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CFR Media Call on U.S. Policy in Afghanistan Post 2014 with Seth G. Jones

Speaker: Seth G. Jones, Associate Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, RAND Corporation
Presider: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
December 11, 2013
Council on Foreign Relations



OPERATOR: Excuse me, everyone. We now have all of our speakers in conference. Please be aware that each of your lines is in listen-only mode. At the conclusion of today's presentation, we will open the floor for questions. At that time, instructions will be given as to the procedure to follow if you would like to ask a question.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Boot. Mr. Boot, you may begin.

BOOT: Great. Well, welcome, everybody. It's my privilege to be hosting for this call Seth Jones of the RAND Corporation, who has been an outstanding writer and observer of events and analyst of events in Afghanistan, who's also worked with the special operations forces in Afghanistan, in addition to producing books like "In the Graveyard of Empires" and "Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa'ida After 9/11," both of which I highly recommend. And he is the co-author with Keith Crane, also of RAND, of a new Council special report called "Afghanistan After the Drawdown," which we are here to talk about for the next hour.

And so without further ado, let me turn it over to Seth to give a brief synopsis of his findings, and then I'll ask a couple of questions and open it up to the rest of you. So, Seth, welcome.

JONES: Thanks, Max. And thanks for your work on this subject. For anybody who hasn't read any of Max's recent work on insurgency, including his "Invisible Armies," they are must-reads. I use them for my own classes at Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies.

What I'll do right now is I'll provide a basic overview of the conclusions of the report, and then we can discuss details, other subjects of interest, including the bilateral security agreement, troop numbers, or anything else in the Q&A section.

I'm just going to highlight a few things that I think are of note. One is for the elections. I mean, our assessment is that overall the political situation in 2014, along with the security one, is bound to be amongst the most contentious issues, and the elections will be critical.

And while most people have tended to focus on who the specific president will be that takes over from President Karzai, assuming there are elections and assuming they take place around April, which is when they're scheduled, that the real focus and the most important aspect tend not to be the individual, per se, but Afghanistan's key constituencies, especially multiple Pashtun, both Durrani and Ghilzai, Uzbek, Tajik, and Hazara, so that the most significant issue, again, for the elections is monitoring how some of the key power brokers, especially individuals with access to substate forces and resources, respond to the candidate, because if we get a lot of unhappiness, unease, blatant opposition to the new president, we suspect that there will be increased fragmentation of the state.

The second issue is size of U.S. forces, so the security dimension. I mean, we assess that as the U.S. and NATO continue to pull back from bases, we've already seen it -- I was in Afghanistan two months ago -- Taliban, the Haqqanis, and other insurgent groups will increase their control of territory. So we're essentially putting together as a force of about 8,000 to 12,000 residual American forces after December of 2014, with a very special operations-heavy component and one that would look a little bit like -- I don't want to overstate any similarities here -- but would look a little bit like the missions we've seen in Colombia or the Philippines, where there's a focus on both direct action, counterterrorism, as well as training, advising, assisting Afghan national security forces and then local ones.

We're somewhat pessimistic about the likelihood of a peace settlement. We view the conditions that exist today as being not particularly conducive to any sort of major peace settlement, in part because we assess that in talking to some former -- I use that term cautiously -- former Taliban in Afghanistan on our recent trip, strongly argue that the departure of U.S. forces and this question about whether the U.S. is going to even stay in any major capacity after December of 2014 makes the Taliban in general unlikely to reach an agreement now, if they can wait for better conditions, especially on the battlefield later with a reduction in U.S. forces.

So those are some of the key issues, the importance of constituencies, the key constituencies in the elections. I can go into a lot more detail on the force that we're looking at and then issues related to the negotiations. Happy to talk about a lot more other issues, including neighbors, Pakistanis, the Iranians, or others, or the levels of funding we're talking about. We've outlined types of assistance for international donors and the U.S. on economic assistance, support to Afghan national security forces, but I'll leave my comments there and we'll wait for sort of more tactical, operational, and even some strategic level discussions until the Q&A period.

So, Max, back over to you.

BOOT: Great. Well, thanks for a very good overview. Let me begin by addressing the elephant in the room, which is the bilateral security accord, which Washington and Kabul negotiated and which Hamid Karzai in his either crazy or crafty way is refusing to sign for the time being. What do think he's up to? Is it going to get signed? And if so, when? And what are the implications for the kind of force that you would like to see in Afghanistan after 2014?

JONES: Well, if you read some of the most recent books on Afghanistan's history, including -- and probably especially William Dalrymple's book on the return of the king, which looks at the British -- the first Anglo-Afghan war and the historical treatment of Shah Shuja, who was ironically also a Popalzai like Karzai, and has had to deal with a legacy -- it's less than Dalrymple's book, but has had to deal with a legacy of being viewed as a stooge of the British that led to -- that led to his ouster when the British forces departed at the end of the first Anglo-Afghan war.

