. The ISAF will name liaison officers and reconstruction assistants for all tribes, who will realize the most urgent civilian projects quickly in the coming months. The tribes will be firmly included financially in the construction of their region and in local task forces; local ceasefires will be secured through the jirgas present there. Such an approach reflects, by the way, the Afghan tradition and the history of this country, and it eliminates the impression of a solution imposed by foreigners.
NATO and the U.S. should now declare the limited character of their involvement in Afghanistan as a political goal – their high military profile is counterproductive. An important political signal would thereby be made that NATO is not interested in a long-term occupation of the country through foreign troops of different faiths as the Soviets did in the 1980s. U.S. troops should step down now from their high profile to a minimum profile." (see also Afghanistan: A new Grand Strategy for NATO, EU and the U.S.)
These changes were realized only in 2010, late – but not too late.
The Time-Gap and a New Comprehensive ISAF Strategy
President Barack Obama stated the following in his important speech on Afghanistan at West Point December 1, 2009:
"In early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, in Iraq. For the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention."
Sending 12,000 additional troops after his inauguration in February 2009 as a first step, in December 2009 he ordered 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan arriving mid- 2010. From only 32,000 soldiers under President George Bush, the new Commander in Chief tripled the U.S. forces to 97,000. Just as important, according to the new COIN strategy, was to enhance the civilian side and the cooperation with the Afghans.
The impatience of the public after ten years of slow progress, billions of dollars spent, 2,170 ISAF soldiers killed, too many cases of corruption and a manipulation of the presidential elections is understandable, but neglects the reality of an ineffective Afghanistan policy for 90 percent of the time schedule until mid-2010.
This large time gap is the most important reason why ISAF still needs soldiers on the ground. If Washington or the International Community, including NATO, would have started years earlier with a sufficient number of soldiers and an innovative military and civilian double-approach, the soldiers would be back home by now. NATO and the politically responsible foreign and defense ministers in Europe have malfunctioned for too many years lacking a realistic plan to win.
The Comprehensive COIN Strategy
Only in the last eight months has ISAF been implementing the completely new "Comprehensive Strategy", something never done before in the last ten years.
It is a large toolbox of a dozen kinetic and soft elements, a mix of military and civilian elements, ISAF and ANSF, and a cascade of combined planning and implementations based on the needs of locals and the reality on the ground.
This integrated approach aims to clear and hold former insurgent land so that normal life can return to those regions.
Core elements are to protect the population, a build-up of a much stronger Afghan army and police force, an increase in ISAF forces, improvement of civilian/military cooperation, and a transition process district-by-district to transfer security responsibility to the Afghans step-by-step within the coming years up to 2014.
Funding and Build-Up of ANA and ANP
At the important London conference in January 2006, the international community agreed to an Afghan National Army of only 70,000 until 2010, which is a shockingly low number when you consider that under standard counterinsurgency rules, one needs around 400,000 to protect Afghanistan. Who was responsible for this wrong decision-making, and why did no one from NATO or Europe or the U.S. Congress protest against this dangerous planning, which would make a withdrawal by ISAF impossible? Now the army has reached twice the size as planed in London and will even grow stronger.
In 2010 and 2011, the U.S. will spend $20 billion alone for training and equipping of the Afghan Security Forces, the same amount available for the seven-year period from 2002 to 2009. From 2012 to 2016 another $20 billion will follow.
From a strength of 270,000 total (ANA 152,000 und ANP 119,000) the Afghan National Security Forces will be increased to 305,000 by the end of this year. 34,500 are now in training, which lasts four to eight months. The training and build-up is ahead of schedule. A discussion has begun to perhaps enlarge the forces to 400,000, which should be supported in the Petersburg Conference near Bonn the end of this year.
The skill and discipline cannot be compared with ISAF and NATO professionals. But with each operation the know-how of the ANSF is increased through “training on the job.” The embedded ISAF officers are pleased with the progress, but also need a lot of patience. In a country with a high illiteracy rate of 70 percent it is difficult to find young men with an education. To address this problem, a huge literacy program has been started to train ten thousands of members of the security forces to read and write.
Recent negative reports are overrated, as the ANA and ANP fight with no less discipline than their enemies the Afghan way.
The Achilles' heal is the Afghan National Police which, according to the new strategy, has to take over the control and hold of former insurgent territory from the army. Here greater efforts are needed.
