CONFLICT(S) Updated February 3, 2010
President Obama's Afghanistan/Pakistan Strategy
On March 27th 2009 US President Barack Obama outlined his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. This strategy was formulated after a comprehensive consultation process with the US's military and civilian personnel involved in the region, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US's allies and other major donors and international organizations. As outlined on the White House website, the key points of this new strategy are:
The new strategy aims to defeat Al Qaeda by disrupting and dismantling the organizations and its safe havens.
It recognizes that context of this conflict and its solution has to be expanded to include Pakistan. President Obama ensures an increased amount of aid to Afghanistan especially civilian aid to help bolster the country's infrastructure and democratic institutions. Diplomatic initiatives would be pursued with all players in South Asia. Finally, a strong trilateral frame work would be set up to ensure cooperation among the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan on issues such as intelligence and military issues and also trade, economic and development concerns.
Additional US troops in Afghanistan would boost the capacity to train the Afghan military and police. Every US unit will be paired with and Afghan unit to facilitate training. NATO allies will also be encouraged to do likewise.
Additional resources will be given to develop the civilian capacities of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama lent his support to a bill co-sponsored by Senators Kerry and Lugar which would see $1.5 billion in aid given to Pakistan over the next five years. He would also be supporting a bipartisan bill to set up Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in the Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan.
This calls for a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan to be created. This will bring together all the states that have a vested interest in the security i.e. NATO, the Central Asian states, the Gulf states, Iran, Russia, India and China.
The London Conference 2010
The London conference on Afghanistan, which is to be held on January 28th 2010, will bring together the international community with the aim of aligning their military and civilian strategies to aid Afghanistan's reconstruction. The conference will be hosted by UK PM Gordon Brown, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. It will also be co-chaired by UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, the outgoing Afghan foreign minister Rangin Spanta and the UN special representative to Afghanistan Kai Edie. Key issues on the agenda are:
The conference is indicative of the long term involvement of the international community in Afghanistan. This has been demonstrated by recent events in December 2009 and January 2010. On January 24th 2010 Afghanistan's Independent election commission announced that it was postponing the parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 22nd 2010, by four months to September 2010. A statement released by the commission cited a "lack of a budget, security and uncertainty and logistical challenges" as reasons for the postponement. The commission needs $50 million from international donors to help with the $120 million budget needed to run the elections. Donor states were calling for a postponement of the elections to ensure that electoral reform can take place to ensure a fraud-free election. This is in light of the major irregularities that took place during the controversial August 2009 presidential elections.
Another indicator of Afghanistan's dependence on the international community was revealed when on December 8th 2009 President Karzai stated that the Afghan military would require financial support from the international community until at least 2024. This comes in light of the announcement of the US's desire to begin troop withdrawals by 2011. Together with the financial shortcoming of the election commission the spotlight has been put on the issue of Afghanistan's donor dependency.
The London Conference, however, does have its critics as an article in the Spectator asserted that President Karzai will use the event to avoid having the international community set bench marks on his government. Since he does not have a complete cabinet he can use that as his excuse. However, the article goes on the say that Karzai has the major cabinet positions secured i.e. that of defense, finance, interior and agriculture, while there rest are minor positions. The article recommended that the conference be postponed to later in the year when Karzai has less of a reason to avoid such benchmarks.
Outcomes of the London Conference on Afghanistan Jan 28th 2010
The following steps were agreed to by the international community at the London Conference:
For a complete over view of the London Conference and its outcomes and contributions refer to the official conference website: http://afghanistan.hmg.gov.uk/en/conference/
It is hoped that the initial plan laid out at the London Conference will lead to the Afghan government taking over the responsibility for running the war and the country within the next five years. The conference also set in motion a parallel peace plan whereby the so called "moderate" Taliban will be convinced to put down their weapons with the promises of jobs and rural development. While Taliban leaders will also be invited to discuss peace.
In response to the plan to lure militants away from the insurgency the Taliban released a statement which said that attempted to bribe the Mujahedeen away from Jihad was futile. But in what seemed like a conciliatory note the Taliban stated that they were simply trying to wage a campaign to liberate Afghanistan from outside forces and were of no threat to neighboring countries. However, this statement ignored the conflict taking place between the Taliban and Pakistan along the border tribal regions of Pakistan.
At the end of the conference it had also been learned that the UN had met regional commanders on the Taliban's council, the Quetta Shurah, to discuss the possibility of peace talks. It has been confirmed that the UN special representative, Kai Eide, had met with these leaders in Dubai before the London Conference which was held on January 28th 2010. The meeting was about safety guarantees for the Taliban if they were to participate in peace talks.
The London Conference was just the beginning of a process of reaching a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. The next phase will begin in Kabul in the spring of 2010 when the Loya Jirga convenes. It will be the first time in eight years that such a meeting will take place. Karzai has also called on Saudi Arabia play a prominent role in mediating with the Taliban.
Pakistan is seeking for a much more prominent role in resolving the conflict in Afghanistan. Historically, Afghanistan and Pakistan have never been on favourable terms. Here is a chance for Pakistan to have more of an influence on Afghanistan if the Taliban are to play a part in government. There is a continuous debate as to how much control Pakistan, the ISI and the army in particular, have over the Taliban. Some say that is still a close relationship. While others have pointed out that Pakistan's hold over them has slipped away. Pakistan will have to prove that it is not trying to manipulate the situation if they are to gain any trust from a traditionally hostile Karzai government. However some analyst say that this move could backfire on Islamabad due to this mistrust by Kabul, unpredictable Pakistani militants, Taliban pressure and unrealistic expectations of gratitude from the West.