I suspect part of the hedging right now from the president is largely for domestic politics purposes and that his -- what he doesn't want to be viewed as in his -- I mean, he's essentially a lame duck, assuming we have elections and they happen around April. He's a lame duck now. So part of the question, I think, is, what's his legacy going to be? And I think that's very important to him. He may stay. He may stay in Afghanistan. He will likely stay in Afghanistan, and he actually may stay at the palace and stay in a very important background role, but his role as president is coming to an end.

I think he very importantly does not want to be viewed as a stooge of the Americans. So dragging this bilateral security agreement out I see as being done generally for domestic politics perspective, especially almost a legacy argument that he doesn't want to be viewed as a stooge or a puppet of the Americans.

I do think he's likely to sign it. An American departure would be, I think, catastrophic for the Afghan government over the long run. But I do think that the biggest problem we have at the moment is that with no U.S. military troop commitment post-December 2014, it puts extraordinary risk into the system -- almost like if you're looking at this in sort of investment terms of a market, it's -- there's extraordinary risk.

We've seen an increase in the number -- I don't have actual data on this, but I know from talking to a range of people, there's been an increase in the number of people asking for visas, including from Afghan national security forces. There's been concern about a departure of funds from Afghanistan, in part because there is growing concern that the U.S. may actually leave, so -- without a commitment.

So I think there is extreme interest in doing this bilateral security agreement as quickly as possible. My recommendation -- it's not in the report, but my recommendation would be the U.S. needs to signal that it is likely to stay and it is in its interest, and we can talk about the Al Qaida component later. But I'll hand it back to you, Max. And I'm happy to take additional questions on the BSA, as well.

BOOT: Great. Well, let me ask you about the presidential election, assuming it goes off as scheduled. And as you mentioned earlier, one of your recommendations is that we not choose individual candidates, but rather promote multi-ethnic coalitions. I'm just wondering if you can handicap for us today the field, who you believe would be -- is the most likely to prevail and who do you think would be the best bet from the standpoint of American interest and who would be somebody who would -- who we should be very worried about prevailing in the election?

JONES: Well, I mean, it's very difficult to predict at this point. I think some individuals with at least a historical pedigree as Mujahideen that are viewed as important religious leaders, I don't think that some of these individuals are going to have the support to win an election -- at least in a first round -- but someone like Sayyaf, for example, would cause concern about his Wahhabi background, his ties to the Saudis, and his ties to Islamist groups, not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere, that if someone like that were to emerge as a potential dark horse, there would be some concern from the international community.

You know, with sort of a fractured field right now, someone like Abdullah Abdullah, who did OK in the 2009 presidential elections, you know, his background is in -- as a Northern Alliance leader. He's got both Pashtun and Tajik blood from an ethnic perspective. But I think most Afghans view him -- and probably rightly so -- there's a perception that he's tied to the northern groups, because, I mean, he was a very close associate of Ahmad Shah Massoud.

So if we see someone like Abdullah Abdullah perform well and he sticks around in a second round and is able to take advantage of a fractured Pashtun field, and he actually wins or he comes close to winning -- or it's -- you know, it's a close election, there are corruption and fraud concerns, if he does really well -- and especially if he wins -- I think that's got a very serious potential for negative outcome in the sense of -- you know, we've got two examples in the past 100 years of a non-Pashtun running Afghanistan and it's triggered revolts in both cases among the Pashtun community.

So there are dangers to the security situation in an Abdullah success. And then that leads to a whole range of other potential candidates, somebody like Rassoul, who much of the West knows. He's a Pashtun. He served as national security adviser and as foreign minister. He's close to President Karzai, doesn't have a large base of support, might actually be useful for the president, if he were -- for President Karzai if he were to stay in power, because he's relatively weak, might keep Karzai in -- to have a key role in what happens after the election.

So, I mean, those are three kinds of people, sort of Mujahideen -- and there are plenty of others who are obviously running, so -- but I sort of wanted to break the response down into three types of candidates.

BOOT: And what are the odds that we're going to see even a reasonably free and fair election which is not going to be marred by the kind of widespread fraud we saw in 2009, at a time when, you know, the U.S. force presence was higher than it's going to be by the time of the April 2014 election?

JONES: I think there's -- there is a high likelihood that the elections will be marred by substantial fraud and corruption. I think there are some things that can be done at least to make the elections transparent. The U.S., for example, can provide financial and other support to improve poll worker screening, can help expand the observer missions at voting centers, can obviously provide security or help provide security, especially from the air, to Afghan forces on the ground at voting centers.