Against the wishes of President Karzai, who wants to have everything under his control, the U.S. pushed for the establishment of the "Afghan Local Police" (ALP). In the last three months, 4,500 men have been trained in the countryside to protect their villages in the south, a program that was key in Iraq to contain the insurgents and must get the full support of NATO.
Civilian-Financed Support Doubled and Manpower Tripled
Three times more civilians are now working in the country. Germany, for example, has doubled its development funding in the north to 430 million euros per year; it spent 1.2 billion euros from 2002 to 2009 in Afghanistan for civilian projects and will support the build-up with another 1.6 billion Euros from 2010 to 2014. Other nations have increased their support as well with Japan as the paragon.
Better Coordination of Military with Civilians
A senior Civilian Representative on ISAF command level actively coordinates the equally important civilian projects such as infrastructure, education and hospitals. He has representatives in each command region down to the local Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) level.
All major projects have to be integrated to the central planning in Kabul. Nations like Germany hold annual negotiations to reach the agreement of the government for their ventures. These activities, which give the population confidence in the government and weaken the insurgents, seem to be better managed now than before. This is combined with ad-hoc support in those areas cleaned from the insurgents.
A Comprehensive Approach with Partnering and COIN Works
Key to ISAF’s new counterinsurgency strategy is to reduce collateral damage – not to produce more enemies than you kill in the population. A strict code of conduct limits the use of firepower. According to the UNAMA Annual Report 2010 Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts, ISAF and ASF were able to reduce civilian casualties by 28 percent, in spite of the fact that forces had been increased and the number of operations as well.
Maj. Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz (German Army) in his farewell address of February 24, 2011, summarized his experience with 10,000 ISAF solders and 20,000 ANA and ANP forces in RC North:
"In Operation ‘Sher Chesan’, combined with ‘Hammazag’, significant terrain could be secured in Chahar Darreh province late 2010. Operation ‘Jadid’ in the Baghlan area secured the successes of the Operations ‘Taohid’ and ‘Mahtap-e-Kamel’. Afghan and international forces cooperated should to shoulder in the spirit of partnering".
Here, for the last several months, ANA and ANP have held the land of the former insurgents and normal life has returned to the people. Several smaller projects from the civilian side and PRTs bring jobs and a better life to the region.
Lt. Gen. Rainer Glatz, commander of the German Central Command in Potsdam, praised “partnering” as "the most promising way", a combination of on-the-job training and combined operations, to transfer responsibilities into the hands of the Afghans.
In the south, American Special Forces were able to capture or kill 3,000 insurgents in 1,600 missions over the last ten months according to Gen. Petraeus.
In February 2010, “Operation Moshtarak” led to the victory of U.S., UK and Afghan Forces at the important provincial capital Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.
The Taliban stronghold city of Marjah is a benchmark for ISAF progress in the south. As NATO reported in a background paper:
"In early 2010, Marjah, then a town in the Nad Ali district of Helmand province, was an area completely controlled by insurgents. It was a centre for bomb-making and narcotics production which had also been fuelling the insurgency in other regions. The Taliban flag had flown over the town for several years. The estimated 80,000 residents who live in Marjah and surrounding villages were in many respects held hostage by the insurgents, their government unable to provide any security or services.
Afghan and NATO forces launched Operation Moshtarak – meaning ‘Together’ in Dari – which was aimed at removing the insurgents and re-establishing government control in the Helmand River Valley area. As part of Operation Moshtarak, security operations began in Marjah on 13 February 2010, with a dramatic night-time helicopter assault, representing the first major Afghan-led counterinsurgency operation since the start of President Karzai’s second term.
One year on, there has been real progress in Marjah. Today, Marjah, now a distinct district, has a governor, schools, health clinics and half a dozen markets that continue to grow. Afghan police patrol the streets and residents now feel safe enough to travel to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, wherethey can benefit from other government services including agricultural support for licit crops. Marjah is a perfect example of implementation of our comprehensive civil-military approach. It is both solidifying the security gains that have been achieved over the last months, and capitalising on them by helping Afghans and international stakeholders develop governance, carry out reconstruction activities, initiate economic projects and continue expanding security.
