Evershifting Goalposts: Lessons Learned from 20 Years of Security Assistance in Afghanistan
Security Assistance Monitor, June 2021
A new report from the Security Assistance Monitor examines the twenty-year effort by the U.S. to build an Afghan defense sector from scratch, drawing important lessons learned for both Afghanistan and the American security assistance enterprise broadly.
The defense institution building effort in Afghanistan was the most ambitious such enterprise in recent American history, amounting to more than $90B in direct support to the Afghans National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). But despite the scale of the investment, the ANDSF have struggled in their fight against the Taliban, with serious reservations about their ability to manage a full U.S. withdrawal slated for September of this year.
The report identifies a number of findings that help explain the failure to develop an effective and self-sufficient Afghan defense sector. The findings fall under three broad categories – Scale, Scope, and Ambition; Strategic Planning and Execution; and Social and Political Legacies.
Ultimately, the report finds that the effort to strengthen Afghan security forces suffered from a failure to design and plan sustainably, an execution that was forever subject to shifting strategies and a lack of overall ownership of the results, and a lack of attention to political and cultural contexts. As a result, security assistance in Afghanistan was never an end to itself, but constantly in service to a host of rapidly changing priorities.
The report offers a number of lessons learned and recommendations for U.S. security assistance broadly and for Afghanistan specifically. To read the full report and see its findings, click here.
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Data Fact of the Week:
A Timeline of U.S. Security Assistance and Key Developments in Afghanistan
The graphic above illustrates U.S. security assistance to Afghanistan since FY 2001, as well as key strategic developments in the war effort and total Afghan security forces, end strength.
The graphic comes from SAM’s latest report on lessons learned from U.S. security sector assistance to Afghanistan, which can be found here.