I think there's increasingly -- it's increasingly important to try to move some of the vote-counting away from voting centers to provincial offices for -- especially if there are multiple rounds, although there's going to be some concern about the movement of ballots as they go from -- and need to have some visibility on the ballots as they go from the sites -- polling sites and the voting sites to counting centers.

But I think, look, every election that we've had in Afghanistan, every presidential election has been marred by some type of corruption. I think that -- and, again, there are some things, I think, that the international community, the U.N., UNAMA, and other organizations can do. I would say, if we can get some halfway decent polling data before the elections and can at least compare how well some of the polling and how some of the candidates are doing before the elections with what happens after.

But I'll just say, finally, that, you know, we assess that most Afghans are probably going to be concerned more about the outcome than about the process itself. So we assess that Afghans may be OK in the long run with a fraud, somewhat even corrupt process if there's an outcome that they view as acceptable and if key constituents, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, and other constituents are OK, they get key ministries, that Afghans may be OK with the outcome. And that seemed to be the case in 2009. In the polling after the elections, they were OK in the end with Karzai, despite concerns.

So, again, just to answer your question very briefly, I think we should expect to see possibly substantial amounts of fraud and corruption.

BOOT: OK. I want to turn it over to the people on the call, but let me just ask you one final question on my part. I started by asking you about the prospects of Karzai signing the bilateral security accord. Let me finish by asking, what are the prospects that we on our side will belly up to the kind of commitment that you're outlining in this paper, which involves providing $5 billion a year in funding to sustain the NSF? I realize not all of that will necessarily be from the U.S., but we're going to have to pay the lion's share of it realistically. And then, of course, the 8,000 to 12,000 U.S. forces, which you recommend, which is higher than the number which is brooded about from leaks coming from the White House, which may or may not be accurate.

But just, what's your -- I'd just be curious for your sense of what the administration is actually prepared to do, assuming that the bilateral security accord does get signed?

JONES: That's a very good question. It's obviously -- it's tough to know without sitting in the room at the principals and the National Security Council meetings. My sense is that this obviously comes down to a discussion across key U.S. government agencies with the president and the vice president and that there is a -- I think all things being equal, there is support within some U.S. government agencies, including the State Department and the Department of Defense, for having larger numbers of forces, including at the levels we're outlining.

I would say the -- just in talking at an unclassified level with senior intelligence officials, there are concerns in the U.S. intelligence community about what would happen with a significant departure of forces to the terrorist and Sunni -- in particular Sunni militant groups operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions, including Al Qaida, and that there is a strong contingent that is -- has encouraged forces along the lines of what we've proposed.

Now, the key question, obviously, is whether the White House will make that decision. And I would say -- I think if the BSA discussions continue to drag on, if the elections are problematic, there is little agreement on the outcome, then I think there will be increasing reluctance to provide the amounts of assistance and the levels of forces we have talked about. So I think the conditions are more likely if we get something signed and we get elections in April and if they go into a second round later on that are relatively free and fair, fair enough for most Afghans, and then much of the international community. Then I think these numbers are better.

But, look, I'd be the first one to say, I think there's a very significant debate going on within the U.S. government at the top levels on exactly this issue. We're obviously sitting probably on the higher end of the spectrum. And it's a little ironic, if you look at four years ago, when I was serving at the senior levels of the U.S. in Afghanistan in 2009, this kind of -- these kind of numbers we're talking about would have been unheard of. I mean, it's just extraordinarily low. So we've come a long way in four years.

BOOT: Right. We've been defining the requirements downward, even though the task has not necessarily decreased.

JONES: No, that's right. No, and -- if I can just add one comment to that, I mean, again, what we're proposing here is essentially a SOF-led effort, as opposed to -- you know, with very limited conventional forces, which would be very different from what we saw in 2009.

BOOT: Right. OK. With that, let me turn it over to folks on the call to ask questions.

OPERATOR: At this time, we will open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key, followed by the one key on your touch-tone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received. If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the question in queue, just press star, two. Please limit your questions to one at a time. Again, to ask a question, please press star, one.

Our first question comes from Contessa Bourbon with the New York Times.

QUESTION: Hello. What are the risks in case there won't be a security agreement between Afghanistan and the U.S.? What are the risks?

JONES: I missed the first part. The question is, what are the -- I missed the word. What are the reasons?

QUESTION: What are the risks -- the risks?

JONES: Well...

BOOT: Risks, I think. Yeah.

JONES: Yeah, OK. Two things. If the failure to sign a broad bilateral security agreement leads to a departure of American forces -- and I'll come back to that issue in a second -- I think there are extraordinary risks. I think as we've already seen in my most recent trip down in the south and in the east, the Taliban has made advances in parts of Helmand province, including in the north, also areas of the south, like Garmsir, where the Marines have pulled out, where they went in, in 2008 and then 2009.

