Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

2  The role of the international community in Afghanistan

Bonn and beyond

10.  The United States led the initial military operation into Afghanistan in 2001 and remains its largest donor and troop contributor. We consider its role at paragraphs 45 to 49. However, re-building Afghanistan has since become an international effort. The process started in 2001 when prominent Afghans met in Bonn under the auspices of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan to map out the country's future. After laborious negotiations between Afghan military commanders, representatives of different ethnic groups, expatriate Afghans and representatives of the exiled monarch, and under substantial pressure from the US and other external powers to reach a common view, the Bonn Agreement was signed on 5 December 2001. In parallel to the Bonn Agreement, G8 countries agreed to lead reform of Afghanistan in five key areas: disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of militia (Japan); training of a new Afghan National Army (United States) and police force (Germany); and justice reform (Italy) and counter-narcotics (UK).[11] We consider the impact that has been made in each of these sectors below starting at Paragraph 66, and assess the efficacy of the 'lead nation' approach at Paragraph 143.

11.  As the Bonn process came to a close, the UK played a leading role throughout 2005 in defining the terms for continued international community engagement in Afghanistan. Ministers agreed on 19 December 2005 that the UK's strategic aim was to help create a stable, secure and self-sustainable Afghanistan.[12] In January 2006, the UK hosted and co-chaired the London Conference on Afghanistan which resulted in pledges of over US $10.5 billion for the period up to 2011 and led to the launch of the Afghan Compact, a framework to develop Afghanistan, detailing the mutual responsibilities of the international community and the Afghan government in the reconstruction process. In total, 53 countries negotiated the Compact which was also signed by the Asian Development Bank, the G8, the European Union and the World Bank. Priority was given to governance, rule of law and human rights; and to economic and social development. International organisations were earmarked to play a key role in implementing the international community's vision for Afghanistan. We consider their respective roles and impact in the following sections of this Report.

Key international organisations


12.  In addition to the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which led the military incursion in 2001, and continues to operate a counter-terrorism mission mainly in eastern Afghanistan, there is a NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan. The UK has made a significant contribution to both ISAF and, to a lesser degree, OEF; we discuss this in Paragraph 14 below.

13.  ISAF was originally established in December 2001 by UN Security Council Resolution,[13] with a mandate to assist the Afghan Transitional Authority[14] create and maintain a safe and secure environment in and around Kabul. It remained a coalition of the willing until NATO formally took overall command in 2003. Commencing in 2005, ISAF's mandate and presence was gradually extended into different provinces. It is now responsible for security and for conducting the counter-insurgency campaign throughout Afghanistan. It consists of 42 nations and 61,130 troops. The FCO states that ISAF's mission is to "help the people and elected Government of Afghanistan build an enduring stable, secure, prosperous and democratic state, respectful of human rights and free from the threat of terrorism". It adds that ISAF works by conducting stability and security operations in co-ordination with the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces]; mentoring and supporting the ANA [Afghan National Army]; and supporting Afghan Government programmes to disarm illegally armed groups".[15] To achieve its mission, ISAF has established five Regional Commands (RCs), each with a lead nation and each comprising a Command and Control Headquarters and a Forward Support Base, which are largely logistics hubs providing transport and medical support.[16] ISAF Regional Commands also co-ordinate all regional civil-military activities conducted by the military elements of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in their areas of responsibility.

14.  The UK led efforts to establish ISAF, and it remains a key contributor, currently providing the second largest deployment (9,000). The majority of UK Forces are deployed under the command of Regional Command (South) (RC(S)), as part of Task Force Helmand (TFH). RC(S) encompasses the neighbouring provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Uruzgan, and Zabul and comprises forces from the UK, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria, France, Lithuania, Georgia, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, UAE and US. Command of this international force is rotated between nations. The UK commanded RC(S) from May 2007 until December 2007 and, under current plans, will take command again in September 2009.[17] We consider the involvement of UK forces in ISAF again in Chapter 6

15.  Professor Adam Roberts, of the Centre for International Studies, Oxford University, told us that NATO's role in Afghanistan "began in a problematic way, and so it has continued".[18] NATO's initial offer of assistance, under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, was rejected by the US which was content to pursue its counter-terrorism agenda through Operation Enduring Freedom, and was set on having "a coalition à la carte in which there would be no institutional challenge to its leadership. [This caused] disappointment and irritation in Europe".[19] As a result, the war in Afghanistan between October and December 2001, culminating in the collapse of the Taliban government, was effectively conducted under US leadership. It was not until 2003 that NATO "rapidly came back into the picture, not least because the US came to recognize the need for long-term assistance in managing societies that had been freed from oppressive regimes by US uses of force".[20] Its subsequent involvement in Afghanistan became NATO's first out-of-area operation.