The one notable absence from the London Conference was Iran. As a region power it would have been expected that Iran would have wanted to make its voice heard at the conference and stake a claim for a major role in peace process. Iran was invited to the conference and the UK government hoped that there would be at least a representation from the Iranian embassy. According to Iran, this conference was a step towards increase military action in Afghanistan. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman explained that the West did not take into consideration that the region could solve its own problems.
Whether the, much hyped, London Conference was a success remains to be seen. In a article for Foreign Policy's The AfPak Channel, Norine Macdonald writes that London, like previous conferences before it, seems to be detached from the facts on the ground. In many of the areas where the conference has pledged to reform there are serious deficiencies as to the viability of the actions taking place. The international community's confidence in the peace and reconciliation plan was seriously dented with only $140 million pledged for the first year of operation. It is difficult to see how this could bribe Taliban into defecting and provide for them jobs in an economy which is incapable of finding jobs for regular Afghans. In a gap riddled vetting process this could provide an opportunity for infiltrating the army and police.
The Afghan government is also floundering in terms of security and good governance. An estimated 10,000 of the 94,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) troops trained are believed to have deserted and 15 percent of the army and 60 percent of the police in Helmend province are thought to be drug addicts. There are still large swaths of the country which have limited or non-existent government presence. Bribery continues to be used as a means of aligning tribes to the government's side. An example of this is the paying of the Shinwari tribe in southern Nangahar province $1 million to fight the Taliban. The article raises questions as to the seriousness of the international community's commitment to Afghanistan and asks if the conference targeted more towards western audiences than Afghanistan.
Seeking a Negotiated Settlement with the Taliban
Shortly after the Bonn Agreement in December 2001, President Karzai offered an amnesty to the Taliban, on the condition that they renounce support for terrorism and hand over foreign fighters in Afghanistan. This condition was not met. In the following six years, no progress was made with regard to a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the insurgents. Now the situation might be changing. In September 2007, President Hamid Karzai repeatedly invited the Taliban to begin peace talks. To the surprise of many analysts, the Taliban took the unusual step of answering the President, issuing a statement saying they were prepared to meet with him. However, their interest in talks was conditional, as they demanded an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops and a rewrite of the Afghan constitution. So far, the Afghan government has shown no intention of meeting those demands. In 2007 Karzai offered a political olive branch to the Taliban when he offered them a position in the government. Karzai also offered to meet with Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord and former prime minister. This gesture was received favorably by the Canadian minister for Defense Peter Mackay. Karzai has, however, refused to move on his support for foreign troops on Afghan soil and has called on NATO states to increase their presence in his country.
However, now in 2010 and with the insurgency continuing President Karazi has taken another step towards reaching out to many of the Taliban's foot soldiers. In January 2010 President Karzai announced the launch of a new reconciliation plan to attract those Taliban who decide to defect. The reconciliation plan is to go beyond what the Afghan government has ever offered to the Taliban. In the past a relatively small number of Taliban have defected. The UN reported that an estimated 170 did so in 2009. The new plan is to offer defectors jobs, security, education and other social benefits. The most important of these seems to be that of security guarantees which would ensure that the defecting Taliban would not be arrested or the subject of retaliation. Past plans offered little protection or financial incentive. As the plan is still in the process of being formulated one of the rumoured points is that the Afghan government would ask for Mullah Omar's name be taken off the terrorist watch list. However, this controversial move was ruled out by Richard Holbrooke, the US's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The costs of the plan are estimated to be around $1 billion which will be financed through pledges at the London Conference on Afghanistan scheduled for January 28th 2010. However, as with any disarmament, demobilization and reintegration plan a thought has to be given to the rest of the population who are suffering from unemployment and lack of opportunities.
The details of the reconciliation plan were first announced at a one day summit in Abu Dhabi on January 12th 2010. The day long summit was attended by Richard Holbrooke and the foreign ministers from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The summit brought together the foreign ministers of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates and other high level officials from several Arab states. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda receive most of the funding from donors in these Arab states and therefore it is hoped, by the international community, that these countries would be able to exert some influence over key Taliban leaders by using their religious affiliations.
Arab states have already shown that they are capable of playing a role in reaching out Taliban. There have been glimpses of progress in the state of negotiations between the Taliban and the Karzai government. Reports have surfaced in October of 2008 of contact between Taliban leaders and President Karzai's brother, Qayum Karzai. The venue for this meeting was in Saudi Arabia where King Abdullah hosted a religious meal in September of this year. Among the attendees were important regional figures including former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a delegation of 15 Afghans who represented a broad spectrum of political interests, including the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7658288.stm Saudi Arabia has in the past acted as a go between for the Taliban and other parties and was one of only three states to formally recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates being the other two. Former PM Nawaz Sharif has also been involved in Pakistan's dealings with Afghanistan as he had a major hand in brokering a deal between key Mujahedeen factions in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Though both parties, the Afghan government and the Taliban, have denied the occurrence of these talks, news of this meeting is significant in light of recent statements made by Britain's most senior military official in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, who stated that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. His sentiments were echoed by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the UN special envoy Kai Eide. Kai Eide went further and said that "if [they] want to have relevant results, [they] must speak to those who are relevant."