I think there are extreme risks in the east, especially for Haqqani advancements in Paktika, Paktia, Khost provinces, where the U.S. has closed most of its bases now and where Haqqani advances in these areas in particular would be of concern because of their relationship with Al Qaida and other militant groups, as well as what that then does to put pressure on Kabul itself. So that area, Loya Paktia, has traditionally been quite important for pushing fighters, weapons, improvised explosive device components into Wardak, Logar, any of the provinces that essentially surround Kabul.

And obviously in this case we're talking about an insurgency that is backed by elements of the Pakistan government, particularly ISI, which has a directorate involved in supporting Afghan insurgents, and some assistance, especially on small arms and a little bit of sanctuary from the Iranians.

So I think what the risks would be is an emboldened insurgency in key parts of the east and south, which would allow them also to push into the west and the north. I think you'd see even less likelihood to cut a political deal. And then I think there would also be, you know, growing support from Pakistan to the insurgency. So I would be very optimistic -- or, sorry, very pessimistic without a bilateral security agreement.

Now, it may be possible, without a broad-based bilateral security agreement, to at least come to a -- to agree on keeping some number of U.S. forces with, say, the Ministry of Defense or the NDS outside of a broad agreement, something possibly along the lines of what we've seen in Yemen or even what we've seen with some clandestine units in Pakistan.

So a failure of the BSA, in my view, does not necessarily mean that you'll see no U.S. forces. But it certainly increases the likelihood that the U.S. becomes very unhappy about dealing with Afghanistan and decides politically that it's going to move on.

Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: Yes, yes. Yes.

OPERATOR: OK. Our next question comes from Deb Riechmann with the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Hi. You mentioned at the very, very top, you said that the force that you're proposing could possibly look like Colombia or -- I think you said the Philippines? And I was wondering if you could expand on that a little bit. And also, is there a chance that -- well, John McCain asked at a hearing yesterday with Dobbins, he said that he thought that they should go ahead and announce how many troops they want to keep over there before a BSA is signed. Do you think that's a good idea?

JONES: A couple of things. One is, my only -- the reason I brought up Colombia and the Philippines were they were very SOF-heavy missions, special operations forces-heavy missions. But I'll just briefly outline the kinds of force -- the kind of force we're looking at.

But before I do that, let me just say that I think it would be in the U.S. interest to announce troop levels even before a bilateral security agreement for two reasons. One is, I think there's extreme risk in this lack of clarity about whether the U.S. will stay after December of 2014. And that encourages all sorts of negative aspects. It encourages some Afghans to defect to the insurgency. It encourages some Afghans to get visas and move themselves and their families overseas, because, you know, the U.S. left Iraq. The U.S. left -- at least ended support for Afghan Mujahideen after the Soviets departed.

But there's a history of leaving. And so I think if you're an Afghan, you've got to assume that there is a strong possibility that if the U.S. says it may leave, that it may leave. So I think -- and, really, the second part of that is, I think there is a strong possibility -- and this goes back to the previous question -- of Al Qaida and other groups increasing their presence, particularly in the east and the south, if there's no U.S. presence or even a very small U.S. presence.

So I think there is an interest for the U.S. to stay. And there is an interest for the U.S. -- and there's interest for Afghans to have the U.S. stay. And that means without a BSA, I still think the U.S. should indicate, if a BSA is signed, the kinds of forces that it's willing to provide to help settle some of the lack of clarity about what happens after December 2014, which is clearly a year away.

The force that we're proposing, it would be a little bit larger than what we've seen in some of the countries I talked about earlier, especially Colombia, especially Colombia recently. But, you know, for the most part, what we're not envisioning is a large combat process. I mean, most people would probably have forgotten that we still have special operations forces in Colombia and that we had them for the last 10 years in the Philippines.

We're looking at two squadrons essentially of tier one or other special operations task force units from Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC, to conduct attacks against high-value targets, roughly a battalion-sized task force to go with that of special operations aviation units, about three battalions of special operations forces, especially the Green Berets, to train, advise and assist the Afghan national local forces, so limited direct action counterterrorism missions and -- you know, in the special operations lingo, that's called foreign internal defense. That's building the capacity of partner nations.

And then along with that, including a range of enablers, from unmanned aerial vehicles like Predators and Reapers, which, you know, may do some limited strike, but for the most part, they do intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, AC-130 gunships, you know, some conventional forces to serve as quick reaction forces and some limited security force assistance teams to be advisers and liaisons, especially at the ministry level or the corps level of the Afghan national army.

