AAN Thematic Dossiers

Thematic Dossier I: Looking back at transition


In charge of security: Afghan soldier on the look-out in conflict ridden Ghor province. Photo: Pajhwok

The fifth and last phase of the security handover to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the so called transition, has been announced mid June. This prompts us to look back at the work done on this topic by AAN, starting in 2010. We find that looking at it as a whole allows a unique vantage point analysing a difficult and increasingly opaque process. For easy access to these resources, we have put together this special dispatch – our first Thematic Dossier. In the future, we will have more dossiers in order to make it easier for our readers to navigate through AAN’s substantial body of work. Each of them will gather all AAN analysis and publications related to one topic, organised as link collections. For a comfortable overview of all links in this first dossier, we have included with each link its date of publication (the most recent always first), the author and a brief summary. The dispatches have been sorted as follows: first The Beginning, addressing broader aspects of the transition process, specifically before and during its starting phase. Secondly, Provincial Reports looking at the security handover in certain areas of the country. Thirdly, The ANSF and Transition. Afterwards, The Other Handovers, offering an array of dispatches addressing mainly the handover of Bagram prison for combatants. And finally, Looking Towards an End: dispatches assessing the success of the security handover and what might come after – on the national but also the international side.

(1) The Beginning

Beating a Retreat: Prospects for the Transition Process in Afghanistan

Author: AAN

Date: 16 May 2012

As NATO member states gather for their summit in Chicago this coming weekend to discuss the security transition in Afghanistan and the prospect for continued engagement, the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) has released a new report exploring the complexities surrounding NATO’s current transition strategy.

Click here to read

One Year of Transition: A Look Back (1)

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 18 March 2012

The second phase of transition, which was announced on 27 November 2011, is drawing a close after a long winter, and after a turbulent few weeks that have refocused attention on the fall-out over the ongoing conflict. Many more areas of Afghanistan have witnessed an official transfer of security, while information about the third phase has started to seep out. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini takes a comprehensive look at what has happened in the last few months on transition, and wonders at the decreased attention by media and the public, and at the lack of clarity in some of the transitioned areas.

Click here to read

One Year of Transition: A Look Back (2)

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 18 March 2012

Second part of the retrospective look at the last three months’ transitions which took in many Afghan provinces. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini briefly comments on each of these and on some characteristics of the overall process.

Click here to read

Ahmed Rashid in Berlin: Transition before a political settlement “is absurd”

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 9 May 2011

Earlier today, Ahmed Rashid participated in a Chatham House-ruled podium in Berlin about ‘Afghanistan on the Road to Bonn: Impacts of a Region in Change’. Of course, the event was overshadowed by the recent killing of OBL in Abbottabad, which has created some optimism for an opening political solution in Afghanistan amongst participants, and Ahmed tackled this issue, too. But, more importantly, he was very concise on issues like the need for an inclusive political settlement before transition and about the urgently needed involvement of Afghan civil society in the run-up to the Bonn-2(*) conference in December. Therefore, AAN’s Thomas Ruttig documents some of what Ahmed said, with his permission.

Click here to read

Afghanistan After 2014 – Thinking about Scenarios

Author: Almut Wieland-Karimi

Date: 21 March 2011

While much of current international attention is focussed on the time from now to 2014, with the enteqal (handover) process moving into the focus – President Karzai just had defined the first seven areas of security responsibility affair, namely three full provinces and four other provincial capitals – in particular many Afghans look at the post-2014 period with fear. Our guest blogger Almut Wieland-Karimi(*) has thought about some scenarios – interestingly one which features a negotiated settlement with all post-2001 achievements preserved is not part of her list.

Click here to read

Handing over Responsibilities in Afghanistan

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 28 January 2011

International actors in Afghanistan have long been torn between negative trends, bleak assessments, ambitious strategies and ritualistic reports of hopeful developments. Their publics at home are uneasy about the lack of clarity on why their forces are in Afghanistan and what exactly they are achieving. Well-informed diplomats and policymakers are often very pessimistic in private, having seen the limitations of intervention from up-close, even though they cannot repeat their views in public. It is clear that international forces cannot stay indefinitely and that the current level of spending is unsustainable, but there are serious misgivings as to what might happen once they leave.

