U.S. goals in Afghanistan are broad and clear: root out al Qaeda and the Taliban forces, prevent their return, support self-governance, and ensure security, stability and reconstruction. To accomplish these goals, the United States and the international community are undertaking two major campaigns simultaneously. The first is a military effort to repel terrorist forces from Afghanistan; the second is a political effort to build a viable and secure state. Each campaign depends on the other’s success. Without an end to the war, reconstruction and governance will fail. If reconstruction and governance fail, the resulting power vacuum could allow return of al Qaeda and terrorist factions.
While the military campaign appears well in hand, the campaign to help Afghanistan rebuild a government and create a secure environment is not assured. Consider:
- For most of Afghanistan, there is no official security sector (police, judges, border control, courts, air force, army), leaving local control to those who wrest such power, including warlords and militias.
- Current U.S. and international forces prosecuting the military campaign do not and cannot provide security to many regions of Afghanistan.
- The 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops provide security only in and around Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, home to roughly 10 percent of the country’s population.
- The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), a political mission established in the eight largest Afghan cities, has no force to support it outside of Kabul.
- U.S. and European efforts to train an Afghan military, police and border forces are under way, but will take two to eight years to meet targeted levels for creating an Afghan security sector.
This paper looks at the major challenge to U.S. goals – the security gap in Afghanistan – and the need to bridge that gap until an Afghan security sector is built. It reviews U.S. goals, covers reports of insecurity hindering efforts in Afghanistan, looks at the security providers, and identifies the gap between current security and the effort to build an Afghan security sector. A companion analysis by Stimson colleague William J. Durch offers options to bridge this security gap, including expansion of ISAF by 13,500 personnel. For the short-term, Durch proposes expanding ISAF to 18,000 troops, deployed to major cities, along prime routes and at key border points.