Since the launch of Operation Moshtarak in Marjah in February 2010, the Afghan government has been able to establish an Afghan Uniformed Police force in Marjah that has recruited and trained more than 270 police officers. There are four police stations with plans to build an additional one. The Afghan government recently approved Marjah to participate in the Afghan Local Police programme, which will help to support local police. This programme, which mobilises entire communities, will enable the community to defend itself against the Taliban under supervision of local elders.
Since July 2010, there has been an 80 percent reduction in insurgent activity in Marjah. Insurgent intimidation around the 5 main bazaars (Balikino, Loy Chareh, Choor Chareh, Karo Chareh, Kim) has significantly reduced and the bazaars are beginning to thrive. The success of joint operations between Afghan and coalition forces throughout Marjah, and an increased presence of the Afghan government is continually degrading the insurgents’ ability to intimidate the local people. In February 2010, the Afghan government had only two or three representatives in Marjah. A year later, Marjah has approximately 20 government officials working for the district. The people of Marjah are beginning to work with the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces, as evidenced by local elders stepping forward to engage with government officials and to help coordinate development projects and security efforts within the district.
On Election Day, 18 September 2010, despite threats from the insurgency to ‘destroy’ the election process, the district’s leadership and Afghan security forces planned and carried out a successful security plan. Nearly 100 election workers were safely transported by the Afghan National Army and Police to 12 polling sites throughout Marjah. Twelve hundred Marjah residents registered to vote with 935 of them casting their ballots.
Earlier this year the citizens of the town elected leaders within their community to form a District Community Council that will represent their views and concerns to the District Government, which in turn is connected to the Provincial Government and the Afghan Government.
As part of a Counter Narcotics program, the Afghan Government’s Food Zone Program has supplied 5,500 provincial farmers with fertilizer, wheat and vegetable plant seeds at a government subsidized price. Ninety-three percent of the farmers in Marjah have now benefited from this program. ISAF continues to report that the planting of illicit crops has diminished considerably with a significant percentage of local farmers in Marjah growing legal crops.
Increased security and improved road infrastructure has cut the travel time between the Marjah District Centre and northern Marjah to 30 minutes from 1 hour 30 minutes just six months ago. In particular, this has given farmers access to markets which were previously inaccessible. Several road improvement projects within Marjah are ongoing which will further provide the population with better access to markets.
The education system in Marjah has seen substantial improvements over the last year, with eight schools now operating, and an increase in the number of enrolled students from 200 to more than 1,000. The number of girls enrolled in the Marjah school system has increased from zero to more than 100. With the reconstruction of Marjah Central High School, which is now 20 to 30 percent complete, Marjah now has the highest student attendance in the district with more than 500 students.
As elsewhere in Afghanistan, healthcare is still an emerging capability. Marjah however now has a comprehensive health clinic, two sub-centres and 25 health posts - something the residents did not have under the violent rule of Taliban."
Kandahar and the districts of Panjwai, Zhari and the very important Arghandab valley with the city of Sangin followed. From here, 50 percent of heroin income for the Quetta Shura of the Taliban was made in the past. The city of Mardschah was as well taken from the Taliban.
Two-thirds of the American reinforcements from 2010 are now deployed in Helmand province in the southern heartland the Taliban. The successes are impressive as these forces have driven off the Taliban in their home turf of the Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
Kabul looked encircled in 2009, now the roads are open and the Afghan government takes care of its own security there.
The Taliban have lost 120 weapons and explosives caches per week in the past four months, four times more than a year ago. This is most noteworthy since the bulk of those findings are due to tips from the local population, which obviously is increasingly confident in the permanent security presence of ISAF and the ANSF (“hold” and “build” phases).
In several operation areas the balance of power has changed in favor of the government. The momentum is with ISAF and the ANSF.
First-Class Comradeship and Fighting-Spirit in ISAF
With 48 nations in a 10-year-long operation, ISAF is the longest and most international operation in 100 years, with more nations involved over a longer period of time than in WW II.
This huge and complex cooperation works well now including the dominating U.S. and smaller nations like Germany or Great Britain, which praise the support by the U.S. forces.
Actions are mainly Washington-driven as the Americans provide 75 percent of the troops and the overwhelming amount of funding. The U.S. are partnering with 48 nations without the arrogance of a super power fair and with comradeship.