Another key challenge concerning negotiations between the government and insurgents is that both sides cannot be considered as unified groups. There are elements in Hamid Karzai's government - and in parliament - who do not want to talk to the Taliban at all. Sharing power in any sense would mean they would lose ground. A good example of this was in the Spring of 2007 when a Taliban commander brought a small delegation of insurgents to Kabul for a secret meeting with Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the former Afghan president who leads a reconciliation program for insurgents who want to stop fighting. The meeting did not go well and Mr. Mojaddedi gave the Taliban delegation $10 to cover their travel expenses and informed them to come back later. This was seen by the Taliban as gravely insulting. It is examples such as this that have failed to convince insurgents that the Karzai government is taking negotiations seriously.
Meanwhile, "Taliban" has become a convenient shorthand term used to describe quite diverse groups and tribes - from local Afghans to groups backed by Pakistan, to foreign radicals linked to al-Qaeda. Some analysts therefore argue that the Taliban remain too faction-ridden to be a reliable negotiating partner. Peeling off moderates may hold out some hope for serious negotiations, but the presence of so many factions means there are also many potential spoilers who could easily wreck a nascent peace process.
There are divergent views among experts on whether insurgents currently see themselves in a position of strength or weakness and how this would affect their interest in peace talks. Hampson argues that there is precious little evidence the war has reached a mutually painful stalemate, which would bring both sides to the negotiating table. He finds that the Taliban have been emboldened in recent months to increase the pace and frequency of their attacks. Others disagree and observe that the militants could be giving talks some thought because of a leadership crisis, with several commanders killed in military action this year. They could also be feeling the pressure of growing strength in the Afghan security forces and instability in Pakistan.
For peace talks to succeed, international actors will have to play a constructive role. The United Nations has formally designated the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan as terrorists, making it politically and legally difficult for the Kabul government to reach a compromise. In recent weeks, however, the UN has endorsed efforts to begin talks and offered to mediate. NATO countries, including the US, also appear to view the idea of talks more favorably. This may have to do with the fact that there is a growing difference of opinion among coalition forces over tactics and deployment. There have even been reports of secret talks between the US and Taliban groups. According to these unconfirmed reports, the talks are aimed initially at resuscitating local truces in Afghanistan's hotly-contested southern provinces. Statements mentioned above from Brigadier Carleton-Smith and the UN special enoy Kai Eide might help put pressure on the need for an inclusive political solution that takes the Taliban into consideration.
It remains to be seen whether the Afghan government, insurgent groups and other actors involved will find ways to begin talks that can lead to a reduction of violence and promote reconciliation.
Afghans belong to diverse ethnic groups (42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, and 9% Uzbek) and are divided between 80% Sunni Muslims and 19% Shi'ite Muslims. Despite these divisions, Afghans have historically rallied together to fend off foreign attacks.
Afghanistan is currently trying to rebuild after decades of internationalized civil strife that has left over 1.5 million people dead, 4.5 million refugees, half the population internally displaced, and a devastated economy, infrastructure and governance structure.
There have been 6 main phases of conflict in Afghanistan over this period
The Saur Revolution:
The Soviet Intervention:
The Civil War:
The Taliban Regime:
In 1978, the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), under Noor Taraki, staged a successful coup against the regime of President Dauod - who himself had overthrown King Zahir in 1973. The coup, known as the Saur Revolution, occurred with the assistance of Soviet military advisors.
With Soviet support, Taraki and the PDPA undertook a program of radical land and social reforms. To counter resistance, the PDPA formed the AGSA secret police (later called KAM and then KhAD) which repressed and killed religious leaders, teachers, students, former political leaders and members of the royal family, military officers, and others opposed to the new regime. An estimated 12,000 people were killed in Kabul's Pul-i-Charkhi prison alone during this campaign, with up to 100,000 victims in the countryside.
Afghanistan was 85% rural in 1979 and many of the PDPA's reforms were unpopular among the religious, rural population. In March 1979, armed revolt broke out in the western city of Herat. The Afghan army's 17th Division, sent to suppress the uprising, turned against the government, and from this time on resistance to the new regime grew. The anti-government fighters became know as Mujaheddin, an Arabic word which translates literally into 'struggler' and is often interpreted as meaning 'holy warrior.'
The PDPA also suffered internal divisions and in 1979 Taraki's rival Hafizullah Amin ousted Taraki and later had him killed. Amin was less tied to the Soviets and wanted closer relations with Pakistan and the West.
The USSR invaded Afghanistan on 24 December 1979 with a force of 40,000 soldiers and airmen, seeing a threat to its long-cultivated influence, and fearing both the spread of Iran's Islamic revolution into its southern Soviet republics as well potential American ambitions in the country. Amin was killed by Soviet commandos, and Babrak Karmal was installed as the new leader of the PDPA. The Soviets proceeded to take control of the state, civil, and military organizations in the country. In a ruthless occupation strategy designed to drive people to more controllable urban areas, the Soviets destroyed rural infrastructure and livestock, used landmines widely, and wiped out entire villages. There were widespread arrests and disappearances of anyone suspected of opposing the regime.
The Soviet invasion internationalized Afghanistan's internal conflicts, fuelled the Mujaheddin resistance, and intensified U.S. involvement. The United States, seeing the Saur coup as a victory for communism, had already began funding resistance fighters six months prior to the Soviet invasion. With military aid eventually totaling two billion dollars over the course of the Soviet intervention, the US used the invasion as, in the words of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, an "opportunity to give the Soviet Union its Vietnam."
