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New From the GAO

April 1, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Puerto Rico: Information on How Statehood Would Potentially Affect Selected Federal Programs and Revenue Sources. GAO-14-31, March 4.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-31
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661335.pdf

2. Puerto Rico: Informacion Sobre Como la Estatidad Afectaria Determinados Programas y Fuentes de Ingresos Federales. GAO-14-301, March 4.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-301
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661704.pdf

3. National Preparedness: HHS Has Funded Flexible Manufacturing Activities for Medical Countermeasures, but It Is Too Soon to Assess Their Effect. GAO-14-329, March 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-329
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662121.pdf

4. Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs. GAO-14-340SP, March 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-340SP
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662183.pdf
Podcast - http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/662072

5. Programa Para Mitigar Activos Problemáticos: Es necesario un mayor esfuerzo en el control de préstamos equitativos y en el acceso a los programas de vivienda por parte de personas sin dominio del ingles. GAO-14-457, March 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-457
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662186.pdf

6. American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Economic Indicators Since Minimum Wage Increases Began. GAO-14-381, March 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-381
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662128.pdf

7. Missile Defense: Mixed Progress in Achieving Acquisition Goals and Improving Accountability. GAO-14-351, April 1.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-35
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662199.pdf

8. Afghanistan: Changes to Updated U.S. Civil-Military Strategic Framework Reflect Evolving U.S. Role. GAO-14-438R, April 1.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-438R

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CRS — Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests

March 31, 2014 Comments off

Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

U.S. policy toward the Central Asian states has aimed at facilitating their cooperation with U.S. and NATO stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and their efforts to combat terrorism; proliferation; and trafficking in arms, drugs, and persons. Other U.S. objectives have included promoting free markets, democratization, human rights, energy development, and the forging of East-West and Central Asia-South Asia trade links. Successive Administrations have argued that such policies will help the states to become responsible members of the international community rather than to degenerate into xenophobic, extremist, and anti-Western regimes that contribute to wider regional conflict and instability. Soon after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, all the Central Asian “front-line” states offered over-flight and other support for coalition anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan hosted coalition troops and provided access to airbases. In 2003, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also endorsed coalition military action in Iraq. About two dozen Kazakhstani troops served in Iraq until late 2008. Uzbekistan rescinded U.S. basing rights to support operations in Afghanistan in 2005 after the United States criticized the reported killing of civilians in the town of Andijon. The Kyrgyz leadership has notified the United States that it will not extend the basing agreement. U.S. forces will exit the “Manas Transit Center” by mid-2014 and move operations to other locations. In recent years, most of the regional states also have participated in the Northern Distribution Network for the transport of U.S. and NATO supplies into and out of Afghanistan.

Lessons for a Negotiated Settlement in Afghanistan — If History Serves as a Guide

March 21, 2014 Comments off

Lessons for a Negotiated Settlement in Afghanistan — If History Serves as a Guide
Source: RAND Corporation

Historical insurgencies that ended in settlement after a stalemate have generally followed a seven-step path. A “master narrative” distilled from these cases could help guide and assess the progress toward a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.

Democracy in Afghanistan The 2014 Election and Beyond

March 18, 2014 Comments off

Democracy in Afghanistan The 2014 Election and Beyond
Source: RAND Corporation

Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election is the most important political event in that country’s decade-long transition to democracy. A successful election would be a major blow to the Taliban and al Qaida, and would renew Afghan efforts to bring the war to a favorable conclusion. The defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan would be a major setback for similar groups worldwide, many of which look to Afghanistan as a sort of template for how to accomplish a jihadist takeover. By contrast, a failed election and a renewed push by the Taliban could become a rallying cry and a morale boost to the same groups. Because the stakes are high, the international community should recognize that, despite a dozen years of frustration and halting progress, Afghanistan’s political and economic reconstruction needs one more push before the milestone election. Helping Afghanistan across the electoral finish line will increase the odds that the country will find some sort of solution to its internal stability and, thus, be able to deny safe haven to al Qaida and its affiliates.

New From the GAO

March 13, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Report and Testimonies
Source: Government Accountability Office

Report

1. Financial Audit: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Funds’ 2013 and 2012 Financial Statements. GAO-14-303, March 13.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-303
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661692.pdf

Testimonies

1. Afghanistan: Key Oversight Issues for USAID Development Efforts, by Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., director, international affairs and trade, before the Subcommittee on National Security, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. GAO-14-448T, March 13.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-448T
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661699.pdf

2. U.S. Postal Service: Action Needed to Address Unfunded Benefit Liabilities, by Frank Todisco, chief actuary, applied research and methods, before the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. GAO-14-398T, March 13.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-398T
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661638.pdf

New Maps of Afghanistan Provide “Fingerprint” of Natural Resources

March 11, 2014 Comments off

New Maps of Afghanistan Provide “Fingerprint” of Natural Resources
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

A coalition of scientists from the United States and Afghanistan today released high tech maps that will help Afghanistan chart a course for future economic development. These maps represent a milestone as Afghanistan is the first country to be almost completely mapped using hyperspectral imaging data.