Click here to read

The Inteqal Express Gets Green Light in Lisbon

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 18 November 2010

This Friday’s NATO summit in Lisbon will nod through the Obama administration’s decision that there will be a phased handover of security tasks to the Afghan forces, maybe province-by-province, ‘inteqal’ in short. This is part of Petraeus’ copy-cat ‘Iraqi solution’ and the US allies’ exit strategy: declare combat operations over, withdraw a part of the troops, re-label the rest as trainers, keep some bases for anti-terrorism, including cross-border, let the Afghans do most of the fighting but keep the ‘trainers’ ‘behind the horizon’ in case something goes terribly wrong. Which might be the case, given the low quality the speedy built-up of the ANSF is producing, thinks AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig. (With material from Fabrizio Foschini.)

Click here to read

(2) Provincial Reports

“You Must Have a Gun to Stay Alive”: Ghor, a province with three governments

Author: Obaid Ali

Date: 4 August 2013

For many, Ghor is a blank spot on the map. Not much is reported from this large, mountainous province in the west of Afghanistan, but that does not mean it is a quiet place. Thousands of armed men led by criminals and “freelance” commanders, as well as a growing number of Taleban, roam Ghor’s districts. The Afghan National Police (ANP) has little means to control them, with only 1,400 men under arms, a significantly small number compared to other provinces. The people of Ghor live with the fear of anarchy just around the corner. AAN’s Obaid Ali travelled to Ghor and fills in some of the blank spots. In this first of three dispatches, he looks at the province’s security situation. He discovered that Ghor is a province with three governments.

Click here to read

Transition in Uruzgan (1): The fights that don’t get mentioned

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 12 June 2013

The daily news in Afghanistan is dotted with reports of small-scale attacks, mostly on police posts, district centres and government convoys. These reports illustrate what is going on, but do not provide a full picture: a large proportion of attacks and incidents go unreported. Although the strategic importance of the individual scuffles tends to be limited, the impression that they leave on the population, twelve years into the conflict and with 2014 approaching, can be profound. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert takes a look at various ‘minor attacks’ that took place in the Uruzgan area over the last week and assesses what they may mean for the population’s morale.

Click here to read

Transition in Uruzgan (2): Power at the centre

Author: Deedee Derksen

Date: 12 June 2013

“Only the dead see the end of war”. The encryption on the monument for fallen foreign soldiers in Camp Holland, the main international military base in Uruzgan, might end up a sad prediction for many inhabitants of this southern province. As foreign forces prepare to leave, Uruzganis are ever more worried about the future. Deedee Derksen reports from Uruzgan that fear, insecurity and uncertainty play into the hands of local strongmen.

Click here to read

Baghlan on the Brink: ANSF weaknesses and Taleban resilience

Author: AAN Team

Date: 31 May 2013

Is Baghlan province in the north of Afghanistan on the way to becoming a new stronghold of the insurgents? Two incidents symbolise this trend. On 20 May, one of the most powerful anti-Taleban commanders in the north, Mohammad Rasul Mohseni, died in a suicide attack. On 4 May, three Afghan police and one German soldier were killed in an ambush by insurgents. With the withdrawal of German troops scheduled for June, Deedee Derksen, Claudio Franco, Gran Hewad and Christine Roehrs look at the security situation and the shifting power structures on the ground.

Click here to read

Moving East in the North: Transitioned Faryab and the Taleban

Author: Obaid Ali

Date: 17 May 2013

It took little more than seven months to turn Faryab from a province with a worrisome security situation into a province under constant attack. Since the Norwegian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Faryab closed in September 2012, the security situation has quickly deteriorated. These days, Faryab is one of the main targets of the Taleban’s spring offensive. On the very first day of the offensive, the insurgents launched their biggest attack so far in the country, with several hundred fighters sweeping the Afghan Local Police (ALP) out of important positions in two districts. Clashes between national security forces and insurgents are continuing on a daily basis and the regular Afghan forces seem unable to make a lasting impact. AAN’s Obaid Ali updates an earlier report on a province perceived as a gateway to the north of the country and how the Taleban are targeting strategically valuable locations.

Click here to read

A War of Attrition in Farah Province

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 13 March 2013

With the withdrawal of foreign troops taking place countrywide, it is inevitable that not all provinces fare the same, given the differences in insurgents’ and government’s degree of attention. Farah, a province where transition was scheduled late by all standards, has experienced a serious deterioration in security, even before the transition was over. The second half of 2012 brought increased targeting of government officials and a regrouping of insurgent networks, and that trend has continued into 2013. The Taleban seem to be exploiting the opium harvest and the unpopular eradication efforts by the government to further establish their presence. It remains to be seen if the recently announced deployment of the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) along the Herat-Kandahar highway, in the place of private security companies, will help address the chronic insecurity problems of that stretch. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini offers an update on the security situation of the western province.