16.  A number of problems have hindered the ISAF operation, some of which are the result of ISAF's complex and convoluted command and control structures and its relationship with Operation Enduring Freedom. Although a US commander now oversees both ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom in a bid to improve co-ordination, and the continuous rotation of senior posts has decreased, Professor Roberts believes that "the arrangements for coordinating the work of these three distinct forces [ISAF, OEF and Afghan National Security Forces] continue to pose problems".[21] The journalist and author David Loyn concurred with this view, noting that "as a journalist who deals with ISAF and the international forces in Afghanistan, I do not quite know who to call if something happens". He added, "If a western journalist does not quite know how to navigate his way around that maze, you can imagine what it is like for Afghan villagers".[22] The current structures also means that while ISAF "coordinates the efforts of the provincial reconstruction teams, it does not directly 'command' them, and instead command lines are 'stove-piped' to national embassies and capitals".[23]

17.  The journalist and author James Fergusson argued that at a basic level, the ISAF mission and Operation Enduring Freedom are "totally conflicting" and that British and ISAF efforts to "win hearts and minds" have been undermined by US anti-terror operations which simultaneously targeted and attacked the same communities.[24] Christina Lamb from the Sunday Times claimed that over the past seven years "we have totally lost that consent that we had at the beginning, and I think that a lot of that is due to the behaviour of the ISAF troops and to having parallel operations going on at the same time".[25]

18.  The distinct but related problems of uneven burden-sharing and the use of national caveats by some NATO nations have also been persistent problems. Whereas the US, UK and Canada have tended to see Afghanistan as a counter-insurgency operation, Germany and some others regard it as more of a stabilisation mission, resulting in divisions and tensions both within ISAF, and between ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom.[26] David Loyn told us that the use of national caveats "significantly weakens" ISAF given that "there is so little that those forces can do in terms of effective military action." Mr Loyn notes that "they will not go out at night; they will not fly helicopters in certain conditions; and they will not go to the south of the country".[27]

19.  The FCO states that "UK diplomatic effort has been deployed in encouraging others to increase their share of the military, civilian and financial burden in Afghanistan".[28] Although there have been some improvements following NATO's April 2009 summit, which we discuss at Paragraph 189, there continues to be an unwillingness to commit combat troops. On the issue of burden-sharing, Dr Sajjan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation noted that some European states have "not shown the willingness to send troops into difficult positions." Dr Gohel added,

It is all very well having them up in the north where it is safe, but they are not actually doing anything of substance. British troops, along with the Canadians, the Dutch and the Americans are actively engaging the Taliban. They should be applauded for what they have been doing, but they need more support.[29]

20.  The decision of the Dutch and Canadians not to extend their combat mission mandates beyond 2010 and 2011 respectively may exacerbate these existing problems. Daniel Korski of the European Council for Foreign Relations argued that NATO needs to "think of creative ways in which European troops, who are unwilling to go to the south or east, can be used to train the forces that are ultimately deploying in the south and east".[30]

21.  ISAF's reliance on provincial reconstruction teams has also been criticised by a range of commentators. A recent article in Jane's Intelligence Review noted that the different views among ISAF nations as to the purpose of their mission in Afghanistan contributes to a lack of unity, clarity and co-ordination of work among PRTs.[31] NGOs have also been critical of the use of PRTs. In a report for Oxfam published in March 2008, Matt Waldman stated:

Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) have gone well beyond their interim, security-focused mandate, engaging in substantial development work of variable quality and impact. Although arguably necessary in some highly insecure areas, by diverting resources which otherwise could have been devoted to civilian development activities, PRTs have in many cases undermined the emergence of effective institutions of national and local government, and other civil development processes. PRTs have also contributed to a blurring of the distinction between the military and aid agencies, which has thus undermined the perceived neutrality of the latter, increasing the risk for aid workers, and reduced humanitarian operating space and access.[32]

22.  Many of the submissions we received reached the conclusion that NATO's involvement in Afghanistan has, hitherto at least, not been a success. David Loyn told us that there exists "a military force that was initially drawn from an alliance, which you cannot send into battle in most of the country".[33] Daniel Korski made a similar point when he commented that "if you are a military alliance and you struggle to conduct military tasks, that is ultimately going to be a problem".[34] For others, like Professor Roberts, "it is truly remarkable that the reputation of the longest-lived military alliance in the world, comprised of states with fundamentally stable political systems, should have made itself vulnerable to the outcome of a war in the unpromising surroundings of Afghanistan".[35] In NATO's defence, as David Loyn told us "you have to remember that it is the first deployment abroad, outside of the NATO area, that NATO has been engaged in, and so there has been a huge amount of learning in the NATO machine since 2006".[36]