Resistance to the Soviet presence and the central government grew throughout the 1980s. With over 115,000 Red Army soldiers, 40,000 PDPA soldiers, and 70,000 paramilitary forces opposing approximately 70,000 Mujaheddin, the Soviets and their local allies had clear numerical superiority, but by 1985 the Soviet forces had become embroiled in a conflict with no foreseeable end. Some analysts see the US decision in 1986 to supply the Mujaheddin with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles as a turning-point, as this limited the Soviets' airpower advantage. The USSR was soon faced with the choice of committing a much greater number of troops or withdrawing. UN political efforts resulted in the Geneva accords, signed on 14 April 1988, which led to Soviet withdrawal. The human costs of the conflict were immense. During the course of the Soviet occupation, an estimated 4.5 million Afghans became refugees in Pakistan and Iran, and half of the population was displaced by the fighting. The Soviets claimed losses of 13,883 dead and up to 37,000 wounded during the war, though this figure is often regarded as an understatement. Estimates of Afghans killed range from 600,000 to 1.2 million. These figures are for both civilians and combatants.
In 1989, the withdrawal of Soviet troops was completed, though the USSR continued to provide military and financial aid to the Afghan government under Mohammed Najibullah
After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Afghanistan experienced an intense internal power struggle. In the first six months after the Red Army withdrew, over four thousand planeloads of Soviet weapons flew into Afghanistan, and Soviet aid continued to reach levels of US$300 million per month. This enabled the PDPA, since 1986 under Mohammed Najibullah, to continue fighting the Mujaheddin, and the fighting grew more savage. Kabul, which had largely escaped violence during the Soviet occupation, became a battleground of terrible ferocity.
Events elsewhere soon helped to turn the tide in the civil war. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the money and weapons shipments to Najibullah's government stopped coming. Seeing the end in sight, Najibullah resigned on 18 March, 1992. The UN attempted and failed to get a negotiated agreement amongst the various warring factions. Loosely allied in the face of a common enemy, the fall of the Najibullah government in 1992 marked the emergence of power struggles amongst former Mujaheddin and PDPA commanders such as Rashid Dostum, Ismail Khan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Atta Mohammed, Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Ahmed Shad Massoud. Alliances and defections amongst former Mujaheddin were frequent, loyalties were fleeting, and foreign involvement only further complicated matters. As time passed, credible allegations of massacres of civilians and prisoners, rape, looting, and other war crimes by all sides began to surface.
As Najibullah's government fled, in April, Mujeheddin commanders Massoud, Dostum, and Hekmatyar converged on Kabul. Massoud's well-trained and organized force soon pushed Hekmatyar from the city. A new government, termed the Islamic Jihad Council, also called the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) was formed, with the Tajik Rabbani as president and Massoud as Defence Minister. Some analysts attribute the ensuing civil war to ethnic differences, as Kabul had come to be controlled largely by ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks from the north, rather than the Pashtuns who had traditionally controlled the capital. As opium cultivation boomed, Rashid Dostum, a former PDPA commander, and Massoud soon began fighting for control of Konduz in the north. In 1994, Dostum allied with Hekmatyar along with the Shi'ite Hazaras in an attempt to take Kabul. Rabbani and Massoud clung to power in Kabul, where in 1994 alone, 25,000 people were killed and a third of the city was reduced to rubble.
The chaos spawned during the civil war led to the emergence of a new political power in Afghanistan, the Taliban. The Taliban movement traces its origins to wahhabite madrasah religious schools in Pakistan, which had a great influence on the children and orphans of refugees from the Afghan fighting. The word 'Talib' is an Arabic word meaning 'student' or 'seeker of knowledge.' These schools received funding from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and were responsible for educating large numbers of Pashtun Afghans, who formed the bulk of the refugees in the border region in Pakistan. Blaming the various Mujaheddin factions for the corruption of Afghanistan, the Taliban began its campaign to gain control of Afghanistan in the south of the country. Under the charismatic leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar and with substantial Pakistani support, in 1994, the southern province of Kandahar was taken and became the central base for the growing movement.
With material backing from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and Saudi Arabia, on 27 September 1996, the Taliban took control of Kabul after bombarding the city and continued to push the AIG forces further north. Many Afghans welcomed the stability brought by Taliban control, but their hard-line interpretations of Islamic law and social restrictions were not unanimously accepted.
In 1996, a number of groups opposed to the Taliban formed the United National Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, also known as the United Front or the Northern Alliance. Its membership included Rabbani, the former president of the AIG, Ahmed Massoud, the minister of defence, a Hazara party under Muhammad Karim Khalili, a mostly Uzbek faction known as Jundish under Rashid Dostum, and a faction supported largely by Saudi Arabia and led by Abdul Sayyaf. The United Front was less united than the name would suggest, as each faction had its own foreign supporters and command structures were not merged. It is rumoured, but not proven, that Russian Special Forces provided advice and assistance to the United Front.
Towards the end of the 1990s US interest returned sharply to Afghanistan. In 1998, the American embassies in Dar-Es-Salaam and Nairobi were bombed, resulting in 257 deaths and over 5000 wounded civilians. The Clinton administration placed the blame for these events on a little known terrorist group, Al Qaeda, headed by a wealthy Saudi businessman, Osama Bin Laden.
Bin Laden was one of the first Arabs to arrive in Afghanistan to fight as a Mujaheddin. Using his large fortune, Bin Laden supported the involvement of many foreign fighters in the conflict through his Maktab al-Khidamar organization. There are diverging reports about links between the CIA and Bin Laden at this point.The Gulf War of 1990-1991 was a radical turning point for Bin Laden, as he objected to the presence of American soldiers on Saudi soil. Upon losing his Saudi citizenship in 1995 and later being expelled from Sudan, his first refuge, Bin Laden found a safe port in Afghanistan in 1996, where he cultivated a close relationship with the rising Taliban and further developed his Al Qaeda organization.