Click here to read

Trying to Control the Uncontrolled: the NSC’s decision on Wardak

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 26 February 2013

Months of reported abuses in Wardak by armed groups and individuals apparently linked to a US Special Operations base, and the failure of ISAF to take responsibility or to adequately respond, has led the National Security Council to announce that all US Special Operations Forces are to be removed from Wardak within two weeks. Although it is yet unclear to what extent the Afghan government intends the decision to be actually implemented, it is part of a wider push towards greater control and a stronger position within the partnership. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert takes a closer look, in five snapshots, at what the decision tells us.

Click here to read

A Taleban Foothold in the North: Faryab fighting up after transition

Author: Obaid Ali

Date: 26 November 2012

While the attention of the Afghan government and the media is focused on major battles in the south of the country, the Taleban are making further headway in a northern region after the closure of the Norwegian PRT in September. In Faryab province, the Taleban have already established footholds in far-flung mountainous areas and are now increasing attacks from there. The number of armed clashes with Afghan security forces has gone up as well as the harassment of non-government organizations (NGOs), while continuing assassinations and the recent massacre caused by a suicide attack in a mosque on a religious holiday dramatically spread fear even in Maimana, the provincial centre. AAN’s Obaid Ali follows up on his recent reporting from Faryab.

Click here to read

Living in a Minefield: Panjwayi after the US Surge

Author: Borhan Osman

Date: 24 October 2012

In the words of one local elder, life in Panjwayi resembles living in a minefield. The district just southwest of Kandahar city has been a major arena for the US troop surge that was ordered in 2009 by President Obama dispatching 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The surge ended in September this year and was hailed as a success by the US government. But according to Pentagon figures, the district is still among the ten most violent in the country. AAN’s Borhan Osman travelled to Panjwayi in late September to look at how the surge changed the situation. He found that it did not help to stabilise the area and, in some parts of the district, even has backfired.

Click here to read

Insurgents and Factions: Waves of insecurity rising in Faryab

Author: Obaid Ali

Date: 21 September 2012

Faryab province has turned, in the past few years, into an area of serious concern in Northern Afghanistan. Tensions between different factions still run high. The Jowzjan-Faryab highway faces a dire lack of security, and, except for a few areas, police only appear on it during daylight. The establishment of Afghan Local Police (ALP) units in the province and the appointment of provincial officials are perceived as unbalanced and unfair processes that yield negative impacts. The serial killings of influential figures in Maimana, the provincial capital, have created an atmosphere of fear even in the city. Finally, the release, through the mediation of the provincial Ulema council, of a religious scholar, who had been accused of having ties with the Taleban, rang alarm bells among the anti-Taleban jihadi commanders; as AAN’s Obaid Ali reports after travelling north earlier this month.

Click here to read

On the borders: Where do the attacks in Nimruz come from?

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

August 2012

The recent multiple suicide attacks that hit Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province – with possibly one of the single biggest losses of lives in the Afghan conflict – received relatively small attention by the international media. Of course, both the global media and public are in a slack period regarding news from Afghanistan. The fact that it had happened in a province that usually is far from major trends in the conflict, seemed to have made this neglect even easier. The later announcement by National Directorate of Security (NDS) about the Iranian identity of at least some of the attackers may renew interest in the story. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini looks at the dynamic of the incident and the reaction of the Afghans in Nimruz and in Kabul.

Click here to read

New Battles and Old Wants in Nuristan

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 2 June 2012

The killing of the deputy shadow governor of the Taleban for Nuristan, apparently in a drone strike on his native village of Amshuz, Waygal district, represents just the last chapter in what has already been a rather intense fighting season in the province for two months. A perennial candidate for insurgent takeover, Nuristan witnessed some emergency deployment of Afghan troops and Coalition airstrikes early this year, and also some initiatives by the provincial authorities to quell the insurgency by way of reconciliation and road building. However, as AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini reports, the most basic problems still remain to be addressed in this most remote corner of Afghanistan.

Click here to read

Transition and Peace Talks: Optimism and Confidence in Herat?

Author: Hamisha Bahar

Date: 19 May 2012

Transition of security and the possibility of a process of peace talks with the Taleban are a concern to most Afghans. According to reports, house prices are falling, investors are getting more careful and more and more people are contemplating to leave the country because of concerns that the situation may get worse. However, the situation is not the same in all of the country; provincial differences are many. AAN’s Hamisha Bahar looks at what is happening, and what these processes mean to the people of Herat, the capital of one of the biggest and most affluent provinces of Afghanistan.