23.  We conclude that, particularly bearing in mind that this is the first ever NATO deployment outside of NATO's 'area', this has now become a most critical and seminal moment for the future of the Alliance. We also conclude that the failure of some NATO allies to ensure that the burden of international effort in Afghanistan is shared equitably has placed an unacceptable strain on a handful of countries. We further conclude that there is a real possibility that without a more equitable distribution of responsibility and risk, NATO's effort will be further inhibited and its reputation as a military alliance, capable of undertaking out-of-area operations, seriously damaged. We recommend that the British Government should continue to exert pressure on NATO partners to remove national caveats and to fulfil their obligations. We further recommend that where NATO allies are unwilling to commit combat troops, they must be persuaded to fulfil their obligations in ways which nevertheless contribute to the overall ISAF effort, for example, by providing appropriate support including equipment and enhanced training for the Afghan National Army.

The impact of military force on the civilian population

24.  In his written submission, Professor Roberts states that because OEF and NATO ground forces in Afghanistan are "widely dispersed and few in number [they] frequently need air power in support of their ground operations".[37] He adds that "tactical air support has been vital to any success they have had, and has often saved the small numbers of ISAF forces from being overwhelmed".[38] However, Professor Roberts and a number of other witnesses have raised concerns about the alleged use of excessive force, including the inappropriate use of air power, in both ISAF operations and those conducted under Operation Enduring Freedom. According to statistics contained in the Afghanistan Index, produced by the Brookings Institution, air strikes from pro-government forces were responsible for 26% of the estimated 2,118 total civilian fatalities in 2008.[39] Professor Roberts suggests that various factors lie behind the high number of civilian casualties, including a "shortage of ground forces, different approaches of individual commanders, poor intelligence, the heat of battle, weapons malfunction, the co-location of military targets and civilians, and the frayed relationship between ground and air forces operating in Afghanistan".[40]

25.   The British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) points to "widespread anger among Afghans over civilian casualties caused by excessive use of force and air strikes, and the conduct of some troops".[41] Peter Marsden, an Afghanistan analyst, states that the high level of civilian casualties arising from the use of air power has become a major political issue within Afghanistan and has led President Karzai publicly to express his concerns to the US Government on many occasions. Mr Marsden adds that civilian casualties have "also greatly strengthened the support given to the insurgency".[42] We were told during our visit to Afghanistan that there is a perception that the military have not pro-actively investigated incidents or furnished sufficiently timely or full explanations to affected communities.

26.  Whilst acknowledging that there have been problems, the British Government has been reluctant for operational security reasons to provide detailed information about how targets are chosen. However, Professor Theo Farrell of King's College, London, explained to us that planned air strikes are now considered by the Joint Targeting Board, which consists of both civilians from ISAF's Provincial Reconstruction Teams and military planners, with a view to reducing collateral damage and its effects. He added that since late 2008 there have been improvements in the way that urgent air strikes are used to support 'Troops in Contact'. He stated:

We have deployed a new weapons system called the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System [GMLRS]. Our forces now call on GMLRS strikes rather than air strikes to support them when they get into contact. That is to break the contact so that they can recover and counter-attack. There is a strong awareness among our forces when calling air strikes, they appreciate the political damage that they can cause to the campaign.[43]

27.  Speaking in June 2009, ISAF's newly appointed commander General Stanley McChrystal stated that his priority would be to review all NATO operations in a bid to reduce civilian casualties.[44]

28.  Peter Marsden argues that further public anger has been aroused over "the continued resort, by US forces in particular, to forced entry into the homes of suspects",[45] an act which he told us amounts to a serious violation of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun code of honour. Colonel Christopher Langton of the IISS told us that this "is one of the problems when you continually inject batches of new troops into this campaign".[46] BAAG argues that although night-time house searches "resulted in fewer deaths, night raids frequently involved abusive behaviour and violent breaking and entry at night, which stoke almost as much anger toward PGF [pro-government forces] as the more lethal air strikes. In areas where night raids are prevalent, they were a significant cause of fear, intimidation, and resentment toward PGF".[47] In a recent report, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission stated:

In a conflict like Afghanistan, where half of the battle is to ensure that the population does not begin supporting the insurgent forces, or at least does not stop supporting the government forces, public perceptions of supposed violations and misconduct matter. The Afghan public might judge the PGF more harshly than a military lawyer would […].[48]

29.  We conclude that no matter how difficult the circumstances facing the military in Afghanistan, the use of air power and acts of considerable cultural insensitivity on the part of some Coalition Forces over an extended period have done much to shape negative perceptions among ordinary Afghans about the military and the international effort in Afghanistan. This problem has caused damage, both real and perceived, that will in many instances be difficult to undo. We further conclude that recent policy changes which aim to improve procedures, combined with the commitment of senior military figures to adopting better practices, are a welcome development. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government supply us with detailed information on measures that are being taken by Coalition Forces in Afghanistan to provide more pro-active and appropriate protection of civilians in the future.