In August 1998, the Americans retaliated for the embassy bombings with cruise missile strikes against purported Al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, driving a wedge between the Taliban and the US and ending any possibility of American recognition of the Taliban. From this time, as scholar Barnett R. Rubin wrote, the attack on Al Qaeda camps made Afghanistan a "one-issue" country for the US. That issue was terrorism.
The threat posed by Al Qaeda had in fact received significant attention from the Security Council over the previous five years. Security Council Resolution 1076 (1996) said "…the continuation of conflict in Afghanistan provides a fertile ground for terrorism and drug trafficking which destabilizes the region and beyond, and calls upon the leaders of the Afghan parties to halt such activities." This concern was repeated in Resolution 1193 on 28 August 1998. In December 1988, Resolution 1214 called on the Taliban to stop providing sanctuary for terrorists. And on October 15 1999, citing the failure to respond to this demand, Resolution 1267 demanded that the Taliban hand over Bin Laden, who had been indicted by the United States for the 1998 bombings in Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salaam. These demands were repeated in Resolution 1333 in December 2000 and even in Resolution 1363 in July 2001. However, strong words did not equate to action, and the world remained largely aloof from Afghanistan's problems except for coverage of the oppression of Afghan women and the well-publicized destruction of the giant Buddhist statues in Bamian in March 2001.
Al Qaeda was blamed almost immediately for the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, and the U.S. responded with the military invasion of Afghanistan, the precursor to the massive multifaceted peace operation in the country today.
Though preparations for military action commenced on 12 September 2001, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, called "Operation Enduring Freedom" (OEF), began on 7 October 2001 with air strikes and missile attacks. The objectives of this campaign were outlined in a speech by US President George W. Bush on October 7, and included overthrowing the Taliban government and disrupting communications and networks between terrorist groups deemed responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Military action was preceded by an ultimatum delivered by President Bush on 20 September 2001. The President called on the Taliban to turn all Al-Qaeda leaders over to the US, release all unjustly imprisoned foreign nationals, close all terrorist training camps within Afghanistan and give the US full access to them. President Bush concluded his remarks by implying that the Taliban would be attacked if they did not comply.
When military action began, the U.S. President, in an address to the nation, stated that attacks were launched on his orders, and "supported by the collective will of the world." While the true accuracy of this claim is difficult to measure, UN actions and statements from the time did give some support to the President's words. Indeed, Security Council Resolution 1333 of December 2000 had earlier placed an arms embargo on the Taliban, banned the travel of Taliban ministers, and ordered the closure of all its diplomatic offices abroad.
The U.S.A. did not act alone when military operations against the Taliban began, as OEF was undertaken by a coalition of nations. The list of nations providing support to the coalition is extensive, with contributions coming from 55 nations and varying from indirect support such as permitting use of airspace and use of facilities for logistics, to the contribution of naval, air, and ground forces. Some of the major contributions to the initial campaign were made by the UK, Canada, France, Australia, and Germany. By January 2002, Special Forces from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Germany, and Turkey were operating in Afghanistan. Exact numbers of Special Forces soldiers or details of their actions are not readily available. Support did not come only from traditional western allies. Egypt, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ethiopia are examples of non-traditional allies that offered support to US operations.
A critical partner in the coalition was Pakistan. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf joined the American coalition in October 2001. The United States reportedly had given Musharraf an ultimatum, telling him to declare Pakistan either friend or foe. He immediately reshuffled army corps command, marginalizing some officers that sympathized with the Taliban. Ending Pakistan's support to the Taliban was an important step in facilitating the upcoming military campaign. After a string of United Front/Northern Alliance victories which culminated in the taking of Kabul on 13 November 2001, Pakistan bowed to pressure and closed the Taliban's embassy in Islamabad. The US, in exchange for Pakistan's support, dropped economic sanctions imposed because of Pakistan's nuclear program, and restructured loan repayments. Pakistani support continues in the shape of fly-over permission, emergency landing rights, docking permission for coalition ships, and military and police operations within Pakistan to combat suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda members. Recently news reports that the US is conducting military operations on Pakistani territory have begun to surface. However, the degree of central control exercised over Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency is uncertain, and support for the Taliban from Pakistani sources has continued despite Pakistan's official denials of support.
Although allied contributions have been significant, the largest contingent of foreign soldiers in OEF came from the United States. The US had 20,000 to 25,000 troops in the region before 11 September 2001. By 8 November there were more than 50,000 American troops in the region, most aboard ships in the Arabian Sea with Special Forces and 10th Mountain Division soldiers based in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. By January 2002 the reported number of US troops inside Afghanistan was over 4,000, a number which increased to 8,000 by August of that year. The US deployed 500 aircraft and 14,000 Air Force personnel by November 2001.
The initial battle against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was highly successful from the American perspective. Air strikes and Special Forces worked in tandem with the Northern Alliance and other militia groups to rapidly push the Taliban forces south from northern Afghanistan. The use of air power during Operation Enduring Freedom was seen as highly efficient and negated the need for a large ground invasion force, with only 4,000 Special Forces troops being landed on the ground during the struggle against the Taliban. Larger numbers of ground troops arrived later to begin hunting Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. In December 2001, approximately 1,300 marines and an unknown number of Special Forces secured the Kandahar airfield.