Nevertheless, to date 2,170 soldiers of all nations have fallen in ISAF missions; their troops in Afghanistan are committed to finishing the job and avoiding a lost victory for their fallen comrades. This is most impressive. The deadly IED attacks will not soften but harden ISAF; this is the clear message of the soldiers on the ground.
Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Program
The reintegration of insurgents has started well. 1,000 former fighters were demobilized during recent months according to ISAF estimates, which is a first step. And round about 2,000 more are in negotiations with the local Afghan authorities at this point in time. One cannot expect more at the beginning.
Transition from ISAF to ANSF starts in 2011
The first districts for the transition process, which will transfer the security responsibility from ISAF to the ANSF, will be announced this month by President Hamid Karzai.
It will be “a conditions-based process” rather than “a calendar-driven single event” and flexible depending on the individual situation of each district and region. In June 2011, the first districts and provinces will start a one-and-a-half to two-year process for a complete takeover of security by Afghan forces. Then other districts will follow. This transition should be completed in 2014.
ISAF forces no longer needed there will be transferred to instable districts to clear them of insurgents (“re-investment of forces”). Only the roll-on strategy works to pacify Afghanistan as the number of ISAF soldiers is only enough to clear and hold half of the country according to estimates of Gen. Petraeus.
The Insurgents Cannot Win
The insurgents have no chance to win Kabul or the north and west, and even in the south ISAF is much stronger now. They lack the needed financial and modern weapons support the Mujahideen had in the 1980s to defeat the Russians (then provided by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan).
The population is tired after 30 years of war and wants peace now including the majority in the countryside.
The political concept of stone-age Islam does not fit the needs of the people for peace, education and jobs.
The traditional rivalry will start again within the Taliban groups themselves.
Any insurgent movement needs the support of the people. The trend is running against acceptance.
No Support for Insurgents from Outside
All surrounding countries now must have a national interest to contain radical forces, including Pakistan, as otherwise they risk destabilization later on. The same is true for funding from Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia or the UAE, which were of great help to the Mujahideen in the 1980s and who even had diplomatic ties with the Taliban in the 1990s. If Iran sends more weapons to Afghanistan, it is a violation of UN 1386. The new Petersburg Conference at the end of 2011 should integrate all countries in the region to the containment of insurgents, including Pakistan and Iran.
Negotiations with the Taliban Need Structure and Pakistani Support
Negotiations with the Taliban should not be left to President Hamid Karzai alone, but need a broader international structure including all neighboring states and the UN. (see Hubertus Hoffmann, Afghanistan: Negotiations with the Taliban as the Path to Peace)
Pakistan has to be included into the Afghan reconciliation process soon in order to safeguard the first gains from outside, to pacify the Pashtun heartland in the south through reconciliation, to cut off support from FATA, and to stabilize this nuclear state as well.
Former Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Forces and Director of ISI, General Ehsan ul Haq, a member of the WSN International Advisory Board, stated in a WSN interview:
"No country has suffered more on account of the strife in Afghanistan than Pakistan.
A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interest because it cannot hope to achieve internal peace without it.
Pakistan has legitimate and vital stakes in the future of Afghanistan.
However, in the current environment of pessimism regarding the success of the military strategy and progress of the peace track, there is a distinct attempt to malign Pakistan, overburdening it with unrealistic expectations militarily and its so-called influence over the Taliban.
Pakistan must do its utmost to support the initiation and success of a peace process that could lead to termination of violence, a stable and inclusive political dispensation and a safe early exist for all foreign forces. However, it needs to be careful in accurately assessing and projecting its real influence (and trust) with the warring parties and guard against being embroiled in the internal situation of Afghanistan.
Efforts to seek a political solution must be undertaken simultaneously and reinforced to achieve meaningful progress. To facilitate early commencement of dialogue and negotiations, it is essential to structure a framework able to guide this process. The framework should recognize the principal stakeholders and the prime adversary, list their demands/interests and propose a road map for the dialogue process. The process would have to be initiated through credible intermediaries who have the trust of the principal adversaries. While initially indirect, the effort should be to rapidly progress to direct contacts between the principal adversaries. There is a growing perception that the political track has been relegated to the conditioning of the operational environment by the progress of the surge." (see Gen ret Ehsan ul Haq interview on Afghanistan and Pakistan)
An embedded Afghanistan strategy must include Pakistan in a comprehensive AfPak strategy as late U.S. Ambassador Richard Holebrooke demanded again and again.