Treatment of detainees

30.  Another issue of concern is what Professor Adam Roberts termed the "scandal-ridden matter of treatment of detainees".[49] ISAF troops can arrest and detain persons, where necessary, for force protection, self-defence, and to fulfil the ISAF mission as set out in UN Security Council Resolutions. ISAF guidelines state that detainees can be held for up to 96 hours before being either released or transferred to the Afghan authorities. We were told by one interlocutor during our visit that the 96-hour window was not adequate. However, many human rights organisations conclude that torture and ill-treatment are significant problems in Afghanistan.[50] Redress cites claims by a former SAS soldier, Ben Griffin, that "hundreds of Iraqis and Afghans captured by British and American Special Forces [have been] rendered to prisons [in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay] where they have been tortured".[51] Peter Marsden commented that there was also widespread concern over the detention of suspects at Bagram air base and elsewhere, under conditions which do not conform to international human rights standards.[52] Professor Roberts states:

Anxious not to be associated with shocking US statements and practices in this matter, and insufficiently staffed and equipped to hold on to the prisoners they capture, other NATO members have drawn up separate agreements with the Afghan authorities, embodying a variety of different approaches to how they should be treated once in Afghan hands. There are serious concerns that some detainees handed over to the Afghan authorities on this basis have been maltreated.[53]

31.  In 2006 the UK agreed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Afghan Government in respect of the transfer of detainees captured by UK Forces.[54] It commits the UK Government to transferring detainees to the Afghan Government at the earliest opportunity and obliges the Afghan Government to treat all prisoners in line with Afghanistan's international legal obligations. In its written submission the FCO states that UK personnel, usually members of the Royal Military Police, visit transferred detainees regularly and that the Government has "delivered training to prison officers, including in human rights issues, and has worked to improve prison accommodation in both Helmand and Kabul".[55] The FCO further told us that as at 15 December 2008, just over 200 detainees had been transferred, and that one allegation of mistreatment had been investigated and was found to be without merit.[56]

32.  Redress argues that the UK's use of the MoU does not negate its international legal responsibility to apply the principle of non-refoulement (the prohibition on sending an individual to a state where they may be tortured), and that it should stop transferring detainees in its custody until conditions in Afghanistan have improved. The US State Department notes that prisons are decrepit, unsanitary and overcrowded, often housing more than twice the number of inmates for which they were designed.[57] Although a programme of prison building is taking place across Afghanistan to improve conditions for prisoners and other detainees, the FCO's written submission notes that "the welfare of detainees remains a serious concern".[58] The FCO details the assistance that the UK has provided in an attempt to improve prison conditions, whilst also acknowledging that "significant challenges remain in modernising Afghanistan's prison infrastructure and reforming the Central Prison Department".[59]

33.  We conclude that the conditions under which prisoners and detainees are treated once in the hands of the Afghan authorities are a matter of considerable concern. We will deal with the issue of treatment of those detained by British forces further in our forthcoming annual Report on human rights.


34.  The United Nations has a significant presence in Afghanistan, covering a wide range of activities through a number of specialist agencies, all of which are overseen by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA is headed by the Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan (SRSG), who has overall responsibility for all UN activities in the country.

35.  The UN has a long history of involvement in Afghanistan which predates the US-led invasion in 2001. Because of this, many believed that it would be able to coordinate international political and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan. The announcement in 2002 that it would operate with a "light footprint" was, in Professor Adam Roberts' view, the "the key statement of this period, which did much to define the role not just of the UN but of the international community generally".[60] Initially, UNAMA sought to assist with Afghanistan's political and economic transition and the rule of law. Afghanistan analyst Barnett Rubin has stated that the UN's political efforts, particularly in relation to the post-2001 political transition, the Bonn Conference, the Loya Jirgas (Grand Councils), elections, and the adoption of the Afghanistan Compact, the successor to the Bonn Agreement, were one of the factors that "enabled the Bush administration to camouflage its strategic failure for so long".[61]

36.  In 2005, UNAMA's mission was expanded to provide political and strategic advice in support of the peace process, and to promote international engagement with Afghanistan. In 2008, the UNAMA mission was further redefined to focus on co-ordination, political outreach, support for sub-national governance (including human rights), humanitarian aid, elections and co-operation with ISAF.[62]

37.  Although UN operations have increased the amount of humanitarian assistance reaching ordinary Afghans, we were told during our visit that UNAMA's role has been hindered by a number of problems, not least that UNAMA's relationship with ISAF has not been good in the past. Efforts are underway to strengthen co-operation.[63] Interlocutors also told us that the UN's resources have not kept pace with its increasing mandate, and that there have been significant delays in getting new staff into posts because of bureaucracy within UN Headquarters in New York. David Loyn told us that "there are individuals at the top of the UN who are really excellent, and Kai Eide has done a first-class job since he came in as the head of UNAMA", but added that "the UN has made a number of really significant errors in Afghanistan".[64] Mr Loyn told us:

There are people who have been there for three or four years, who really understand the country and are able to analyse it well, but beneath that there are rafts of foreign consultants coming in for three and six-month contracts, being paid grotesquely large amounts of money. Those people are really the problem.[65]

38.  The FCO is a strong supporter of the UN and its co-ordinating role, and states that it has "pushed key partners in the UN system to provide additional resources to UNAMA as quickly as possible". However, it cautions that "parts of the UN system remain to be convinced that Afghanistan should be a priority issue for the UN".[66] Interlocutors during our visit commented that one of the major issues that required attention was the extent to which the US engaged with the UN. We were told that it is difficult to co-ordinate international efforts without US support, but that such support had not been forthcoming in the past. We were further told that some US $1 billion in US aid was estimated to have been spent on development in Afghanistan without the UN's knowledge. US aid has been spent through a number of channels including the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) which is meant to fund small-scale, 'quick win' military-led reconstruction projects. However, we were told that this approach led to further fragmentation of the international aid effort. Lord Ashdown has commented:

We must tackle, at last, the disastrous lack of co-ordination amongst the international community in Afghanistan, which, above all else, is responsible for our failures there. The appointment of Ambassador Kai Eide as the […] UN envoy has seen some steps in the right direction. But the international community remains dangerously fractured. Each organization maintains a separate civilian representative and there no meaningful overall co-ordination between them which is worthy of the name.[67]

39.  We conclude that while the British Government's support of the UN and for proposals for the UN to play a more significant role as the overarching co-ordinator of the international community's efforts in Afghanistan are to be welcomed, it remains to be seen whether this will involve significant improvements in practice. We recommend that in its response to this Report the Government states what evidence there is, if any, of actual improvements in international co-ordination.


40.  The European Union's effort in Afghanistan is multi-faceted, covering development aid, military contributions and political reporting. The EU is represented in Kabul by a Special Representative, the European Commission delegation and a policing mission, and indirectly through the presence of embassies from 16 Member States. Daniel Korski told us that the EU Commission and Member States together have contributed a third of Afghanistan's total reconstruction assistance. He states:

Of the total pledged at the Tokyo donors conference in 2001, €1 billion was pledged by the European Commission [EC]over five years averaging some €200 million per year. In 2002, the EC exceeded its Tokyo pledge, providing €280 million to help Afghanistan meet its reconstruction and humanitarian needs. In the years since 2002, the EC continued to commit funding of about €200 million per year [and] has made available a package of development aid worth €610 million for the period 2007-10. It focuses on three key priority areas: reform of the justice sector; rural development including alternatives to poppy production; and health.[68]

41.   The FCO informed us that the EU had disbursed $5.2 billion in Afghanistan between 2002 and mid-2008 (between Member States and the Commission) and an additional $2.3 billion had been pledged for the period 2008-11.[69] Twenty-five EU Member States are contributors to ISAF, and Member States lead 10 of the 26 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).[70] Short-term EU missions have also observed the Afghan parliamentary and presidential elections.[71] The UK is the largest bilateral donor to Afghanistan among EU nations and has been one of the major advocates of increased EU contributions to Afghanistan, both in terms of military burden-sharing and development support.

42.  In spite of the EU's considerable financial commitment, there has been criticism of EU input in Afghanistan. James Fergusson told us that the "EU does not seem to have any profile in parts of Afghanistan.[72] Daniel Korski told us that the European effort was "uneven and lacks the coordination and prioritisation needed to combine the different strands [of effort] into a coherent whole". He commented that "that the EU and European nations have added to the problem of a lack of international coherence by pursuing policies independently of each other, most damagingly in the overlapping areas of policing, justice and counter narcotics".[73] Meanwhile BAAG argues that there is "an obvious need for a common European policy in relation to Afghanistan—one that goes beyond being a good donor—and focuses on a more effective debate with the United States, better involvement in regional diplomacy and having a more concerted and co-ordinated influence over national political issues within Afghanistan".[74]

43.  In a bid to improve co-ordination, the FCO has advocated "double-hatting" the roles of EU Special Representative and Head of the European Commission delegation in Afghanistan. The FCO argues that the EU could improve its influence and standing within Afghanistan by harmonising its political messaging, and by using its financial and logistical support to leverage policy progress from the Afghan Government in return for its assistance.[75]

44.  We conclude that the EU's effort in Afghanistan thus far has not lived up to its potential. We further conclude that there is a need for the EU and its Member States to address the lack of coherence which exists within the EU effort if it is to have a greater impact in the future. We recommend that in its response to this Report, the Government should supply us with updated information on the progress it has made in persuading EU Member States and the European Commission to harmonise and co-ordinate their activities within Afghanistan.