The vast majority of ground fighting, however, was done by the Northern Alliance with US air and Special Forces support. Support to the Northern Alliance, now under Massoud's successors Muhammed Qassem Fahim, Younos Qanuni, and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, began covertly in late September 2001. Large amounts of cash were used to persuade warlords to support an attack on the Taliban. A ground assault coincided with the start of coalition bombing. By 12 November, Mazar-e-Sharif, Meymaneh, and Herat had fallen. On 9 December, Hamid Karzai entered Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold to fall to coalition and Northern Alliance forces. On 16 December 2001, with all the major cities in the control of forces allied with the coalition, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that "We've destroyed Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and we have ended the role of Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorist activity." On 22 December 2001 US General Tommy Franks traveled to Kabul to mark the inauguration of an interim Afghan Government.
The number of civilians killed as a result of the air campaign waged by the US is controversial. US government estimates are around 400, while other figures range as high as 3,767. The lack of an efficient mechanism of keeping track of civilian deaths during the fighting made determining the exact number killed nearly impossible. US government sources rely on military reports, while others use media reports, neither of which can be assumed to give an unbiased tally of casualties.
After the quick collapse of the Taliban, OEF shifted to more of what the military calls a "hunter-killer" mission, as US and coalition forces continued to search for and combat Taliban leaders and Al Qaeda members.
President Bush's address of 7 October also referred to winning the favour of the Afghan people, and demonstrating the "generosity of America." Subsequently, humanitarian aid was used controversially by the US military in the campaign against the Taliban. 37,000 food packets were dropped by air in rural areas by US forces, and 1700 tons of wheat and 328,000 blankets were delivered by US forces through October, November, and December 2001. This assistance continued after the fall of the Taliban. Reconstruction assistance is a central part of the US military strategy in stabilizing Afghanistan.
The major military and political involvement of outside powers in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion can be called a 'peace operation' only in the broadest terms. It is not a unified mission under a single command, but rather a collection of outside actors pursuing different, though often related goals with different mandates and, sometimes, different motivations. However these actors do have common goals in creating a stable, democratic government in Afghanistan that does not pose a threat to its own citizens or those of other states.
The reconstruction of Afghanistan is being undertaken in a challenging environment. This is because while peacebuilding and reconstruction ideally take place in a post-conflict setting, Afghanistan is very much a country in conflict. The Afghan government and its US and NATO allies are attempting to assert the government's control outside Kabul. Illegal armed groups, the Taliban, and opium production are the key security challenges facing the Afghanistan government and the international community. There are currently 3 principle armed groups opposing the central government: 1) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami (HIG), which operates to the east of Kabul, 2) the Taliban, which operates mainly in the south and parts of the east, and 3) Al Qaeda, which supports both HIG and the Taliban and also conducts its own attacks, from its base in the south-eastern border region with Pakistan.
Afghanistan is seen as more dangerous than Iraq as the Taliban have become more sophisticated in their ambushes and bombings. They are also using terror tactics in the main battle grounds of the southern and eastern provinces to assert their control over the population. Much of their efforts are being fuelled by the poppy trade. Many of the main poppy growing areas of the south and west overlap with the key insurgency battle grounds. A recent UN survey found that 100% of the southern poppy farmers and 72% western poppy farmers are forced to pay taxes to the Taliban, mullahs and local commanders. About 90% of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan, two-thirds of which is from Helmand province.
Though Afghanistan continues to remain the world's leading producer of opium, the 2009 UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report revealed that opium production in the country had decreased by 19% in 2008. 18 provinces are reported to be poppy free which is up from the 13 poppy free provinces in 2007. Currently 98% of the opium growing is confined to the five southern provinces and two western provinces, Hilmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Daykundi, Zabul, Farah and Nimroz. These are the areas where twin problems of the insurgency and lack of security are most prominent. Therefore it demonstrates a clear link between the conflict and the drug trade.
It is believed that the conflict is creating ideal conditions to encourage the growth of poppies. Poppy crops are widespread in areas where the insurgency is at its strongest. The Taliban have formed a symbiotic relationship with the narco-traffickers and have been able to add millions of dollars to their war chest through the drug trade. Of Afghanistan's 34 provinces 18 can be considered as poppy free. However, there is some confusion with how the problem should be dealt with by NATO. Is NATO (ISAF) meant to focus primarily on counter-insurgency or counter-narcotics? While the US forces see the narcotics trade as a primary threat, ISAF and the British in particular see counter narcotics as taking resources away from the war effort. However, as more US troops enter into Helmand province, where the main British presence lies, they might just win the argument. There has been some talk of legalizing the poppy production in relation to the production of pain killing drugs but this might not be feasible as the black market price of illegal poppy would be significantly higher than the any price offered on the legal market. Only a political solution and long term development is seen as the cure for Afghanistan's poppy affliction.
Though the toppling of the Taliban from power in 2001 proved to be a straight forward task, suppressing the Taliban threat has become a prolonged battle. This assertion is backed by the comments made by Brigadier General Mark Carleton-Smith, who concluded that the war with the Taliban cannot be won and that there would be no decisive victory. He stated to the British public, and the rest of the world, that the Afghan government and its foreign allies should be prepared to make a deal with the Taliban. These sentiments were also echoed by others such as Ron Hoffman, the Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan, who also stated that there was no military solution to the growing insurgency.
In his testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and Asia on April 2nd 2008, Mark L. Schneider, the Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group (ICG) painted a grim picture. In his testimony he stated that within the last three years, since 2005, the situation has deteriorated considerably. Suicide bombings have increased by 600% from 2005 and insurgent attacks have also risen by 400%. 40 World Food Program (WFP) convoys were looted in 2007. There were also 130 attacks against humanitarian programs, 40 relief workers were killed and 89 abducted. Also in 2007, of the 8,000 conflict related deaths that occurred, 1500 of them were civilian.
