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Afghanistan's Security Environment

GAO-10-613R Published: May 05, 2010. Publicly Released: May 05, 2010.
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In December 2009, recognizing that the situation in Afghanistan had become more grave since the March 2009 announcement of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the administration concluded a 10-week review of the strategy's goals and the methods needed to achieve them. In announcing the results of this review, the President reaffirmed the core strategic goal of disrupting, dismantling, and eventually defeating extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan and preventing them from threatening the United States and its allies in the future. To meet this goal, the President announced his decision to rapidly deploy an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. In addition, he pledged a "surge" of civilian experts to help enhance the capacity of Afghan government institutions and assist in the rehabilitation of key economic sectors. Since the President's December 2009 announcement, about 16,000 of the additional U.S. troops have gradually deployed to Afghanistan--including about 10,000 as of March 2010 and approximately another 6,000 since that time--and the number of U.S. government civilians present in country has grown by about 200. In February 2010, in what senior Department of Defense (DOD) officials have described as the first step in a prolonged effort to break the momentum of the insurgency where it has been the strongest--southern Afghanistan--U.S., coalition, and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) launched a campaign to clear insurgent safe havens in the central Helmand river valley. According to DOD officials, the intent of these operations was to pave the way for reconstitution of the Afghan government in Helmand province, and Defense has indicated that similar operations will follow in Kandahar province. We previously reported on security conditions in Afghanistan in November 2009. This report provides updated information on (1) the security situation as gauged by trends in enemy-initiated attacks; (2) challenges for U.S. reconstruction efforts posed by security conditions; and (3) recent increases in U.S., coalition, and Afghan troops and U.S. civilian presence. To address these objectives, we incorporated information from our past and continuing work and analyzed updated data on attacks. According to Defense Intelligence Agency officials, the data they report on enemy-initiated attacks represent a reliable and consistent source of information that can be used to identify trends in enemy activity and the overall security situation in Afghanistan.

DOD attack data as of March 2010 show that the pattern of enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan has remained seasonal in nature, generally peaking from June through September each year and then declining during the winter months. While attacks have continued to fluctuate seasonally, the annual attack "peak" (high point) and "trough" (low point) for each year since September 2005 have surpassed the peak and trough, respectively, for the preceding year. In November 2009, we reported that while U.S. and international development projects in Afghanistan had made some progress, deteriorating security complicated such efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country. Since that time, the lack of a secure environment has continued to challenge reconstruction and development efforts. Some specific effects of these security challenges are (1) delayed programs and increased costs, (2) hampered progress of some counternarcotics operations; and (3) limited ability to conduct oversight of ongoing programs. According to the U.S. Central Command, as of April 2010, there were reportedly almost 84,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan--a result of the gradual increase in U.S. force levels from the 68,000 present in country at the time of the President's December 2009 commitment to deploy additional troops to target the insurgency, secure population centers, and train the ANSF. Overall, the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan is expected to increase from 68,000 to about 98,000 once all 30,000 additional troops are deployed. In addition to the ongoing expansion of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the United States has also significantly increased its civilian presence in Afghanistan. State's Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy identifies additional civilian expertise as a key element of stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. Overall, the total U.S. government civilian presence grew from about 360 in January 2009 to approximately 1,000 as of March 2010, including an increase of about 200 civilians since December 2009.

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