National Security Network

Kabul Attacks and the Challenge of Transition

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Report 31 October 2011

Afghanistan Afghanistan

This weekend, a suicide bomber blew up an armored bus in the capital of Afghanistan, killing 17 people, including 13 Americans. That attack is one more tragic event in a mixed picture where violence in Afghanistan is trending. While the Pentagon sees fewer insurgent-initiated attacks, the UN notes a rise in civilian casualties. No attack should derail the essential process of transition to Afghan authority - on security but also in politics and the economy. The first of two international conferences aimed at coordinating the transition process begins this week in Istanbul, Turkey. That conference will focus on security, good governance and economic growth. Governance, specifically, is an area that needs strengthening for the handover to be successful. As a Pentagon report noted last week, the government of Afghanistan has made only "limited progress" towards being sustainable and accountable.

Attack underscores a mixed picture on violence in Afghanistan. This weekend's attack, which killed 17 troops and civilians, was "the 16th high-profile attack in Kabul this year, said the U.S. military, and the single-most deadly strike on the Western coalition in the capital since the 2001 invasion," reports the Wall Street Journal. The episode underscores the mixed picture of violence in Afghanistan. As the Financial Times reports, "The Pentagon issued a progress report on Friday that said that the number of enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan is falling. Since May of this year, the monthly number of these attacks has been lower than the same month in 2010, a trend not seen since 2007, the report said. However, the United Nations said in a report in July that more Afghan civilians had been killed in the first half of this year than during any period since the start of the war in 2001. Civilian deaths were 15 per cent higher compared to the first half of 2010, due to roadside and suicide bombings, fighting and more deaths from air strikes." [Wall Street Journal, 10/31/11. Financial Times, 10/30/11]

Violence shouldn't derail transition - security as well as political and economic tracks must move ahead. The latest string of attacks comes as the international community gathers to coordinate the process for transitioning responsibility for Afghanistan to Afghans. This week, the first of two international conferences on transition begins in Istanbul, Turkey. The latter conference will be held in Bonn, Germany, in December. As the U.S. Institute of Peace's Hodei Sultan writes, there are three mains components of the transition process: "The first component of a successful transition in Afghanistan is the security handover, which will require building up the capacity of the ANSF-including the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police and other elements of the Afghan security forces... The second component is a political settlement. Most Afghans and members of the international community recognize that a political settlement is considered critical to bringing about genuine peace to Afghanistan... The third component of the transition process is the economic component. Weaning the Afghan economy off foreign aid and military spending is critical to a successful economic transition." While the media discussion tends to focus on incidents of violence and how they relate to the security situation, political and economic progress are also essential to a transition that achieves U.S. goals in Afghanistan. [USIP, 9/20/11]

Significant governance reforms are necessary for transition. Governance in particular remains a weak spot in the plan for transition. As the Pentagon's report noted last week, the government of Afghanistan, led by Hamid Karzai, "has made only limited progress in building the human and institutional capacity necessary for sustainable government." The effects of weak governance can be seen throughout the country. A report today in the Washington Post, which alleges that U.S. officials knew about "systematic torture" in Afghan intelligence agency detention centers, illustrates the larger problem of weak governance and a lack of accountability in Afghanistan. [Pentagon report via Politico, 10/28/11. Washington Post, 10/10/11]

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