Click here to read

Transition Phase Three: A Big Leap Forward

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

May 2012

A new phase of the security transition, the third, has been announced. Every Afghan province is now going to be involved, at least partly, in the transfer of security from ISAF troops to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). This is the case even in areas where foreign troops are no longer present or where Afghan troops are not present in sufficiently large numbers. A new report by AAN, ‘Beating a Retreat’, examines the long-term potential impact of transition – also known as enteqal – on security and the economy. Here, AAN analyst Fabrizio Foschini looks at the more immediate impact, both positive and negative, of the process on the ground, especially in the face of continuing (or resumed) Taleban operations.

Click here to read

In Kabul’s Shadow: the attacks in the provinces on 15-16 April

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 24 April 2012

The attacks that took place a week ago in Kabul received more than their fair share of media coverage. The same thing cannot be said for the parallel attacks launched by insurgents simultaneously in three other provincial capitals. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini and Obaid Ali look into the attacks in Nangrahar, Paktia and Logar, to try and make political sense of these lesser tragedies. They try to figure out who the attackers were and how they got to Kabul and the provincial centres, also in the light of the recent announcement that an operation by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) intercepted several tons of explosives meant for staging further attacks in Kabul (the ‘potato truck affaire’).

Click here to read

Farah (2): Empty Spaces beyond the Road

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 20 April 2012

Part two of the report on the vast and far-off western province of Farah. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini looks at the threat that insurgents pose to communication routes and at the successes and shortcomings of security arrangements in the districts, complicated by poppy crops, social divides and the lack of an effective government presence.

Click here to read

Nuristan in Fall

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 11 October 2011

After a tough start, Nuristan province has passed the summer without further serious traumas. Still, all the pre-existing concerns about an insurgent takeover of the whole province are still there, just probably postponed to next year depending on the early onset of winter. In order to prevent this from happening, it is high time to develop a new, comprehensive strategy to enhance state presence in the forsaken province, and none but the Afghan government can work that out, according to AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini.

Click here to read

The Enteqal Seven (7): Opportunities and Concerns in the North

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 12 September 2011

More than one month has passed since Mazar-e Sharif was officially transitioned to the responsibility of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), along with the cities of Herat, Lashkargah and Mehtarlam, the provinces of Bamian and Panjshir, and most of Kabul. In the last of this series of blogs, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini, with the help of Enayat Najafizada, analyses the transition in Mazar with a look at the approaching second batch of areas to be transitioned, which is said to significantly involve provinces in the northern region.

Click here to read

Conflicts in the East, part II

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 17 August 2011

Coalition’s concerns arising from the increasingly aggressive and assertive behaviour of insurgent groups, or from their very identity and international connections, are not limited to Loya Paktia and the locally dominant Haqqani network. Following Petraeus’s guidelines and moving further East, one arrives in what has sometimes been termed Loy Nangrahar (Nangrahar, Laghman, Kunar, Nuristan – we can better call this part of the country the eastern region, according to the old administrative divisions). Here, insurgents are not under the sway of a major and highly distinctive network, but rather belong to several different groups, which, although cooperating in the fight against foreign troops, show a high degree of autonomy and unpredictability. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini reports about the ‘East’ proper.

Click here to read

The Enteqal Seven (6): What is left to transition in Kabul

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 21 July 2011

Against the blazing red background of increasingly brazen attacks carried out inside the capital, Kabul province moves towards the imminent transition of security. How this is going to affect the situation in the province, as the city and most of the districts have already been transitioned de facto in 2008-09, is not clear. However, it will possibly put further to test the efficiency of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) at a time when insurgent networks seem to close in, strengthening their networks in the surrounding districts in order to be able to strike inside Kabul. AAN’s analyst Fabrizio Foschini looks at yet another enteqal area.

Click here to read

Breaking News: Bamian handed back to Afghanistan

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 17 July 2011

The BBC has just been reporting that NATO has handed over the security responsibility for Bamian province to the Afghan government. It has bee a big secret – no one has told us in advance.

Click here to read

Guest Blog: The Enteqal 7 – Fear in the valley of the Five Lions

Author: Sayed Salahuddin

Date: 13 July 2011

The starting handover of security responsibility to the Afghan government, reports about talks with the Taleban and a feeling of alienation are contributing to a sense of increasing fear in the Panjshir valley, a stronghold of anti-Taleban reisstance. Our guest blogger Sayed Salahuddin* looks at the background, both in history and current events.

Click here to read

The Enteqal Seven (4): Herat, the Seeds of Fear

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 2 June 2011

Herat was a logical choice for the transition: rich, cultivated, well-connected, Herat makes the kind of city that can stand on its own feet without much effort. But of course, transition comes with a price. As it seems more and more apparent, the insurgents are keen on targeting these new would-be symbols of success for the government and the internationals. And then even the transition can create uneasiness between the ISAF and the population. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini, who landed in Herat just as the PRT was attacked, reports.