The Centrist State Model Does Not Fit
The basic problem of the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is its centralized presidential constitution, a historic mistake by U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Collin Powell in the Petersburg Agreement 2001.
An old mistake of U.S. foreign policy has come back to take its revenge in Afghanistan: the dream of stability through a strongman befriended by the U.S. This model failed most recently in Egypt, and it is also the wrong recipe for Afghanistan.
This is above all true here, because in Afghanistan the tribes have primarily sorted out matters locally through their ancestral, proto-democratic jirgas. Only when no consensus was possible at this level was a decision pushed up to a higher instance, and in only perhaps 20 percent of cases did a higher instance have to decide. This has been the way here for over 100 years. Now this system has been turned upside down: those at the lower level have no decision-making power and the President decides over everything. That can only go wrong and has gone wrong for the last ten years.
The 14-million-strong Pashtun community mistrusts Kabul too, as they think it is dominated by the Northern Alliance and foreigners which they never tolerated the last 100 years.
U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry noted in his secret cable to Hillary Clinton from November 6, 2009:
"There is no ruling class which provides an overreaching national identity."
The U.S. pressure on the Petersburg Conference for centralization anchored in the constitution became a severe risk factor for a victory of the UN and real peace in Afghanistan.
The Afghan constitutional experts present at these negotiations wanted a decentralized state in a traditional model. They preferred a weak monarch, who at that time resided in Rome. That would have worked marvelously and would have accelerated reconstruction. Afghanistan has to be constructed with a sensitive balance of power of local tribes and not from a top-down approach by a forced central power. When the center of power is also weak, has no experience in administration and not enough people, nothing works and the state is paralyzed. This situation led to a vacuum the Taliban used to gain power again after 2006.
It was the U.S. negotiators who wanted neither a king nor a weak central government, as they had already chosen the adept Hamid Karzai as someone who could be easily directed. Where were the European allies or the NATO Secretary General to convince the American friends to plan local? Just silent.
For the last ten years, all planning, financial transfers and control has had to be pressed through a bottleneck in Kabul. All is sent there and languishes for years, those involved take their portion, waste money, while at the same time ignoring local interests.
In addition, there is a fundamental lack of trained bureaucrats.
This erroneous concept of centralization has led to a predictable chaos, offering the Taliban an outstanding opportunity to denounce the central government and its allies as being corrupt and ineffective.
Too little has arrived with the people. Those who need a permit have to bribe officials. The foundation of the state was thus built on sand.
Even in the U.S., Washington does not decide where which school or hospital or road is built, the states, counties or cities do. But in Afghanistan, a too-long and endless bureaucratic process has delayed thousands of necessary projects – preparing the ground for the frustration of the people and the support for insurgents.
Afghanistan is run like the last communist-centralist planned country – with disastrous results and a plethora of corruption opportunities in Kabul. This must be addressed in the second Petersburg Conference.
Afghanistan needs more than ever a federal state concept due to its diverse structure. The demise of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya clearly shows the need to organize a fair, transparent and efficient state, and not to install a one-man government show anywhere ever again.
Gen. Petraeus is very well aware of these problems from the many frustrating discussions with the President. But is it possible to restrain an elected national leader from making mistakes that are plain to see, or is this interference? Where does national sovereignty set limits to influence him?
At least twice a week Gen. Petraeus meets with President Karzai, and he is often irritated by his ideas. Karzai seems to be burned-out and makes mistakes. (see Hubertus Hoffmann, Get Karzai out of the line of fire in Afghanistan now!)
But he is the elected president, and therefore the U.S. cannot just exchange him with a better politician in the critical years of transition. ISAF has to live with Karzai until the end of his final term in 2014.
The future of 30 million Afghans cannot simply rest on the claims to power of a single Afghan.
Influential politicians must make clear to him again and again that he is personally responsible for good governance, a fair and credible government for the people, and that corruption will be addressed openly and in court regardless of who is involved.
The impeachment of Mubarak in Cairo by the Facebook generation should be a clear sign that the era of all-powerful strongmen with inflated egos is over. The West should no longer rely on them alone but support other politicians from the northern and the Pashtun tribes to achieve a more diverse political structure in Afghanistan.