The coalition of the U.S. Geological Survey, the Afghanistan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, and the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), was created by the U.S. Department of Defense, to share American international science and technology as a strategic tool for promoting economic development.

“Hyperspectral data from this research provides a fingerprint that identifies Afghanistan’s natural resources,” said Dr. Suzette Kimball, acting USGS director. “This detailed data serves as the backbone of crucial scientific information needed for economic development of natural resources as well as the potential to identify water, biological and natural hazard information.”

Hyperspectral imaging is an advanced imaging technique that measures visible and near-infrared light reflecting off the Earth’s surface. Researchers use hyperspectral imaging spectrometer data to identify and characterize mineral deposits, vegetation, and other land surface features.

Direct Assistance: USAID Has Taken Positive Action to Assess Afghan Ministries’ Ability to Manage Donor Funds, but Concerns Remain

February 5, 2014 Comments off

Direct Assistance: USAID Has Taken Positive Action to Assess Afghan Ministries’ Ability to Manage Donor Funds, but Concerns Remain (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

From January 2011 to August 2013, Ernst & Young and KPMG completed public financial management assessments of 16 Afghan ministries. Both contractors, who met almost all contract requirements, concluded that all of the 16 ministries assessed were unable to manage and account for funds unless they implemented recommendations included in the public financial management assessment reports. In the 16 public financial management assessments, Ernst & Young and KPMG identified 696 total recommendations for corrective action, ranging from 24 for Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (Afghanistan’s national power utility) to 63 for the Ministry of Public Health. Of these, the contractors rated 41 percent of the recommendations as “critical” or “high risk.”

CRS — Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy (updated)

January 31, 2014 Comments off

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The United States and its partner countries are reducing military involvement in Afghanistan as Afghan security forces assume lead security responsibility throughout the country and the Afghan government prepares for presidential and provincial elections on April 5, 2014. The current international security mission terminates at the end of 2014 and will likely transition to a smaller mission consisting mostly of training the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, was reduced to a “pre-surge” level of about 66,000 by September 2012, and is expected to fall to 34,000 in February 2014. The “residual force” that will likely remain in Afghanistan after 2014 is expected to consist of about 6,000-10,000 U.S. trainers and counterterrorism forces, assisted by about 5,000 partner forces performing similar missions. The U.S. troops that remain after 2014 would do so under a U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement that has been negotiated but which President Hamid Karzai, despite significant Afghan public a nd elite backing for the agreement, refuses to sign until additional conditions he has set down are met. Fearing instability after 2014, some ethnic and political faction leaders are reviving their militia forces should the international drawdown lead to a major Taliban push to retake power.

CRS — War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Political Strategy, and Issues for Congress

December 27, 2013 Comments off

War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Political Strategy, and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This is a critical time for U.S. efforts in the war in Afghanistan. U.S. military engagement beyond December 2014, when the current NATO mission ends, depends on the achievement of a U.S.- Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), specifying the status of U.S. forces. Afghan President Hamid Karzai threw the BSA process into confusion by introducing new terms and conditions after a deal had been reached by negotiators. Even if a BSA is reached, U.S. decisions are still pending regarding the scope, scale, and timeline for any post-2014 U.S. force presence in Afghanistan. President Obama has indicated U.S. readiness, in principle, to maintain a small force focused on counter-terrorism and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Afghanistan After the Drawdown

December 15, 2013 Comments off

Afghanistan After the Drawdown
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The United States has now been at war in Afghanistan for more than a decade. The sacrifice in blood and treasure has been substantial. Some 2,300 American servicemen and women have lost their lives, more than 19,000 have been injured, and nearly $650 billion has been spent over the course of the United States’ longest war. The results, however, can only be described as inconclusive. The reach and effectiveness of the Afghan central government remain circumscribed, challenged by various armed groups and undermined by pervasive corruption. The economy has grown rapidly, albeit from a low starting place, but remains largely dependent on international aid flows that will certainly shrink.

The combination of high costs and middling returns has left the American public increasingly skeptical of the utility of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. The 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that brought the American military to Afghanistan in 2001, only reinforced that perception. Yet the United States retains interests in Afghanistan, including preventing the reemergence of a terrorist safe haven and promoting stability in the region, which could be further undermined by a total withdrawal of American military forces.