The US and its policy on Afghanistan under the Bush Administration

45.  As the primary participant in Afghanistan, the largest troop contributor and the biggest donor of finance and resources,[76] it is the United States that has most heavily influenced the international intervention since 2001. The initial US strategy was driven largely by military goals, under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom, and was focused heavily on defeating Al Qaeda. Journalist and author Ahmed Rashid summarises it as "a minimalist, intelligence-driven strategy that ignored nation building, creating state institutions, or re-building the country's shattered infrastructure".[77] David Loyn told us that "there was enormous confusion on what the mission was right at the beginning" and that the US did not have "a coherent view of what Afghanistan was or what they had let themselves in for".[78] Mr Loyn went on to state:

In particular, they did not really apply any analysis to what the Taliban was and where they had come from. Huge mistakes were made at the beginning in not being generous enough with the Taliban's enemies, nor sceptical enough of their allies. The Northern Alliance were given a far too easy ride, and warlordism returned very easily into this security vacuum […][79]

46.  A number of our other witnesses also referred to the negative consequences of the US's decision to rely on warlords to provide security in the period following the collapse of the Taliban government. Christina Lamb told us that this amounted to "one of the most damaging things that the Operation Enduring Freedom forces did", given that in 2001 most Afghans believed that the warlords were the source of many of Afghanistan's problems. Ms Lamb noted:

Seeing these warlords who had caused all this damage suddenly being paid huge amounts of money and being allowed to then become powerful again gave such a bad signal to ordinary Afghan people.[80]

47.  BAAG's written submission was equally critical of the US's reliance on warlords. It states that the US and some other military forces appear to have made "significant use of those commanders in their operations, including for force protection purposes", in the process rendering disarmament programmes less effective. BAAG also notes:

Former militia commanders in many areas are perceived by local Afghans to have the same amount or more weapons in their possession than four years ago. Many Afghans emphasise the direct link between the presence of arms in society, as well as a lack of reintegration of ex-combatants, and continued insecurity in their areas.

48.  In more recent years, the US has placed a greater emphasis on achieving broader counter-insurgency goals involving reconstruction and support for local populations. However, under the Bush administration, the military, and military goals, continued to drive and dominate US strategy, effectively sidelining the US State Department and USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, and their efforts to provide assistance with reconstruction. As early as 2002, significant resources were being diverted away from Afghanistan to support planning for the war in Iraq: US spending dropped from US$ 815.9 million to US$ 737 million between 2002 and 2003.[81] Tellingly, BAAG's written submission notes that although an estimated 80% of Afghans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, in 2007 just 1% of the USAID budget was spent in this sector.[82]

49.  We conclude that some, though certainly not all, of the responsibility for problems in Afghanistan since 2001 must be attributed to the direction of US policy in the years immediately after the military intervention in 2001. The unilateralist tendencies of the US under the Bush administration, and its focus on military goals to the exclusion of many other strategically important issues, set the tone for the international community's early presence in Afghanistan.

Regional neighbours

50.  Since 2001 there has been a proliferation of mechanisms aimed at harnessing regional support for tackling Afghanistan's problems.[83] None of Afghanistan's neighbours wish to import instability or militancy from Afghanistan, and all are concerned about the prospect of a long-term US military presence in the region. China and Russia, along with a number of Central Asian states, have already been engaging in discussions about Afghanistan under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Each country has particular spheres of influence in relation to Afghanistan as outlined below.


51.  Shi'ite Iran retains significant cultural influence in Afghanistan, particularly in the west of the country. Opposed to the Sunni Taliban, Iran's relationship with Afghanistan is complicated and embraces contradictions. Since 2001 Iran has consistently and publicly backed President Karzai. Bilateral trade has increased and Iran's development and humanitarian activity in western Afghanistan has also grown. It has been estimated that Iranian assistance to Afghanistan has totalled about $1.164 billion since the fall of the Taliban.[84] As we made clear in our 2008 Report, Global Security: Iran, Iran has a strong interest in counter-narcotics co-operation with the West, given its high number of heroin users, and the fact that Iran is a principal staging post on the route by which Afghan heroin is transported to Europe and the US.[85] We discuss this further at Paragraph 127. There is a significant Afghan refugee problem in Iran and conditions for Afghan refugees, especially for the majority who are unregistered, have significantly worsened following recent changes to Iranian law.[86] This, in addition to the increased number of returnees, has caused tension between Iran and Afghanistan.

