Afghanistan: The Impossible Transition

Afghanistan: The Impossible Transition
A combination of two critical problems threatens to undermine the mission of the United States–led coalition in Afghanistan: the failure of the counterinsurgency strategy and a disconnect between political objectives and military operations.
Related Media and Tools

A combination of two critical problems threatens to undermine the mission of the United States–led coalition in Afghanistan: the failure of the counterinsurgency strategy and a disconnect between political objectives and military operations. If anything, the current strategy is making a political solution less likely, notably because it is antagonizing Pakistan without containing the rise of the armed opposition. That has put the coalition in a paradoxical situation, in which it is being weakened militarily by a non-negotiated and inevitable withdrawal while at the same time alienating potential negotiating partners.

The Obama administration has made new appointments to head the defense and intelligence agencies, and, in Afghanistan, has installed a new leadership to oversee U.S. military forces and named a new ambassador. The U.S. administration must take advantage of these appointments to establish greater coherence in both policy and operations:

  • The 2014 transition anticipated by the coalition is unrealistic because the Afghan army will not be capable of containing an insurgency that is gathering significant strength. If the transition were carried out, it would provide a considerable boost to the insurgency and, ultimately, the defeat of the Karzai regime. The July 2011 withdrawal must not significantly weaken the coalition, or it will create a military and political vacuum and ultimately make the success of the negotiations less likely.

  • In the border provinces of Pakistan, we are now seeing the creation of a sanctuary liable to harbor jihadist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaeda fighters. This is alarming because counterterrorism operations cannot eliminate groups in a sanctuary that is steadily growing larger. Meanwhile, the coalition’s operations are essentially focused on the southern regions where these jihadist groups do not exist. In practice, the only way to contain the threat posed by transnational jihadist groups is to politically reintegrate the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami into a coalition government in order to isolate the most radical groups.

  • The Western withdrawal therefore inevitably requires a political agreement with the Taliban leadership, which implies abandoning the coalition’s reintegration policy. Confrontation with Pakistan is not an option since American leverage on Islamabad is limited and the Pakistani army has some influence over the insurgents, which would be useful should negotiations take place.
End of document

About the South Asia Program

The Carnegie South Asia Program informs policy debates relating to the region’s security, economy, and political development. From the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s internal dynamics to U.S. engagement with India, the Program’s renowned team of experts offer in-depth analysis derived from their unique access to the people and places defining South Asia’s most critical challenges.


In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.