KABUL, Afghanistan – The strategy sits for now on a table in a locked-down Afghan capital: Hand over security in all 34 provinces to the government by the end of 2014 – more than three years after President Barack Obama’s date for the start of an American troop drawdown.
By today, it will be adopted at a one-day international conference, giving war-weary Americans and Europeans a date for when their involvement in Afghanistan may begin to come to an end. It will also give President Hamid Karzai a chance to show whether his struggling government is making progress toward running the country.
The conference comes at a time of growing anxiety in the U.S. and Europe about the course of the war – concerns underscored by Taliban attacks on Monday that killed six Afghan police and two American soldiers. A major security operation virtually shut down Kabul for the conference in which some 60 nations will focus on the postwar transition.
The country’s intelligence agency arrested a number of insurgents Monday night who were camped out at a house in Kabul and presumably planning an attack on the city, said a police official who spoke anonymously.
Afghan officials want the U.S. and other international donors to give them a greater say in spending the billions of dollars in aid and reconstruction funds that have flowed into the country since the war began in 2001 – often with only limited results and amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement that have bolstered the Taliban in the eyes of many ordinary Afghans.
Talk of lofty development goals will take place against the backdrop of rising casualties, especially in the Taliban strongholds of the south and east.
Mindful that public patience is running out, the delegates will endorse the goal of gradually turning over security to Afghan forces by the time Karzai leaves office at the end of 2014, according to a draft communiqué obtained by the Associated Press.
The Afghan government and the international community are expected to agree on a plan to decide which of the 34 provinces would be ready for Afghan control and when. The communiqué however makes no mention of international troop levels during the transition period.
If NATO follows the model used in Iraq, the coalition will likely keep substantial numbers of troops in Afghanistan through much of the transition to help train Afghan forces and to intervene if the Afghans cannot control security and prevent the Taliban from mounting a comeback.
In London, a senior British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because final details of the communiqué have not yet been finalized, said the conference would likely agree that the process of handing over control to Afghan forces would begin early next year.
The Afghans have long complained that the U.S. and other donors have squandered aid money through hiring overpriced international contractors and pursuing development projects that the country does not need or cannot afford to maintain.
Since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, 77 percent of the $29 billion in international aid spent in Afghanistan has been disbursed on projects with little or no input from Afghan government officials, according to the Afghan Ministry of Finance’s 2009 donor financial review.
Today, Karzai will ask the international community to align at least 80 percent of development and governance assistance over the next two years to a list national priority programs being introduced at the conference.