Security Studies Program Seminar
Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan
Political Scientist, RAND Corporation
7 November 2007
- This talk will largely focus on the state of the insurgency today based on 12 trips to Afghanistan since 2003
- The key questions addressed are:
- What is the present state of the insurgency?
- How did the insurgency begin?
- What are the drivers of the insurgency?
What Happened After the Overthrow of the Taliban in 2001?
- The Taliban regime is overthrown November 2001 – January 2002
- Despite mop-up operations (e.g. Tora Bora), the security situation in the country is promising at this time
- Over the next several years, however, several groups headquartered in Pakistan begin a sustained insurgency against the Afghan government and U.S. and other NATO forces
- Today, there are at least 6 major insurgent groups
- Taliban, which is headquartered in Northwest Pakistan and the largest of the groups
- Jalaluddin Haqqani Network
- Al Qaeda and foreign fighters operating out of Pakistan tribal areas (especially Libyans, Egyptians, Saudis, Uzbeks; these have since become entrenched in the tribal areas)
- Pakistani and Afghan Pashtun tribes
- Criminal groups, especially drug trafficking groups
- None of these groups operate the way the Western military would function with a clear command and control structure. Their operations are more diffuse, but there is strategic, operational, and tactical coordination
- There are often alliances across groups: AQ, for instance, often operates as a force multiplier and trainer for other groups
- Within the US Government, there are two views on the current nature of the insurgency
- US military sees a status quo/static view today, where the insurgency has expanded to its maximum size
- State Department and CIA see the potential for future expansion. Evidence that the insurgents have expanded into the northeast, northwest, Kabul area hint that this view may be the more accurate of the two
- We see a major AQ presence in tribal areas and cross-border (Afghan-Pakistan) command-control structures
- The violence has escalated since 2006, as have the scope and reach of the attacks
- This is a disturbing trend because the attacks have destabilized the country and raised concerns among the Afghan people that the central government cannot control large swaths of its own territory.
- Most violence is in the south and east, but is spreading to the north and central areas
- The growing insurgent presence in and around Kabul highlights the fragility of the Karzai government and may aim to bring pressure on the central regime
What caused the insurgency?
- Some portray the insurgency as an ethnic conflict. In this view, competition among Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, et al has led to multiple centers of power in Afghanistan and the onset of a “zero-sum” political system.
- Evidence on the ground, however, leads to a rejection of this theory. Most of the violence, for instance, is between Pashtun groups.
- Moreover, when asked to identify themselves, individuals claim “Muslim” or “Afghan” identity, not a tribal or ethnic conception
- Nor are economic drivers determinate, as Afghanistan is an exceedingly poor country. The one exception may be the contest for control of the drug trade. Here, however, the general instability has been a cause of the drug trade and not the other way around.
- A “lack of governance” argument is the most convincing
- From 2003-2007, you see a virtual collapse of Afghan central governance. This has provided the opportunity for insurgent action.
- Despite its massive human rights violations, the Taliban did establish effective central governance and provide law and order.
- At the village level, what matters is the provision of essential services – security and basic social services.
- After its creation in 2001, the Afghan government ran into two significant problems:
- First, it cannot provide basic services such as electricity. The provision of social services actually regresses relative to what the Taliban provided
- Second, the government cannot provide local law and order. For all intents and purposes, there was no effective training of local police forces prior to 2005, when the US military takes over the training mission.
- By the time these police forces begin to reach rural areas, however, the local areas had written off the central government as an effective security and services provider. Local actors were and remain willing to embrace insurgent groups
- Still, a lack of governance is a necessary condition for the insurgency but is insufficient in its own right. One still needs to explain the motivation (cause) of the insurgents, especially insurgent leadership
- This occurs because key AQ, Taliban, and other insurgent leaders are able to propagate a clear vision of a future Afghan state and recruit a small but critical number of supporters to their cause.
- Ultimately, we have a melding of top-level ideologies – providing the spark for the insurgency – with a local (non-ideological) demand for security and services. The two factors feed off one another: the ideologues have a base of operations and pool of potential supporters while the locals gain security via insurgent action.
What is the International Role?
- The level of international support for the central government were and remain insufficient to fill the local security vacuum.
- The U.S. effort in Iraq has drawn US assets away from the Afghan front, limiting the number of international combat forces and training resources.
- This began as early as November 2001, when planning efforts for Iraq began. And it continued through the most recent “surge” in Iraq.
Rapporteur: Joshua R. I. Shifrinson
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