Attack aircraft -- attack aircraft would be useful if a major Afghan city, as it did in 2005 and 2006 -- this was Kandahar -- would come under attack. Taliban nearly took Kandahar almost a decade ago, and a range of countries, including U.S. teams, had to -- with attack aircraft had to fight them off, and then obviously intelligence personnel, other things along those lines.

We've estimated that the cost of 8,000 to 12,000 troops would be about $4 billion to $7 billion per year, which is obviously massively, significantly less than the $113 billion per year we saw in 2009, with almost 100,000 forces. So it marks a notable drop.

I'll stop there.

OPERATOR: OK. Our next question comes from Lee Cullum with the North Texas Public Media.

QUESTION: ... for a fascinating and important presentation. You were just speaking of the funds that we have sent to Afghanistan. What did you say, it was $130 billion a year, $130 billion, $130 billion...

JONES: $130 billion just in military costs for the peak.

QUESTION: All right, $130 billion at the peak, down to, what, $14 billion or something like that. What do you think that the continuing funding should be from the United States? You said what you think it will be. Do you think that what we potentially will send will be adequate?

JONES: Well, what we're arguing is that we should, obviously, support the costs of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and that also we should consider providing some percentage of assistance to the Afghan national security forces, as well as providing some basic economic assistance, which has already been agreed on, frankly, by the World Bank at Tokyo and several other conferences.

Will it be adequate? It depends on several issues. If the -- and, really, we're at the point, over 10 years after the September 11th attacks -- and actually going on 13 years -- where the Afghan government and local entities really need to be at the forefront of this.

So part of the success is contingent on whether the Afghan government can get its act together in providing basic security in the country and delivering essential services. Now, I'd caveat that in two ways. One is, the central government -- at least in my view -- has never been in and of itself sufficient to provide resources into rural areas, so going to have to work with tribal, sub-tribe and clan leaders, especially Pashtun ones in the east and south.

And then, second, I think we've got to back off on what kind of state Afghanistan is, so somewhat decentralized state, but also one where I don't think it's going to control all areas of its country. I think if you look at a range of other insurgencies, which can last for more than a decade, two, three, four decades, depending on which country, like Cambodia, we're talking about or others, that perhaps like the Khmer Rouge in parts of Cambodia or the FARC in Colombia, for the foreseeable future, the Afghan government may have -- and I think we would expect to have -- territory controlled by insurgent groups.

But I think what this -- what these force levels will do is likely ensure that the government will not be overthrown and that it will at least control key urban areas and some important and strategically located rural areas. So I feel like the force package we've put together and the assistance in general coming from not just the U.S., but other European allies, including NATO countries, as well as international organizations like the World Bank, can have a reasonable chance of ensuring that the government is not overthrown and, you know, pending some wild card situations, like what happens with the elections in 2014, you know, you may get a transition -- an acceptable transition for Afghans to the next government.

And that might be good enough. But it won't be a government that controls all of its areas, and it won't be a government that's strong enough by itself even to deliver services and establish security even in areas that it controls. It's going to continue to have to work with, co-opt, and potentially coerce substate actors, and that's, frankly, been the history, in my view anyway, of stability in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you.

JONES: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Francis West with Random House.

QUESTION: Hey, Seth. Hey, Seth, how about talking to us a little bit about option B? From what I hear you saying, in all due respect, it's like you're still hanging on with this notion that America has to be in the middle of the fight with people on the ground. And the minute I hear talk about battalion-sized task forces trying to go back out and take parts of the countryside, I think it's inevitable we're going to end up at some point with a disastrous hit on some helicopters out there that will really turn American public opinion against helping Afghanistan. Have you considered option B, just get our troops out of there, but continue with air strikes and do toward Afghanistan what we do toward Pakistan? We have terrific spies in Afghanistan. We can keep the Al Qaida-types off-balance forever by bombing them, just like we're doing in Pakistan.

JONES: Yes, we considered both a...

BOOT: Before you answer, just for those of you who are not familiar with him, Francis West, who just asked that question, is better known as Bing West, the -- himself a prolific author on Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent a lot of time with the grunts out there. Sorry, back to you, Seth.

JONES: And one that I have read virtually every book that he -- that he's written, too. So that's a good question. You know, we did look at that option. Well, we did look at various components of that option, including what we called sort of a counterterrorism option that focused on keeping some task force, tier one units, or just air capabilities, strikes from fixed-wing aircraft or strikes from unmanned aerial vehicles, Predators and Reapers.

I would say a couple of things. One is, is there's a, I would say, a major difference between what we're seeing in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the sense that the Pakistan government, as problematic as it is, does control much of the territory within Pakistan -- with the exception of parts of the tribal areas, but that's been historically by design.

The Afghan government, on the other hand, has potential to be overthrown at some period. So, again, what I'm talking about in the size of the units is very limited engagement, really on the CT end, and the vast majority of the units providing training, advising, assisting, the way special forces, now Marine special operations teams, SEAL platoons have done recently.