52.  The FCO notes that although "Iran has often been a constructive partner of Afghanistan, their links to the Taliban either through supply of munitions, training or funding remain a concern". Although Iran is ideologically opposed to the Taliban, which represents a very different Islamic tradition to that of the Iranian regime, it would seem that the temptation of causing damage to Western interests in the region by offering selective support for the Taliban in its operations against US and UK forces has proved too great for Tehran to resist. The FCO states that it has consistently argued that Iranian intervention of this kind "is completely unacceptable and undercuts the Iranian policy of support for the Government of President Karzai". The British Government has registered concerns on this subject with Iranian ministers.[87]

53.  We recommend that the Government continues to make clear to the Iranian leadership the total unacceptability to the UK of Iran's direct and indirect assistance to the Taliban in their operations against Coalition Forces.


54.  In the view of many of our witnesses and interlocutors, India's role in, and relationship to, Afghanistan is crucial to stability in that country. Afghanistan has a long history of close cultural and political ties with India, and is said to look to India as "a potential counterweight in its relationship with Pakistan".[88] Since 2001, India has become the largest regional donor to Afghanistan and has pledged or disbursed around $1 billion of direct aid, focusing on road construction and capacity building for Afghan civil servants.[89] The Indian Government is also funding 500 long-term scholarship places for Afghan students, covering undergraduate and postgraduate courses covering costs for tuition fees, accommodation and providing a limited living allowance.[90] It has maintained its levels of assistance despite the killing of Indian construction workers in Afghanistan and the bombing of its Embassy in Kabul in July 2008. Trade between Afghanistan and India has also risen significantly. However, India's engagement with Afghanistan causes significant concern for Pakistan, and the FCO notes that "improving the India-Pakistan relationship is an essential part of getting full regional buy-in to supporting Afghanistan".[91] We comment further on Pakistan's attitude to India's relationship with Afghanistan in Paragraph 172 below.


55.  Although Russia is wary of involving itself too closely in the current international effort, given its bitter experiences of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the FCO states that it also recognises that a stable Afghanistan is important to ensuring the stability of Central Asia and its south-eastern flank, and in addressing the considerable flow of narcotics north.[92] Russia's relations with the Taliban regime were poor, due not only to the legacy of its own occupation of Afghanistan, but also to the Taliban's support for jihadists who fought alongside Chechen rebels. Distrust of the Taliban continues to influence the Russian approach to Afghanistan's development. Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid argue that Russia's main concern is that the US and NATO are seeking a permanent US-NATO military presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia. They further argue that this fear "will need to be assuaged" and that:

Russia should be assured that US and NATO forces can help defend, rather than threaten, legitimate Russian interests in Central Asia, including through cooperation with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Russia and the Central Asian states should be informed of the results of legitimate interrogations of militants who came from the former Soviet space and were captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan[93].


56.  China's relations with Afghanistan were very limited before 2001, but in recent years, it has become one of the country's largest trading partners, with a bilateral trade volume of $700 million in the year to October 2008. The FCO estimates that China has provided around $300 million official development assistance to Afghanistan over the last seven years and adds that the Chinese are investing heavily in mining and associated infrastructure, including roads and rail links between Tajikistan and Pakistan. The FCO states that:

The key challenges are to ensure China's large programme of investment in Afghanistan will provide stable long-term economic growth for the Afghan people and to encourage China to become more involved in the international development effort in Afghanistan. There are legitimate concerns about Chinese investments, given the fiscal clout of Chinese companies, many state-owned, which distorts the market, as well as their lack of corporate governance and responsibility.[94]

Central Asian Republics

57.  The FCO states that the Central Asian republics bordering Afghanistan (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) were "very suspicious of the Taliban regime. Uzbekistan was the most vocal of the three, though all were concerned about the spread of militant Islam and narcotics across their southern borders".[95]

58.  The FCO told us that Uzbekistan has recently sought to play a role in the development of Afghanistan but that the Uzbeks have not recognised the central role the Afghan government in any lasting solution. The FCO states that it has welcomed renewed Uzbek interest in Afghanistan, encouraging them to work more closely with the Afghan government and the rest of the international community.[96]

59.  ISAF benefits from logistical support that is provided by both Tajikistan and Turkmenistan while the US has operated an air base in Kyrgyzstan since 2001. The FCO states that the UK continues to encourage Tajik and Turkmen security and development programmes which assist Afghanistan.

60.  The FCO adds that it is committed to continuing its dialogue with the Central Asian republics to ensure that "they deliver their assistance in a way that works long-term to support Afghanistan's development, focussing on water management, energy, trade, transit and counter-narcotics issues".[97]

61.  We conclude that the FCO should continue to use its influence to foster greater co-operation between Afghanistan and its neighbours and recommend that in its response to this Report it updates us on recent developments in this respect.