An amendment to the constitution is urgently needed, which would grant the districts and provinces their own freedom in decision-making and financing. A mere improvement in the decision-making processes is insufficient. Only in this way will the nation be able to function and the corruption in Kabul be limited.
Astonishing is that even elections on the level of villages, cities and counties, which are dictated in the Constitution, have been blocked by Karzai for the last ten years.
A maximum of local determination must be addressed in the next Petersburg Conference and in a self-confident parliament as well.
Reductions and Long-Term Partnership with NATO and the U.S.
The support of the Afghan government for a longer period of time was sealed at the Lisbon summit of NATO in November 2010. Some countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands have withdrawn their troops due to internal political pressure. Others, like Germany, want to begin reduction “depending on the situation on the ground and only those not needed” in 2011 ("Progress Report by the German Government” from December 2010, page 9), but will leave the number and units open.
A flexible mixture of reduction of not too many troops, more engagement for civilian projects and firm commitment of the U.S. could balance the comprehensive strategy even after 2014.
A peace-making process in post-conflict states is estimated at between 10 and 15 years. When one considers this benchmark along with the beginning of reconstruction with the London Conference of 2006, through which a process of a nationwide build-up was decided for the first time, victory by implementing more elements of UN 1386 should become realistic between 2016 and 2020.
The determination of the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014 seems in this regard reasonable. Only in this way can it be made clear that ISAF will not remain in the country long term. The central government must aim all of its efforts at this date and set concrete goals.
In this respect, a two-phase model is recognizable:
First, the consequent implementation of all plans of ISAF and Kabul in the stabilization (phase III of the ISAF OpPlans) and the transition (phase IV) beginning in 2011 until the end of 2014.
Second, a subsequent stabilization phase from 2015 onwards, with a clear reduction of ISAF armed forces and a focus on training the stronger Afghan National Security Forces, education and jobs and reconciliation.
The stabilization phase should be planned now as, according to the Afghan constitution, President Hamid Karzai may not stand for reelection for a third term in 2014.
The core for the long-term stability is the engagement of Washington with enough troops, civilian and financial resources. A reduced but sufficient American engagement after 2014 will be needed to keep the country's peace process on track, including airbases, special forces and trainers to avoid a vacuum like that in the 1990s. This should be supported by other nations as well.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates declared during his visit in Kabul on March 7, 2011, that the U.S. is negotiating a bilateral Security Partnership with Kabul and will have a small force stationed there after 2014.
President Barack Obama will continue if re-elected in 2012. He is tough on Afghanistan and Pakistan as can be seen with the increased Predator drone attacks he ordered in Pakistan's tribal area 2009, which even George Bush did not dare.
His top generals including David Petraeus want to finish the ISAF objectives as he did successfully in Iraq.
The Republican House and Senate majority – very different from left parties in Europe – want him to do whatever his top generals propose and is needed to counter any repetition of 9/11 by a return of the Taliban.
In the 1990s, the U.S. abandoned Afghanistan, let this power vacuum fill with a failed state and radical and terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. “Never again”, is the rolling consensus in the White House and Congress.
Obama also does not want to appear weak in the next Presidential elections.
Taking into consideration the public’s demand to bring their boys home as soon as possible, the initial reductions will please the masses, with enough forces left for a longer time.
To this end, the U.S. is starting now to quietly establish a basis for U.S. forces including large bases and airfields like Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north. After 2014, the U.S. will continue to have sufficient air und land power to stop a takeover by the Taliban and the establishment of a radical or terrorist structure in this country and help to further stabilize of Afghanistan.
Yes UN-ISAF-ANSF can do, Afghanistan! – this is a slogan which now fits thanks to a fresh approach by President Barack Obama and the brave soldiers of ISAF and ANSF and the many civilian supporters, the hundreds of thousands of enablers from 48 nations and the country itself of a new Afghanistan with peace, freedom, dignity including the true merciful preaching of the Prophet.
*Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann is the President of the independent World Security Network Foundation. He has been involved in the Afghanistan conflict for 26 years. In November 1985, he wrote the report for the European Parliament, visiting the Mujahideen of the Gilani troops and urging then Pakistani President Zia ul Haq to release the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the ISI depots to the freedom fighters. In 2010, he initiated the annual “Progress Report Afghanistan” by the German government, as well as 100 scholarships for boys and girls from FATA.