Click here to read

The Killing Continues – the Taloqan attack (Updated)

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 29 May 2011

The impact of yesterday’s suicide attack in Takhar, which killed the police commander of the northern zone General Daud and six others, is wide ranging. The international security forces and those counting on a smooth transition have lost an important partner. The Jamiat-based networks have lost a battlefield commander. The (northern) youth have lost a potential leader. Politicians from the original anti-Taleban coalition feel vindicated and justified in their criticism of the government, that in their eyes threatens to sell the country’s gains to the insurgents – cheaply and irresponsibly. And the Taleban have killed one of their most significant opponents, who had been battling the movement hard throughout the north since his appointment in August 2010.

Click here to read

The Enteqal Seven (3): Lashkargah – Southern Poster Child for Transition

Author: Jean Mackenzie

Date: 27 May 2011

The choice of Lashkargah as one of the first areas to be transferred into Afghan security responsibility was a surprise but can be explained: It is to give credence to the fulsome ISAF reports and certain sections of the media that peace, hope, and stability are just around the corner in this troubled corner of Afghanistan, and President Karzai can project that not only non-Pashtun are safe enough to be enteqal-ed. But does it really if Lashkargah is kept safe if the Taleban own the rest of the province? We continue our loose series about the ‘Enteqal Seven’ with a guest blog by Jean MacKenzie(*).

Click here to read

The Enteqal Seven (2): Around Mehtarlam, an ‘insurgency corridor’ in the making

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 10 May 2011

The start of the Taleban spring offensive is not stopping preparations that are on track for the announced transfer of security to Afghan forces, beginning in July. In the Eastern region, however, besides the scheduled transition in Mehtarlam district of Laghman, a much more problematic development can be witnessed, as US troops that abandon positions in Nuristan and Kunar are not replaced by their Afghan counterparts, but rather by insurgents. And in what sounds like doctoring the list of enteqal areas, a notoriously insurgency-affected area of Mehtarlam has been declared a new district, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini reports.

Click here to read

The Enteqal Seven (1): A Nowruz chakar to Bamian

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 25 March 2011

Spring is here again. With the first warmth, AAN staff starts its occasional migration to higher pastures, Bamian in this case. The Nowruz holidays offer a much appreciated opportunity (and the announcement of Bamian as one of the first seven areas where Afghan security forces will take over from July onwards) to do so without feeling guilty for the colleagues who stayed back in Kabul, and likewise the chance of random talk on different subjects, as Fabrizio Foschini experienced.

Click here to read

(3) ANSF and Transition

Another Post-2014 Capability Gap: Spin and reality of the Afghan air force’s readiness

Author: Gary Owen

Date: 11 July 2013

The Afghan air force (AAF) is of critical importance to the success of the Afghan National Security Forces, given the terrain and the continuing threat of roadside bombs. ISAF has been praising the ‘professional Afghan airmanship’ of late. But how accurate is this assessment? What is the Afghan air force’s real ability to provide for security after the end of combat operations by foreign forces in 2014? AAN’s guest analyst Gary Owen takes a look at the state of the AAF and examines three aspects: the current level of operational independence, the aerial attack capability and their capacity to complete medical evacuation missions.

Click here to read

Beans and Bullets: Pentagon report puts ANSF logistical and combat capabilities in doubt

Author: Gary Owen

Date: 26 February 2013

Since the 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of all NATO combat troops has been set, the strengthening of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) so that they can defend Afghanistan from the insurgency has become a central pillar of NATO’s strategy. The most complete, publicly available records of the progress of the ANSF come as part of the biannual ‘1230’ reporting on the war made by the US Department of Defense (DoD) to Congress. It derives its data from ISAF’s own reporting. AAN’s frequent guest blogger on military matters, Gary Owen,* has been reading the latest 1230 report, which was published in December and says it shows the Afghan National Army (ANA) is still facing several huge, fundamental problems: it cannot keep the soldiers it needs, train the soldiers it does have, or adequately supply the soldiers it manages to train.