Now, is there a risk of a helicopter being knocked down? Yes. There is Yemen right now, where we have smaller, but, you know, similar packages, just much lower in number. So there are risks. You know, at this point, Afghan insurgents don't have access to many surface-to-air missiles, so a helicopter that came down will have to come down because of small-arms fire or rocket-propelled grenades. I do think there's a possibility.

But my biggest concern and our biggest critique of, really, that kind of policy would be, if you're not involved in assisting the Afghans, training, advising and assisting intelligence collection, pushing them out to units like the Ktah Khas, which are the strike force, the Afghan strike forces, and then, you know, helping Afghan national army forces, help design operations, and then implement and then provide, you know, ISR, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, to some missions that they will likely lose the insurgency.

And with, for example, a growing Haqqani control of areas of the east, where I was just recently, a CT presence, in my view, means that the Afghan governments will die slowly. And I think that's not in our interest, because I think what you get with increasing tracts of land held by -- whether it's the Taliban in Nuristan or in Kunar or the Haqqanis in Paktia and Paktika is training camps. We've already seen an increasing in training camps under areas controlled by Farouq al Qahtani, up in Kunar, where I was earlier this year.

So I think a CT presence only -- and that's what I'm sort of characterizing it as -- increases the likelihood at some point of an overthrow of the government. I don't think that's going to be sufficient. And an overthrow of the government with the Taliban and its allies is a very extreme version of Deobandism.

So, I mean, I recognize there are differences of views, but we did look at it, assess, and then express concern over the long run with that kind of a presence.

BOOT: Can I just -- Seth, can I just pick up on a point that Bing was raising about air strikes and the possibility of directing air strikes? You know, that's always been a big issue. If there are not American eyes on the ground actually calling the air strikes, there's a huge danger that -- of civilian casualties, there's a huge danger that Afghan factions will use American air power to settle internal disputes, rather than to fight the Taliban, et cetera, et cetera.

What would -- under your construct, how would it work? Because there are -- you know, obviously, you're going to have -- if you're going to have these tier one special operations strike forces, obviously, they're going to be supported by copious air power. But is there going to be air power on call to support the Afghan forces, the ANSF? And if so...


QUESTION: ... how is that going to be coordinated? No?

JONES: No, no, no. What you'd need to have is -- for a strike to be called in under what we looked at is essentially American special operations forces on the ground. They'd need Green Berets and Operational Detachment Alpha or a SEAL platoon or a Marine special operation team or other conventional unit, if there's a limited advisory team on the ground. They'd have to call it in.

So if there was -- so in general, what you'd lose is the Afghan national security forces, unless there were U.S. special operations teams involved actually on the ground in planning or training at least from the background, or coming to the aid of -- if there was a major city like, let's say, Kandahar that came under serious attack and the U.S. decided to send in an ODA, Operational Detachment Alpha, with an Afghan unit, let's say, Afghan national army commandos or Afghan national army special forces or even the Ktah Khas on the ground, that it could call in the strikes, but not otherwise.

So in the vast majority of conventional fighting in Afghanistan, they would be without air power, except if there were U.S. forces that could bring it in, call it in and actually give the coordinates for it. So I would note that the Taliban has done pretty well, by the way, without access to air power. So losing it does not necessarily mean the -- you know, a major shift in the insurgency.

But, Bing, your question in general is obviously the -- probably the most significant sort of counterargument to what we've put together. Again, I would say very strong, I think it has risks that I'm not prepared to take. And...

QUESTION: Thanks, Seth.


JONES: It's a great question.

OPERATOR: Again, if you'd like to ask a question, please press star, one. And our next question comes from Richard Sisk with

QUESTION: You've spoken about Karzai's concerns about his legacy, vis-a-vis his resistance to the BSA. How much does that have to do, his resistance, also with the projected funding that the U.S. is willing to go forward with, assuming that there is a BSA? Essentially, is this partly -- his resistance -- is this partly about the money?

JONES: It may be. It is certainly possible that he's holding out for two reasons. One is a domestic politics standpoint, which I would argue is an important component -- I mean, my understanding, just visiting recently, is he did read Dalrymple's book, among others, so he has the Shah Shuja figure, historical figure in his recent memory.

But there may be also an interest in trying to get as much as he can in terms of resources, meaning money and financial assistance, as well as military forces. So especially because the U.S. has not announced troop commitments yet, and so, you know, I've not been -- in this case, I've left government, so I'm not privy to the conversations between either Karzai or any of his senior staff and the U.S., including Susan Rice -- Rice's recent visit, but I think it is certainly possible that he's trying to push for more money, more resources in general, but also more forces on the ground for when after the U.S. -- after December 2014, which is ironic, because if that's the case, then it means that the domestic politics talk is at odds, actually, with the resource encouragement in private.

