Evershifting Goalposts: Lessons Learned from 20 Years of Security Assistance in Afghanistan

Lessons Learned from 20 Years of Security Assistance in Afghanistan, Israel Requests More Aid, Russia Eyes Iraq Arms market and more



June 7, 2021

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

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Post


Israel to ask U.S. for $1 billion in emergency military aid

Axios, June 1

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz traveled to the United States on Thursday, June 3rd to secure an aid package from the U.S. Senate. The request is for a $1 billion emergency military aid deal of for intercepters to replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system and ordinance for the Israeli Air Force. The agenda also included the Iran nuclear deal, the situation in Lebanon, and the ceasefire and reconstruction in Gaza.

France weapons exports drop 41 percent in 2020, Saudis still biggest buyers

Radio France Internationale, June 2

According to an annual report by the Ministry of Defence, France decreased its arms exports by 41 percent last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of major contracts. Despite that, the country’s orders were still work 4.9 billion euros, with Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Morocco the top three biggest clients. 

German minister rejects idea of arms deliveries to Ukraine

AP, June 1

When it comes to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas asserted that it “can only be solved by political channels” and that Berlin refuses to provide Ukraine with military aid. Despite the rebuke, Maas reiterated Germany’s bilateral support for Ukraine

Russia eyes arms sales to Iraq, but experts say there’s competition ahead for the Kremlin

Defense News, June 4

Russian media reports are claiming Iraq is interested in purchasing S-400 and S-300 air defense systems as well as Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jets, but experts say Moscow is facing competition due to increased cooperation between Iraq and two regional powers: the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

defenceWeb, June 2

France has provided Cameroon’s National Gendarmerie with equipment in an effort to help the Central African nation combat terrorism. Despite Cameroon’s multiple ongoing security crises, including an ongoing civil war in the country’s English speaking regions, a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson clarified the aid was “specifically directed towards the fight against terrorism.”

USNI News, June 1

Based on imagery, an Iranian Navy ship was seen leaving its homeport en route to what many thought was Venezuela with seven attack boats aboard. However, “the ship could be carrying other military equipment not readily apparent from the imagery,” as experts are concerned that Venezuela is trying to obtain ballistic missile technology from Iran.


Research, Analysis, and Opinion  

The Future of Afghanistan Hinges on American Dollars, Not Troops

War on the Rocks, June 1

As the debate on the future of America’s , Dominic Tiernary argues that the United States should “couple the withdrawal of soldiers with a long-term commitment to monetary aid” to Afghanistan. This aid should prioritize sustainability, avoid unrealistic conditions, and be shared among foreign donors

U.S. Arms Sales to Israel Challenged

Arms Control Association, June 1

Jeff Abramson discusses how a proposed $735 million sale of precision-guided munitions to Israel drew intense scrutiny from Congress as fighting in that country escalated last month, and how the incident illustrates changing political winds in the U.S. for support to Israel’s defense sector. 

Why Biden’s plan to slow migration through international aid is unlikely to succeed

The Washington Post, June 3 

President Biden’s attempts to curb migration by offering foreign aid to countries whose residents are fleeing is representative of a “global trend in spending billions to prevent migration — rather than respecting refugees’ human rights,” argues Nicholas Micinski

The Key Reason the US Lost in Afghanistan

Project on Government Oversight, May 25

POGO’s Mark Thompson discusses the dysfunctional US-Pakistan relationship in Afghanistan, arguing that Pakistani impotence and duplicity turned the Af-Pak border into “a 21st century Ho Chi Minh Trail” that enabled the Pashtun insurgents to outlast ISAF.


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

From The U.S. Government 

Commerce Department

Defense Department

Major Arms Sale: Australia – AH-64E Apache Helicopters

June 3, 2021

Upcoming Congressional Hearings


Foreign Affairs/Relations

6/08: Hearings to examine the President’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022 for the Department of State.

6/09: Hearings to review the nominations of several ambassadors. 

Armed Services

6/08: Hearings to examine the United States’ strategic competition with China.
6/08: Hearings to examine Navy and Marine Corps investment programs in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2022.
6/11: FY22 Defense Intelligence Enterprise Posture Hearing.


6/08: United Nations (UN) FY22 Budget Request.
6/08: Hearings to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2022 for the Air Force and Space Force.
6/09: Hearings to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2022 for the Department of Justice.
6/10: Department of the Treasury International Programs FY22 Budget Request.

Homeland Security and Government Affairs Oversight

Upcoming Events (All Online)

6/08: The Resurgence of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, hosted by USIP
6/08: Ultimate Authority: The Struggle for Islamic Institutions in the Arab World, hosted by Carnegie Endowment
6/08: International Relations and the Middle East: US, China, and Regional Powers, hosted by the Middle East Institute
6/09: Bringing Americans Home 2021, hosted by New America
6/09: Transforming the US Army, hosted by AEI
6/09: Competition and deterrence in Europe: A conversation with General Tod D. Wolters, USEUCOM Commander and SACEUR, hosted by the Atlantic Council
6/09: Untapped Potential: Women, Leadership, and Water Diplomacy in the Middle East, hosted by the Wilson Center
6/09: Nuclear Arms Control with Nuclear Resonances, hosted by the Belfer Center
6/10: Peace and Conflict Diplomacy in a Turbulent World, hosted by USIP
6/10: Dark waves: Power plays for the Black Sea region, hosted by the Atlantic Council
6/10: The Lasting Effects of Agent Orange on Laos, hosted by the Pulitzer Center
6/11: Strengthening US cybersecurity in the digital age: A conversation with Rep. John Katko (R-NY), hosted by AEI
6/11: Back to what? Trans-Atlantic relations in the Biden era, hosted by the Brookings Institution
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