Click here to read

The Civilian Casualty Tightrope: Karzai Bans ANSF Calling in ‘Foreign’ Airstrikes on Villages

Author: Gary Owen

Date: 17 February 2013

In a blistering speech on 16 February 2013, President Hamed Karzai called requests to foreigners by Afghan security forces for airstrikes on Afghan villages ‘shameful’.(1) His office said that tomorrow, he will issue a decree formally banning requests for strikes on what is being described in the English press as ‘residential areas’. The president’s move follows last week’s air strike in Kunar that reportedly killed about a dozen civilians, among them children. In previous times, Karzai could have blamed foreign forces for the deaths. But now, in keeping with protocols established between ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the airstrike was not conducted unilaterally, but was requested by Afghan forces themselves. This creates political and military complications for the president. However, report AAN guest blogger, Gary Owen* and AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, banning ISAF air strikes is likely to make it more dangerous for the ANSF and may not lead to fewer civilians being killed.

Click here to read

Guest Blog: Afghans or Americans on Top? The Future of Special Forces Operations in Afghanistan

Author: Gary Owen

Date: 22 October 2012

In July, a new task force combining all international and Afghan special forces under a unified command was set up. Known as the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan (SOJTF-A), it is led by an American general, but its spokesperson told AAN, ‘SOJTF-A does not have command of any Afghan Special Operations Forces, rather, we partner, train and fight together against the tyranny of terror in order to liberate the oppressed.’ Guest blogger and former serving US military officer, Gary Owen(*), has been scrutinizing the new task force and what appear to be the inherent contradictions of its command chain. He asks whether it may be a way of quietly re-introducing international control over night raids – following the April 2012 MoU between the Afghan and US governments which should have shifted command of them to Afghan forces – and looks at what the new force tells us about possible US and NATO plans for continuing combat operations after 2014.

Click here to read

No Country for Good Policemen?

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

Date: 21 May 2012

At the NATO summit in Chicago, everybody’s attention seems to be focused on the budget for the defence of Afghanistan and how much donors will spend after 2014, in other words on the quantity of security forces that the country will be able to field. But what about their quality? A new, excellent report on the Afghan Local Police (ALP) by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) offered AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini new points of view on the issue.

Click here to read

Transition Phase Three: A Big Leap Forward

Author: Fabrizio Foschini

May 2012

A new phase of the security transition, the third, has been announced. Every Afghan province is now going to be involved, at least partly, in the transfer of security from ISAF troops to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). This is the case even in areas where foreign troops are no longer present or where Afghan troops are not present in sufficiently large numbers. A new report by AAN, ‘Beating a Retreat’, examines the long-term potential impact of transition – also known as enteqal – on security and the economy. Here, AAN analyst Fabrizio Foschini looks at the more immediate impact, both positive and negative, of the process on the ground, especially in the face of continuing (or resumed) Taleban operations.

Click here to read

A New ‘Foundation Force’? The ever murkier future of Afghan Special Operations Forces

Author: Gary Owen

Date not mentioned

One of the outcomes of the current US-Afghan summit in Washington reported by Afghan media is the apparent emergence of a new Afghan special operations force, the “Foundation Force for Afghanistan”. Still there is no official confirmation of this. Our guest blogger Gary Owen(*) writes, however, that this would be very much in line with the US emphasis on Afghan SOF training and partnership and, when involving private military contractors, would enable the US to maintain direct influence over Afghan SOF while still withdrawing troops.

Click here to read

(4) The “Other Handovers”

The ‘Other Guantanamo’ 6: Afghans still struggling for sovereignty at Bagram

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 25 July 2013

It is exactly four months since the US military officially handed over its detention facility on Bagram Airbase to the Afghan Ministry of Defence. Whatever agreement was made between the two governments, it has never been made public. However, from speaking to detainees who have been released since the handover, AAN has been able to build up a picture of conditions there. Many more detainees are being freed than under the US system, including some whom the US had held without trial for years. However, former detainees say that even after being handed over to the Afghan authorities, the US military retains access to them for interrogation (the authorities deny this). They also say that, before arriving at the ANDF, some detainees are sent for interrogation to another, US-controlled site on Bagram Airbase known as Tor Jail (the Black Prison) where sleep deprivation is allegedly practiced. Senior AAN analyst, Kate Clark, reports.

Click here to read

The Other Guantanamo 5: A New MoU for Bagram and, Finally, a Handover?

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 24 March 2013

The Pentagon has announced and the Afghan presidential palace confirmed that the US military will hand over its detention facility at Bagram Airbase to the Afghan authorities tomorrow, 25 March 2013. The presidential spokesman, Aimal Faizy, told AAN the two governments have negotiated a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which, unlike the first MoU on Bagram signed a year ago, will not authorise detention without trial. He also said it would not give the US a veto on the release of any detainee and would oblige it to hand over detainees within 96 hours of arrest. Faizy said all detainees will have been transferred ahead of tomorrow’s ceremony, including the 38 individuals considered particularly dangerous by the US which it has held onto because of fears that the Afghans would release them. AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, who has been closely following the machinations of the handing over of Bagram for the last twelve months, says tomorrow’s deal – if the spokesman is correct concerning its contents – looks like a significant victory for President Karzai.