I mean, because I think -- and I saw -- I talked to several senior Afghan officials when I was there in September. And all of them said to me -- they're all in the security front -- that we need the United States to survive. And that meant money, too.

And actually, just along those lines, Richard, before I finish, it is worth noting that the PDPA government in Afghanistan ended up collapsing after the Soviets stopped funding the government. So it lasted much longer than KGB assessments suspected, and they're declassified now, that CIA and broader national intelligence estimate analysis indicated the Afghan government was going to fall quickly after the Soviets left in 1989. They ended up staying on a lot longer than people predicted, and it's because the funding continued.

So I do think he views the funding as also quite important, because they've got limited access to internal sources of revenue, including taxes from foreign companies. They've got no warm water ports. And the -- you know, the hope that they'd get a lot of money from minerals, diamonds, and the mines, it's just -- it's not going to be -- it's not going to happen in the foreseeable future. I mean, we talked to some of the mining companies who said, you know, even the Chinese aren't -- the Chinese that own mines in Afghanistan aren't even digging at this point. So that is not a -- that's not a solution to potential funding problems that the Afghan government, Karzai need assistance from someone. And if the U.S. doesn't provide it, I mean, they will look elsewhere.

OPERATOR: OK. Our next question comes from Ayesha Tanzeem with the Voice of America.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. I want to -- explain a little bit about the neighbors, Iran and particularly Pakistan. What is their strategic calculation at this point? And what are they doing to achieve it...


JONES: That's a good -- that's a good question. We actually have a -- we've got a diagram which outlines the key -- our assessment of the key views of the neighbors in the report. I don't have the page number in front of me, but we do partly answer that question.

I would say, with at least the countries you're referring to -- actually, it's on page 12, regional dynamics -- in my view, the Pakistan interest is to have an ally in Kabul, which they don't have right now. I assess Islamabad generally views the government in Afghanistan right now as being much more strongly aligned to New Delhi than it is to Islamabad, and so that means backing substate insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan, so at some point they may have an ally in the country.

I would say, also, talking to senior Pakistan officials, you know, there is some concern with the direction Afghanistan is going in, especially for groups targeting the Pakistan state. There has -- there's been some effort to reach deals with the TTP, with the Pakistan Taliban, but a growing insurgency and anarchy in Afghanistan could potentially be used by groups like the Pakistan Taliban, which have a presence in south and north Waziristan right along the Afghan borders, you've already seen a growth in TTP in Afghanistan.

So Pakistan is concerned about -- some officials, anyway, are obviously concerned about chaos if it strengthens some anti-Pakistan groups. But I think overall -- I suspect that Pakistan's hope over the long run is that they get an ally, which they don't have in Kabul, which means from the Indian standpoint, it's exactly the opposite concern, which is they'll lose an ally, and I think they want an ally that wins in 2014, somebody they know. And the concern is if Afghanistan sort of verges in chaos, into a civil war, and it increases the number and the scale of Islamic militant groups, including ones like Lashkar-e-Taiba, where we have seen fighters -- Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters in Afghanistan, that that does not bode well for New Delhi in the future.

So I think this is why India will continue to support the elections. They will want an ally that is generally pro-Indian to win. And if the state becomes to break down, then I think what you'll get with the Indians is support to substate actors, especially ones that are -- have a history of working with the Indians up in the north and the west, and recruiting, frankly, in Pashtun areas.

And then the Iranians, I think their biggest objective -- the Iranians have been one of the few governments actually to oppose the bilateral security agreement. I think they want the U.S. out. And after the U.S. out, I think they have some concerns with a -- that have some concerns they have historically with a strong Sunni-Taliban-Deobandi movement in Afghanistan. I think they'd still like to see an ally in Kabul, but they'd like -- they'd like U.S. bases gone. They'd like U.S. forces gone. They'd like -- they've got an important incentive for trade relations, countering drugs in Afghanistan and the broader region.

And then I won't go into detail, but I think there are concerns among the Russians, Tajiks, Uzbeks, about the growth of militant groups that could target them, groups that could target the Russians. We've seen some individuals from Chechnya and the Caucasus operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and obviously groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

So I think most Central Asian governments and the Russians will definitely be concerned about a presence of groups that threaten their countries, which means, among other things, I think if the state begins to break down in some way, the elections go poorly or the U.S. leaves, will probably accelerate -- those countries will probably accelerate the fragmentation of the state by backing substate actors, large militia forces, whether it's Ismail Khan in the west or Muhammad Atta Nur or Fahim or others. So these states around the edges of Afghanistan do have the potential for adding to fragmentation of the state.