With a serious escalation in violence in the past three years it seems that despite the presence of 64,000 troops on the ground the US and its NATO allies seems to be losing ground against the insurgency. In fact, in a recent Reuters article it was stated that new American president would face a situation more dangerous and challenging than that which led to September 11th attacks. J Alexander Thier of the U.S. Peace Institute stated that there needs to be a new strategy from the new U.S. president and the new administration cannot afford to waste any time.
Already there seems to be cracks forming in the NATO ranks. A top alliance commander described the campaign against the Taliban as disjointed. Individual veto power that countries can wield over certain operations and the lack of commitment to fulfilling troop pledges has hampered the NATO efforts against the insurgency. Initially NATO was only sanctioned to operate within Kabul but in 2003 its mandate was extended throughout the country. However many of the nations are not willing to commit troops to those areas where NATO is engaging in heavy fighting with the Taliban. In late October 2008 General Sir Michael Rose, former commander of the UN forces in Bosnia, added to the growing list of concerned voices when he stated that coalition forces are reaching their limit. While writing for the military think tank Royal United Services Institute he called for the formation of local tribal militias. According to General Rose, "by winning the support of the Pashtun tribes who live on both sides of the border and by developing a sympathetic understanding to their complex tribal systems, it should be possible to achieve security in key eastern and southern areas of Afghanistan."
However, this is easier said than done as the Pakistani government has found it difficult to deal with the tribes in Waziristan. At the same time the Afghan army is expected to double its size to 134,000 in four year's time. However, it is difficult to predict at what point the NATO forces would be able to reduce in size. The need for additional troops is also a major concern as states are not willing to risk their troops in hostile situations. NATO commanders say that at least 12,000 more troops are need to bolster the NATO contingent. The British government, for example, has stated that it will not be sending reinforcements to Helmand province where it is currently operating. It is expected that troops will be available once the force in Iraq is cut down in size. Currently most of the burden of combat lies on the shoulders of the US, UK, Canadian and Dutch troops including a few other nations who allow their forces to engage in combat operations. In January 2009 UK Defense Secretary John Hutton lashed out at fellow European NATO partners of freeloading. He admonished those nations who were not pulling their weight and for expecting the US to do the heavy lifting in this conflict on the political, military and financial levels. However, with the swearing in of President Obama three brigades have been promised to Afghanistan which will raise the US's presence from 36,000 troops to 60,000. Thus adding much needed military muscle to the war effort.
The ICG has criticized the international community's efforts in Afghanistan due to its "lack of strategic coherence". There is a lack of any form of structure on both the civilian and the military side. The civilian representatives of the UN, NATO, and the European Union have no clear line of authority and at the same time the US and other major contributing nations are not willing to be subjected to outside authorities. On the military side Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) is undertaking multiple missions (local training and its own operations) and reporting to EUCOM, NATO, CENTCOM and the special operations command in Tampa. This lack of coherence is also reflected in recent exchanges between the US and the UK. Recent reports suggest that the US has been unimpressed with the UK effort in Afghanistan, especially their counter insurgency effort. The UK Defence Secretary, John Hutton, has however dismissed these claims saying that there is a high regard for the UK's contribution in Afghanistan. He said that the UK welcomes any constructive criticism of their effort but will not be drawn into this discussion based on unsubstantiated gossip. At present the UK troop commitments represents 12% of the total troop presence in Afghanistan. UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said that his government will continue to review their troop commitments but there are no guarantees of an increase in troop level in the near future. Troop numbers are a continuous bone of contention among the US and their allies but Defense Secretary Hutton stressed that the UK continues to punch above their weight. He also indicated that there are other factors that are contributing to the lack progress in fighting the insurgency, pointing to the need for the Karzai government to do more.
While efforts are being focused on the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan there is the fear that Al Qaeda has regained its strength in the tribal areas of Pakistan. An unstable nuclear state like Pakistan would prove to be advantageous for Al Qaeda. This is according to Anthony Cordesman from the Centre for Strategic studies. However there are other voices who say that Al Qaeda is on the run as they cannot operate as freely as they could before the invasion of Afghanistan and who even say that the Afghan insurgency is less sophisticated than that in Iraq. Al Qadea continues to have plans to further destabilize the region. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that he believes that Al Qaeda is attempting to spark a war between India and Pakistan. Evidence of this can be seen in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Secretary Gates also mentioned the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Pakistan based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba as being involved in this plan. As the US tries to stand firm on its commitment to its policy with Afghanistan and Pakistan, a war between India and Pakistan could damage its efforts in the region.
With 2009 being the most deadliest year for Afghan civilians as fatalities rose by 14% , the Wall Street Journal reported on the new generation of Taliban commanders who were more determined to drive foreign troops out of Afghanistan rather than reach a negotiated settlement. The article explains that while the Taliban were a broken force after the US and NATO invasion of the country it is the younger generation of commanders who have transformed the Taliban into an effective guerrilla fighting force.
Most of the new generation of Taliban commanders have grown up knowing nothing else besides 30 years of continuous warfare. While the older generation were seen as more pragmatic the younger generation seem less inclined to negotiate. Though Mullah Omar and his inner circle and Osama Bin Laden continue to lead their movements it is Sirajuddin Haqqani who has emerged as an influential figure in the Afghanistan insurgency and the conflict along Pakistan's border tribal region. He has ties to every major group in the confederation of factions under the Taliban umbrella as well as with Al Qaeda. His base in Pakistan's Northern Waziristan attracts militants from all over the world. US and Afghanistan officials believe that he was probably responsible for the major attack on the Afghan capital, Kabul, just 50 yards away from the presidential palace. The assault in Kabul was a response to the Afghan government's reconciliation plan. Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban's spokesman emphasised that the Taliban were prepared to fight and not make any deals to lay down their arms. Attacking a major city centre has sent shockwaves throughout the country as the, primarily rural, insurgency has demonstrated that nowhere in the country is safe.
