Stability Operations in Afghanistan Face Uphill Battle

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

While major military operations may be coming to an end in Afghanistan, the forces remaining there will face an uphill battle piecing the country back together, analysts said June 17.

U.S. military units tasked with rebuilding infrastructure and countering insurgencies face myriad hurdles, from tighter budgets, to a lack of national policy to growing tensions within the populace.

"Stability is in the eyes of the locals. The only stability definition that matters is what locals perceive. In rural and tribal lands … the definition of stability very often changes dramatically from village to village, from tribe to tribe," said Howard Clark, a senior intelligence officer at the Department of Homeland Security and advisor to Special Operations Command.

Even in non-combat situations, troops stationed on foreign soil can be destabilizing, Clark said during a discussion at the American Security Project, a Washington, D.C.-based national security think tank.

"Our very presence in Muslim lands causes instability, bringing insurgent attacks on local populace and materializing violent extremism," Clark said. "Even when we're defending the lives of civilians or providing humanitarian aid, this narrative recruits, this narrative grows … [and] motivates most violent extremists."

Another major issue is the money that the United States brings in to fund stability operations, Clark said. Taliban militants often shake down local businesses for money earned from development contracts, he said.

While insurgents also raise cash by selling narcotics — making Afghanistan one of the largest producers of illicit drugs in the world — the money raised by skimming off of stability operations funds is greater, he said.

"The money the Taliban actually squeezes from our contracts eclipses even their funds made from opium and heroin," said Clark.

Furthermore, Afghanistan's government is rife with corruption. Citizens are disillusioned that money is funneled into failed or corrupt programs. Their disappointment can lead them to seek refuge with insurgents, he said.

The best way to achieve stability in Afghanistan is by empowering the local people to solve local problems themselves, he said.

"This means immediate local ownership. This is not a process toward transition this is transition. It's understanding that even when war has broken traditional roles of governance … any resemblance of a local system that is left is a better vehicle than direct U.S. might and a heavy U.S. presence," said Clark.

Problems within stability operations are not limited to Afghanistan. Globally, budget cuts are hurting forces, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney III, former deputy director for strategic operational planning at the National Counter-Terrorism Center.

"Analysis paralysis and inaction due to lack of funding causes us to not be in places in the world where we need to be able to shape and influence," said Kearney.
World wide, stability operations also face a lack of strategy and leadership, he said.

"The strategy is not deep enough. The campaign plans are either absent or worthless [and] we don't delve into the details about the valleys and tribes and city states and what will work, and how it will work and how we get there," said Kearney. "There is an absence of leadership and clarity of intent, purpose for strategy and end states globally."

Topics: Defense Department, Logistics

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