Click here to read

The Other Guantanamo 4: The Final Handover of Bagram in Sight?

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 3 March 2013

The transfer of detainees held at Bagram airbase from US to Afghan hands is once again in full swing. Transfers had begun after the US and Afghan governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on transferring Bagram almost a year ago, but they were suspended by the US in late summer 2012, due to reluctance on the side of the Afghan government to hold its citizens without trial (‘administrative detention’), as stipulated in the MoU. The two sides are now negotiating the final few – but key – issues: squaring administrative detention with certain constitutional rights, deciding whether those picked up by Afghan Special Operations Forces should also be detained at Bagram and agreeing how long the US military can hold a detainee before handing him over. These issues are important, explains AAN’s Kate Clark, as they touch on Afghan sovereignty, the ability to fight the insurgency and the setting up of systems that will last well beyond the transition and the end of the ISAF mandate.

Click here to read

‘The Other Guantanamo’: Bagram and the Struggle for Sovereignty

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 10 September 2012

Bagram Detention Centre has been officially transferred to Afghan control today, with the fundamental question of sovereignty – who has the right to arrest and detain Afghans on Afghan soil – still not resolved. The US insists it still has the right; the government says this is illegal. On Saturday (8 September 2012), President Karzai, General Allen, the commander of ISAF and US forces and James Cunningham, the new US ambassador, met to try to thrash out their different interpretations of the Bagram Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed six months ago and forms the basis for the handover. According to a government official, it was a ‘bad meeting’ with ‘hard talk’ and, even as the handover ceremony went ahead, says AAN Senior Analyst Kate Clark, the ambiguities inherent in the MoU are unravelling for all to see.

Click here to read

Handing over Night Raids

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 9 April 2012

Afghanistan and the United States have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on ‘Special Operations’, ensuring that night raids will continue – with Afghans ordering and conducting them and US forces acting only in support. The agreement is a victory for President Karzai who has long insisted – up till now in vain – that night raids must be in Afghan hands or cease. This gain in sovereignty also puts him and the Afghan government much more at the forefront of the anti-Taleban struggle, politically and militarily. Karzai will have to take greater ownership of the war, both for what goes well and what goes badly. As for Afghan citizens, their rights should be better protected by the obligation that a judge issues a warrant before a home can be searched. At the same time, warns AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, the MoU also envisages Afghan special forces arresting people who can then be held without trial.

Click here to read

The Bagram Memorandum: Handing over ‘the Other Guantanamo’

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 21 March 2012

President Karzai’s legal advisor, Nasrullah Stanekzai, has confirmed to AAN that there will be detention without trial of Afghans by Afghans when the Detention Facility at Parwan (DFIP), also referred to simply as ‘Bagram’, is handed over to Afghan government control, at the latest, on 8 September 2012. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by the Afghan and US governments on 9 March created a tight timetable for the handover, with security detainees covered not by Afghan criminal law, but the Law of Armed Conflict. AAN Senior Analyst, Kate Clark, looks at how this may open the door to new abuses of Afghan citizens

Click here to read

(5) Looking Towards an End

Opaque and Dilemma-Ridden: A look back at transition

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 12 August 2012

At its Lisbon summit in November 2010 NATO made “transition” its official strategy for Afghanistan, setting mid-2013 as the time when responsibility for security throughout all of Afghanistan should have been handed over – or “transitioned” – from NATO to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in a process of five phases. This time has now arrived, with President Karzai having announced the commencement of the fifth and last phase on 18 June 2013. It seemed a good time for AAN to look back at transition and our analysis of it. Sifting through dozens of related dispatches published since 2010, AAN’s senior analyst Thomas Ruttig finds it becoming more and more opaque over time, with the criteria of the readiness of Afghan forces constantly defined downwards and governance criteria dropped completely, or at least never making it into the public sphere. He summarises our analysis and looks at how stable the post-2014 Afghanistan can be.

Click here to read

Winding Down or in for the Long Haul? The emergence of a new US counter-terrorism strategy

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 8 July 2013

The great behemoth of US counter-terrorism strategy is shifting. President Barack Obama has said he wants to end the war, not just in Afghanistan, but also, ultimately against al-Qaida. Congress has also been making its first attempts to claw back some of the unprecedented powers it gave the president to wage war when, just after the 9/11 attacks, it passed the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) – this is the law which still governs military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. At the same time, though, Pentagon officials and generals and members of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee showed no sign of wanting to reign in US military operations. In a hearing on the AUMF in May, there was talk about going after al-Qaida ‘affiliates’ in Syria, Yemen and even the Congo. AAN Senior Analyst Kate Clark has been trying to assess what all of this means, especially for Afghanistan.

