June 9, 2008
If Taliban sanctuary bases in Pakistan are not eliminated, the United States and its NATO allies will face crippling long-term consequences in their effort to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.
The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, finds that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and Frontier Corps have failed to root out Afghan insurgent groups based in Pakistan and, in some cases, individuals from these Pakistani organizations have provided direct assistance to such groups as the Taliban and Haqqani network.
“Every successful insurgency in Afghanistan since 1979 enjoyed safe haven in neighboring countries, and the current insurgency is no different,” said report author Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at RAND. “Right now, the Taliban and other groups are getting help from individuals within Pakistan's government, and until that ends, the region's long-term security is in jeopardy.”
The study, “Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan,” is the latest in a series examining insurgency and counterinsurgency, and details how the United States should improve its capabilities for future conflicts. The capstone report of the series, “War by Other Means,” was released in February by RAND, a non-profit research organization.
“Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan” examines the beginning of the country's current insurgency, the most important factors that influenced counterinsurgency efforts and the capabilities the United States should use to wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign.
It finds that while the insurgency has arisen primarily because of governance challenges in Afghanistan, sanctuary and outside support are critical. In addition to the Taliban, Jones says other insurgency groups finding refuge in Pakistan include the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's radical Islamic Hezb-i-Islami organization, al Qaeda and a number of local tribes and sub-tribes.
The study finds that these insurgent groups find refuge in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, North West Frontier Province, and Balochistan Province. They regularly ship weapons, ammunition and supplies into Afghanistan from Pakistan, and a number of suicide bombers have come from Afghan refugee camps based in Pakistan.
“Solving this problem will require a difficult diplomatic feat: convincing Pakistan's government to undermine the sanctuary on its soil,” Jones said.
Eliminating the Pakistan sanctuary bases is one of the study's three key recommendations. It also emphasizes the need for the United States and its allies to help build the Afghan security forces, particularly the police, and to improve the quality of local governments, especially in Afghanistan's rural regions.
The report finds that Afghanistan's national police force is in disarray, incompetent and almost uniformly corrupt, and its members are often loyal to local commanders at the expense of the country's central government.
“Corruption within the government is detrimental to the counterinsurgency campaign because it cuts away at the population's support for its leaders,” Jones said.
Jones, who has made repeated trips to regional police training centers in Afghanistan, said coalition forces failed to establish a police force in the early stages of the war. Such a force is critical because its members would know the local population and terrain better than U.S. forces, and would be more familiar with social and cultural conditions.
A strong U.S. role in local security matters could spark a strong nationalist or religious backlash, the study finds.
“For the United States to succeed in Afghanistan, it must focus its resources on improving the capacity of indigenous government and its security forces to wage counterinsurgency warfare,” Jones said.
Coalition forces also must help build and improve the quality of local governments, especially in rural areas of Afghanistan. The study finds that a poor security environment has kept development and reconstruction efforts from reaching outlying areas far from larger populated regions.
Moreover, provincial reconstruction teams are too geared toward military personnel at the expense of civilian reconstruction and development experts.
“U.S. strategy has repeatedly ignored or underestimated the importance of locals in counterinsurgency operations,” Jones said. “The counterinsurgency battle will be won or lost in the local communities of rural Afghanistan, not in urban centers such as Kabul. This means the counterinsurgency must find ways to reach these communities despite security concerns.”
The report was prepared by the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center that does research for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the unified commands and other defense agencies.
“Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: RAND Counterinsurgency Study -- Volume 4” is available at www.rand.org.