NATO continues to stress that failure is not an option for the US and its coalition partners. In a statement made at the February 2009 meeting of NATO and partner defence ministers in Krakow, Poland, Mr Jaap de Hoop Schefer reiterated the now common mantra that "we should not be under any illusion that there is a military solution" and that greater cooperation is need among NATO allies and their partners. Also, as the Taliban and Afghan insurgency takes its toll on coalition supply routes through Pakistan, the US has been able to secure alternative routes through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. However these routes will be used only for non-military supplies. About 50 to 200 containers will be sent via the two countries every week. The Tajikistan government has given permission to the US to use its railways and roads to transport non-military supplies into Afghanistan. The US has also invested millions in the construction of a bridge that connects Tajikistan to Afghanistan which will almost certainly be used. The US has also reached agreements with Russia and Kazakhstan to transport non-military supplies through their territory. This comes in the wake of the loss of the US's only military base in the Central Asia region, Kyrgyzstan. The decision of the parliament Kyrgyzstan to close the base is due to the Kyrgyzstan government claiming that the US has not been paying enough rent for their base in Manas, whilst the US has said it would be willing to pay more but within reason.
The 'Taliban' Today
Currently applying the term Taliban to all insurgents in Afghanistan is an inaccurate way of portraying several diverse groups. According to Paul Rogers of Bradford University, elements of the former Taliban leadership are still in charge of that movement, though its rank and file is somewhat more complex. Taliban fighters can range from those dedicated to the movement to local villagers and youth lured by high rates of pay.
Kofi Annan claims that currently the insurgency is being conducted mostly within Afghanistan's borders, by Afghans. However, the leadership relies on support from outside the country. Annan identifies the centre of gravity of the insurgency as being in the south around Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, and increasingly Farah, though insurgent activity occurs throughout the country.
Annan identifies five distinct leadership centres of the insurgency:
• The wing of Hizb-e-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Kunar
According to Annan, the leadership forms the hard core of the insurgency and is widely considered not open to reconciliation. They operate from cross-border sanctuaries, which provide fertile recruiting grounds from the Afghan refugee camps. Unemployed, indoctrinated young men from these camps generally form the mid-level leadership of the Taliban. Afghans recruited within Afghanistan are most often the foot soldiers of the insurgency, though their motivations are often economic. This group is considered more open to reconciliation, especially if economic incentives are offered. Corruption amongst police, judiciary, and government officials, disappointment with the pace of development, uneven power distribution among some Pashtun tribes, and social policies that are perceived to threaten traditional tribal, religious, and ethnic practices have all been cited as sources of discontent.
Brigadier Jerry Thomas, commander of the 4,200 British Soldiers in Helmand in November 2006, echoed Annan's iteration that there is a hard-core of ideologically driven Taliban that are not open to reconciliation. Thomas said separating those that are open to reconciliation from those that are not is a central component of ISAF strategy. Thomas estimated the number of truly irreconcilable Taliban to be in the 'tens.'
The situation is also confused by shifting alliances amongst local landowners and former warlords who have stakes in opium cultivation, tribal allegiances, and local feuds. The presence of foreign Jihadi fighters and Al Qaida operatives further demonstrates the diversity of the 'anti-government' forces.
The Centre for Contemporary Conflict's Thomas Johnson and M. Chris Mason claim the Taliban is a tribal, more than an Islamic, movement. Most of the movement's leadership is from the Ghilzai Pashtuns, and its principle areas of operation coincide with the Ghilzai's largest population centres (Uruzgan, Zab ul, Ghazni, Dai Kundi, and Paktika). Johnson and Mason also claim that Mullah Omar's leadership is a centre of gravity of the Taliban movement, as opposed to the nearly infinite number of foot soldiers the Taliban can produce.
The degree of popular support for the Taliban and other insurgent forces is difficult to measure. Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies has published a slide-show format report that indicates levels of support for the Taliban of approximately 31% in Helmand/Kandahar and 71% in between Paktika and Wardak. The report, Iraq, the Gulf, Afghanistan: The Way Ahead includes maps portraying the area of operations of the key insurgency groups in Afghanistan, in addition to various statistics on attacks and Afghan perceptions of the security threat.
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Source: International Crisis Group Report, "Countering Afghanistan's Insurgency: No Quick Fixes." (2 November 2006): 28.
In October 2008 it was made known that Canada was to step up its efforts to reach out to those Taliban fighters who could be negotiated with. It was announced that the Canadian government will be funding an Afghan-supervised reintegration program. This program would give these militants job training and also relocate them to other parts of the country. $14 million has been set aside to fund this demobilization project. In addition to this initiative, Louise Delvoie, a senior fellow at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and Canada's High Commissioner to Pakistan, said that Canada should be encouraging Afghanistan to negotiate some form of power sharing with the moderate elements of the Taliban. There have been some signs of success in efforts to reach out to these elements of the Taliban. The Peace and Reconciliation Office in Kandahar has reached out to 512 former Taliban. However, care has to also be taken in assessing the impact of such programs in an ongoing conflict. Relocating Taliban to other parts of the country might stir other conflicts in the areas of their relocation.