Click here to read

After the ‘operational pause’: How big is the insurgents’ 2013 spring offensive?

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 2 June 2013

With two high-profile attacks in Kabul and one in Jalalabad in the two last weeks, Afghanistan’s insurgents seem to have made true on their promise of a ‘monumental’ spring offensive. In terms of propaganda, the three attacks were successful: the media in Afghanistan and abroad gave the incidents wide coverage. AAN Co-Director Thomas Ruttig has been investigating insurgent activity over the past six months and comes to the conclusion that the level of violence this year has been high, approximately on a par with 2011, which was the worst year since the war began in 2001. There are larger concentrations and bolder attacks by the insurgents, combined with an influx of foreign fighters and madrassa students from Pakistan, although so far, mainly operating in peripheral areas. This could mean, however, the start of a build-up for more powerful attacks over the summer and into 2014. With the pending withdrawal of NATO combat forces, the Afghan war seems slowly to be changing its character, looking less like an insurgency against a foreign ‘occupation’ and more of a struggle between two indigenous contenders for power.

Click here to read

Allen, Obama and Orwell: Continuing War is Victory

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 13 February 2013

President Obama in his State of the Union address announced what to many looks like an accelerated drawdown of US troops with half out of Afghanistan by this time next year. ‘We can say with confidence,’ Obama said, ‘that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda… by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.’ Strange things are happening to language as the US mission draws to its end. General John Allen, handing over command to General Joseph Dunford on 11 February, spoke of victory, not in its traditional sense of having defeated the enemy, but in terms of US withdrawal and a continuing war fought by others. Given that ISAF and the bulk of US forces will be leaving come hell or high water, choosing to embrace such ‘strategic optimism’ may be Obama and the generals’ only option. AAN senior analyst, Kate Clark, has been assessing the state of the war and whether the new ‘victory’ narrative from the US is in any way reasonable or just plain Orwellian (with additional information by Thomas Ruttig).

Click here to read

Happy Christmas (2014), Will War Be Over?

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 25 May 2012

The spin from Chicago is working. Many media reported that the war in Afghanistan will be over and Western troops gone by 2014. Apparently, they did not get President Obama’s full message that was much more subtle: that the war ‘as we know it’ will be over. It will change its character and the new NATO mission will be smaller and less visible while western governments hope that less visibility will get the war in Afghanistan off the front pages. But don’t be fooled, says Thomas Ruttig, a Senior Analyst at AAN, there is no full NATO withdrawal and war will not be over just because you do not read about it anymore.

Click here to read

‘Spring Offensive’ and the War of Perceptions

Author: Martine van Bijlert

Date: 16 April 2012

It is not easy to strike the right balance when discussing yesterday’s attacks by the Taleban in Kabul and three provinces. The international media, particularly those without correspondents on the ground, have talked up the intensity and relevance of the attacks in eye-catching headlines, referring to them as a ‘Taleban offensive’, ‘attack on the diplomatic quarter’, ‘battle in the streets of Kabul’ or the ‘largest attack in 11 years.’(1) And although you can stretch yesterday’s events to make them fit, these descriptions invoke images that really don’t capture the flavour of what was going on.

Click here to read

Withdrawal in 2014? Myths and realities

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 2 April 2012

A series of contradictory statements about a possible earlier start to the (mainly US) foreign troop drawdown and a quicker handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces, as well as debate over the likely form of NATO’s post-ISAF mission in Afghanistan has caused confusion in the media(1) and wider public sphere recently. Thomas Ruttig, Senior Analyst at AAN, sheds some light on what will really happen up to and beyond 2014.

Click here to read

War Without Accountability: The CIA, Special Forces and plans for Afghanistan’s future

Author: Kate Clark

Date: 10 February 2012

That US Special Forces are likely to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and for the long haul, has been discussed for some time. According to The Washington Post, which went to a talk by the former head of US Special Operations Forces (SOF) in Afghanistan, Admiral Bill McRaven, at the National Defence Industrial Association in Washington and also heard from un-named ‘US officials’, the CIA is also, ‘expected to maintain a large clandestine presence, as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests in the two long-time war zones [Afghanistan and Iraq].’ AAN Senior Analyst, Kate Clark, looks at what all this means for the war and human rights, accountability and Afghan sovereignty.

Click here to read

Thematic Category: