"In an unusually emotional interview, the departing Afghan president sought to explain why he has been such a harsh critic of the twelve-year-old U.S. war effort here. He said he's deeply troubled by all the casualties he has seen, including those in U.S. military operations. He feels betrayed by what he calls an insufficient U.S. focus on targeting Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And he insists that public criticism was the only way to guarantee an American response to his concerns."
Even as Afghan forces take the lead in providing security and NATO draws down its military presence, the Taliban continues to wage a resilient insurgency. Prospects appear dim for a negotiated settlement or the group's participation in electoral politics.
After the tragic reappearance of polio in Afghanistan's capital city, Kabul, Laurie Garrett and Maxine Builder explore how Taliban plots to obstruct polio vaccinations could derail many hard-fought gains in global health and development.
There are good reasons to worry about a precipitous departure of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan. The country remains fragile and the Taliban still threaten key areas. Withdrawing all troops would leave the Afghans to fend for themselves against a resurgent Taliban. And because the United States uses its presence to monitor and target al-Qaeda and other threats, such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons from the region, leaving the country completely would mean having less warning or ability to respond.
The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act required an independent assessment of the Afghan National Security Forces. The Department of Defense selected the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), whose Center for Strategic Studies provided this report on January 24, 2014.
"Perhaps Ahmadullah no longer feels that his life is at risk. Unlike al-Qaeda, the Taliban have emerged from the past decade remarkably unscathed. Many of the group's leaders have vanished into tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and others live in urban areas—such as Quetta and Karachi—where U.S. drones could not reasonably operate. Still, if Ahmadullah who is no older than forty-seven, has any hope of playing a role in Afghanistan's future, he will have to emerge at some point from 'under the grave.'"
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon reviews a new memoir by former defense secretary Robert Gates, in which he publicly calls to question the U.S. administration's policies in Afghanistan, and questions again the United States' role in a post-2014 Afghanistan.
"While a key policy takeaway—avoid civilian casualties—seems obvious, even taking great pains to minimize civilian suffering is no guarantee that civilians can be won over. Cognitive biases that predispose individuals to favor (or excuse) the actions of their fellow in-group members, while simultaneously using negative actions by the out-group (like ISAF) to confirm prior prejudices, are powerful frameworks not easily overcome during wartime. Without engaging these underlying psychological biases, however, efforts to win hearts and minds are likely to be expensive, protracted, and, in the end, fleeting."
Authors: Graeme Smith, Nader Nadery, Daniel S. Markey, Seth G. Jones, and Clare Lockhart
Afghanistan faces a critical year as NATO-led troops draw down, international aid drops, and elections could deliver the country's first democratic transfer of power. Five experts weigh Afghanistan's prospects in 2014.
The French newspaper Le Monde interviewed Afghan President Hamid Karzai on December 10, 2013. He discussed the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement about U.S. military assistance in Afghanistan after 2014 and his conditions for signing it.
"While there is a great deal of variation in the responses based on region, province, urban versus rural, education level, income, and gender, the 2013 survey findings give reason for cautious optimism as Afghans move into critical elections and security transition in 2014."
The United States maintains important interests in Afghanistan, even as most U.S. and allied troops are withdrawn in 2014. Seth G. Jones and Keith Crane assess the political, security, and economic challenges facing U.S. policymakers in Afghanistan and evaluate a range of policy options.
Following recent decisions made during a meeting of the Afghan grand assembly, Gayle Lemmon discusses how Afghans, U.S. foreign policy leaders, and others are working to shift the international perception of the Afghanistan war from one of hopelessness to one that reflects the strides the country has taken in economic growth, development progress, and human rights.
"When asked if Karzai was concerned that the US might lose faith and withdraw altogether, the president's spokesman said: 'We don't believe there is a zero option.' This rock solid belief that the U.S. will not walk away from Afghanistan gives Karzai the confidence to hold out when the Americans, as well as everyone at the jirga...are pressing him to sign."
"[Karzai] would support an alternate center of power in the provinces in order to undermine the official one, such as the governor, that he had formally appointed. That way, both could be controlled by being balanced against each other; two weak allies were better than a single strong one who might break away. The result was perpetual instability. The tragedy of Karzai is that his survival strategy has been one that ultimately promotes weakness rather than strength."
Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Karzai agreed on a draft text regarding the U.S.-Afghan security partnership after international combat troops withdraw. The agreement is set to take effect on January 1, 2015 and remain in force through 2024.
"Independent reports by human rights groups back Karzai's contention that there are too many civilian deaths in Afghanistan. But if they have become his rallying cry, it is also because they bring to mind the broader issue of Afghan sovereignty — the feeling Afghans have that they have become colonized subjects."
The Council on Foreign Relations' David Rockefeller Studies Program—CFR's "think tank"—is home to more than seventy full-time, adjunct, and visiting scholars and practitioners (called "fellows"). Their expertise covers the world's major regions as well as the critical issues shaping today's global agenda. Download the printable CFR Experts Guide.
The author examines Pakistan's complex role in U.S. foreign policy and advocates for a two-pronged approach that works to quarantine threats while integrating Pakistan into the broader U.S. agenda in Asia.