11   Ev 75 Back

12   Ev 76 Back

13   UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1386 Back

14   The Afghan Transitional Authority (ATA) replaced the Afghan Interim Authority. In accordance with the Bonn Agreement, the ATA organised a Constitutional Loya Jirga in late 2003 to pave the way for the election of an Afghan government by early 2004. Back

15   Ev 80 Back

16   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p 39,  Back

17   Ev 82 Back

18   Ev 122 Back

19   Ev 122 Back

20   Ev 122 Back

21   Ev 122 Back

22   Q 114 [David Loyn] Back

23   "A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Afghanistan", Post-War Reconstruction & Development Unit, November 2008, p39 Back

24   Q 115 [James Fergusson] Back

25   Q 114  Back

26   Ev 122 Back

27   Q 128 Back

28   Ev 106 Back

29   Q 147 [Dr Sajjan Gohel] Back

30   Q 149 [Daniel Korski] Back

31   "Developing disorder - Divergent PRT Models in Afghanistan", Jane's Intelligence Review, 19 September 2008 Back

32   Matt Waldman, "Falling Short: Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan", ACBAR Advocacy Series, March 2008  Back

33   Q 128  Back

34   Q 151 Back

35   Ev 129 Back

36   Q 116 Back

37   Ev 121 Back

38   Ev 121 Back

39   "Afghanistan Index", Brookings Institution, 24 June 2009 Back

40   Ev 121 Back

41   Ev 169 Back

42   Ev 177 Back

43   Q 26 [Professor Farrell] Back

44   "US 'to protect Afghan civilians'", BBC News Online, 12 June 2009 Back

45   Ev 176 Back

46   Q 26 Back

47   Ev 172 Back

48   "From Hope to Fear: An Afghan Perspective on Operations of Pro-Government Forces in Afghanistan", Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, December 2008, Back

49   Ev 123 Back

50   "Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and on the achievements of technical assistance in the field of human rights", A/HRC/10/23, 16 January 2009 Back

51   Ev 145 Back

52   Ev 177 Back

53   Ev 123 Back

54   The Committee printed the Memorandum of Understanding as an Appendix to its report on Guantanamo Bay. (Visit to Guantanamo Bay, Second Report on Session 2006-07, HC 44) Back

55   Ev 83 Back

56   Ev 83 Back

57   "2008 Human Rights Report: Afghanistan", US State Department, 25 February 2009,  Back

58   Ev 90 Back

59   Ev 90 Back

60   Ev 120 Back

61   Barnett Rubin, "Failure in Afghanistan", Informed Comment: Global Affairs Blog, Back

62   In addition to a mission in Kabul, UNAMA now has regional offices operating in seven provincial cities -Bamiyan, Gardez, Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz. UN specialist agencies, including the World Food Programme, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Health Organisation, now have permanent operations across the country. Back

63   "NATO's relations with United Nations", NATO Factsheet, Back

64   Q 118 Back

65   Q 119 [David Loyn] Back

66   Ev 105 Back

67   Lord Ashdown, "What I told Gordon Brown about Afghanistan", The Spectator (Coffee House Blog), 15 September 2008, Back

68   Ev 155 Back

69   Ev 105 Back

70   Ev 105 Back

71   Ev 155 Back

72   Q 127 Back

73   Ev 155 Back

74   Ev 174 Back

75   Ev 105 Back

76   The US is the largest single contributor of troops to both ISAF and OEF, with around 20,000 troops currently deployed. It is also the largest contributor of bilateral aid, committing in excess of $20 billion in reconstruction aid and pledging more than $10 billion over the next two years; Ev 104 Back

77   Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos (London, 2008), p 133 Back

78   Ev 36 Back

79   Q 114 [Christina Lamb] Back

80   Q 115 Back

81   Kenneth Katzman, "Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy", Congressional Research Service, 18 June 2009, pp 62-63, Back

82   Ev 173 Back

83   These include the Good Neighbourly Relations Declaration (GNRD), with a focus on counter-narcotics, the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference (RECC), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference (RECC), which focuses on regional economic integration. The UK was instrumental in its creation. Back

84   Kenneth Katzman, "Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy", Congressional Research Service, 18 June 2009, p 48, Back

85   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Iran, HC 142, para 76 Back

86   Ev 102 Back

87   Ev 102 Back

88   Jayshree Bajoria, "India-Afghanistan Relations", Council on Foreign Relations, 23 October 2008,  Back

89   Ev 103 Back

90   "Education in India", website of the Indian Embassy, Kabul, Back

91   Ev 103 Back

92   Ev 103 Back

93   Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid, "From Great Game to Grand Bargain: Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan", Foreign Affairs, November/December 2008, Back

94   Ev 102 Back

95   Ev 104 Back

96   Ev 104 Back

97   Ev 104 Back

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