April 26, 2011

The Taliban Jailbreak and Afghanistan's Future

The news that the Taliban have managed to break almost 500 prisoners out of a jail in southern Afghanistan should raise serious questions about the effectiveness of Afghanistan’s security forces and the assumptions behind U.S. and allied strategy going into the 2011 “fighting season.”

Over the past year and a half, U.S. and allied forces have achieved remarkable security gains in southern Afghanistan. All of these gains, though, should be considered to be transient unless competent local security forces can take the place of most U.S. and allied forces.

Gen. David Petraeus and his lieutenants understand that President Obama and the rest of the NATO partnership expects the United States and its allies to move responsibility for Afghanistan’s security over to the Afghans themselves between this summer and the end of President Karzai’s second term in office in 2014.

But there is much work to be done between now and then. U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan are counting on being able to shift the majority of their resources and efforts away from southern Afghanistan in 2011 and toward the “Greater Paktia” region of eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. and allied resources have been spread thin over the past two years and where security conditions have sharply deteriorated.

If Afghan national security forces are not competent enough to take the place of U.S. and allied forces — even with embedded U.S. and allied trainers and with the support of U.S. and allied air power — Gen. Petraeus will see his plans for transition in Afghanistan delayed in the face of increasingly impatient civilian authorities in both Washington and Kabul.