OPERATOR: OK. Our next question comes from Chandrakant Pancholi with Overseas India Weekly.

QUESTION: Hi. About Afghan forces, can you tell us how large they are and how much readiness they have, right, to fight these enemies? And you gave several scenarios. And do you think that our Afghan policy is a failure, because we couldn't even secure Kabul? And give us a worst-case scenario in Afghanistan, whether warlords will be taking over, whether Pakistan will (inaudible) be Talibani proxy? And whether Pakistani policy also is a disaster, since many, many years, because we are treating Pakistan as a friend, and as you know that in Afghanistan most of the terrorists were coming from Pakistani border and hiding there. And we spend like $18 billion in -- under 2010 I have figures. But can you just check whether we are in a delusion that Pakistan is not an enemy but is friend?

And about India, India doesn't have any military presence there. Do you think India has -- or can have military presence in Afghanistan, in case of Afghan government breaking down?

JONES: Well, there were a lot of questions in there. I'll try to break some of the more -- some of the main ones up. You asked first about the Afghan national security forces. They have about 350,000 total Afghan national army and police forces, and along with that, somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 Afghan local police.

I think the higher-end Afghan army forces are pretty good, including some of the Ministry of Interior forces, the Ktah Khas, which are the strike forces, the commandos, the Afghan national army special forces, and some of the kandaks have done pretty well, including in provinces like Kandahar and then in a few areas of sort of the northeast.

But, you know, there are kandaks that have performed rather badly. The police in general, I think, is still very mixed at best, the Afghan national police. And so without some assistance, I think the security apparatus could break down, especially if elections go poorly, and a lot of your Tajik, Uzbek, and even Hazara constituencies don't back the outcome. Anybody who's worked with the Afghan national army units also notes that there has been -- they do have a high number of non-Pashtuns, especially in the army. So fragmentation would potentially accelerate splintering within the Afghan national security apparatus.

I mean, on the question of Pakistan, as I noted earlier, I assess that Pakistan's long-term goal is an ally in Kabul and to minimize New Delhi's influence in Afghanistan and also, at the same time, to prevent anti-Pakistan groups, including the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan, from gaining bases in Afghanistan.

But if you look at the structure of the insurgency right now, its headquarters, its command and control is in Pakistan. The Taliban's inner shura, so Mullah Omar, Zakir, Mansour, the rest of the inner shura, it's three regional shuras, which are down in Baluchistan and then up in the north Waziristan area and then further north in Peshawar, which support resistance within Afghanistan, are all on the Pakistan side of the border.

So, you know, there is complicity and there is sanctuary within Pakistan for substate actors. So I would say that there has been a collective failure among the Afghans and international forces, including the U.S., to stop sanctuary and outside assistance.

Where Pakistan has been a bit more helpful is in targeting the foreigners in Pakistan. Some of the Al Qaida elements, they assisted in the killing of these Kasmiri (ph) and Nazhdi (ph) and Abu Bayed al-Masri (ph) and Rashid Rauf (ph) and a few others. So they have been helpful, I think, to the West in some strikes, but overall, in the insurgency in Afghanistan, Pakistan's strategic interests I would say are at odds with the Afghan government. They're at odds with most of the NATO countries operating there and are at odds with many of the neighbors.

So -- and just in the last question of India, military presence -- well, it's certainly possible. I mean, the challenge of an Indian military presence, obviously, in Afghanistan, it would be a lightning rod for propaganda. One would certainly see a range of the Islamic militant groups attempting to use an Indian military presence, especially if it was conventional, as a recruitment tool and would sort of continue this religious fight, this jihad element, except now you'd be moving from what they call sort of a Christian-backed Karzai government to a Hindu-backed Karzai government.

So you'd probably see a little bit of shift in the messaging. And so -- you know, in that sense, Indian assistance to training, advising and assisting may be more palatable than, you know, any sort of a notable military presence on the ground.

OPERATOR: OK. There are currently no questions in the queue.

BOOT: Great. Well, thank you very much, everybody, for a terrific call with excellent questions and, above all, with some excellent and very well-informed answers by Seth Jones, who has once again confirmed why he is one of the best Afghan analysts out there. And I would urge all of you to read his Council special report for more in-depth details on his findings and recommendations. So, thanks, everybody, for participating.

JONES: And thanks, Max. Thanks, Council, including Kate. And if anybody has follow-ups, feel free to touch base with me directly. So that's easy to arrange. So all from me, Max. I'll turn it back to you.

BOOT: Great. I think that's it.

OPERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today's teleconference. You may now disconnect.

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The Odds in Afghanistan

Author: Max Boot
National Review

Max Boot projects the chances of Afghanistan's success after the departure of coalition forces and national election in 2014.