As this Council Special Report explains, 2014 will be a pivotal year for Afghanistan. An election will, presumably, bring a new president to Kabul. The U.S. military will complete its transfer of responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces, making the war effort Afghan-led. And, as donor financing begins to come down, the Afghan economy will need to find sustainable, internal sources of growth.

Contractors Who Worked in Conflict Zones Suffer High Rates of PTSD, Depression and Get Little Help

December 13, 2013 Comments off

Contractors Who Worked in Conflict Zones Suffer High Rates of PTSD, Depression and Get Little Help
Source: RAND Corporation

Private contractors who worked in Iraq, Afghanistan or other conflict environments over the past two years report suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression more often than military personnel who served in recent conflicts, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Researchers found that among the contractors studied, 25 percent met criteria for PTSD, 18 percent screened positive for depression and half reported alcohol misuse. Despite their troubles, relatively few get help either before or after deployment.

Fostering Synergies for Advancing Women’s Rights in Post-Conflict Islamic States: A Focus on Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya

December 9, 2013 Comments off

Fostering Synergies for Advancing Women’s Rights in Post-Conflict Islamic States: A Focus on Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya
Source: Brookings Institution

Finding common ground among diverse stakeholders on women’s rights in Muslim-majority states is critical to advancing democracy and human development. This paper examines ways to champion and sustain progress on women’s rights amid renewed Islamic constitutionalism by searching for common approaches among Muslim women activists, members of the ulama, and legal advocates.

CRS — Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance (updated)

December 6, 2013 Comments off

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The capacity, transparency, and legitimacy of Afghan governance are considered crucial to Afghan stability after U.S.-led NATO forces turn over the security mission to Afghan leadership by the end of 2014. The size and capability of the Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but the government remains weak and rampant with corruption. Even as the government has struggled to widen its writ, President Hamid Karzai has concentrated substantial presidential authority through his powers of appointment at all levels. But, he is constitutionally term-limited; presidential and provincial elections are scheduled for April 5, 2014, and Afghanistan is beginning to transition from the Karzai era. Several major figures—some close to Karzai and others opposed—have registered to run for president; many of their slates include faction leaders long accused of human rights abuses. Some candidates are concerned that Karzai will use state machinery to favor a particular candidate. Fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) was extensively documented, but Afghan officials, scrutinized by opposition ties, civil society organizations, and key donor countries, have taken some steps to limit the potential for fraud in the April 2014 elections.

Fears about the election process are fanned by the scant progress in reducing widespread nepotism and other forms of corruption. President Karzai has accepted U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same bodies have faltered from lack of support from senior Afghan government leaders who oppose prosecuting their political allies.

No matter the outcome of the Afghan leadership succession process, there is concern among many observers that governance will founder as the United States and its partners reduce their involvement in Afghanistan.

President Karzai is appealing to nationalist sentiment to attract Taliban support to rejoin Afghan politics, but Afghan civil society activists, particularly women’s groups, assert that a full reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan politics could reverse some of the human and women’s rights gains since 2001.

Afghanistan opium crop cultivation rises 36 per cent, production up 49 per cent

November 28, 2013 Comments off

Afghanistan opium crop cultivation rises 36 per cent, production up 49 per cent
Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose 36 per cent in 2013, a record high, according to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey released today in Kabul by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UNODC. Meanwhile, opium production amounted to 5,500 tons, up by almost a half since 2012.

Calling the news “sobering”, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, stressed that this situation poses a threat to health, stability and development in Afghanistan and beyond: “What is needed is an integrated, comprehensive response to the drug problem. Counter-narcotics efforts must be an integral part of the security, development and institution-building agenda”.

Key Military Decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan Taken with Insufficient Political Direction

November 25, 2013 Comments off

Key Military Decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan Taken with Insufficient Political Direction
Source: Chatham House

The British government decision-making process failed under the pressure of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, operating in a way which was incoherent, inconsistent and opaque, says a new report, Depending on the Right People, British Political Military Relations 2001-10, by James de Waal.

The report challenges the widespread view that Britain’s politicians, notably Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, should bear the sole blame for the country’s military difficulties. It draws on recent evidence, including from the Chilcot Inquiry, to show that Britain instead suffered a wider failure of the government system, with politicians, senior military officers and civil servants all playing their part. It argues that government policy-making must become more systematic in order to avoid repeating these mistakes in future wars.

United States and Afghanistan’s Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement, November 2013

November 22, 2013 Comments off

United States and Afghanistan’s Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement, November 2013
Source: Council of Foreign Relations

Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Karzai agreed on a draft text regarding the U.S.-Afghan security partnership after international combat troops withdraw. The agreement is set to take effect on January 1, 2015 and remain in force through 2024.

Contractor Identified as Supporting the Insurgency in Afghanistan Gained Access to Coalition-Controlled Facility

November 18, 2013 Comments off

Contractor Identified as Supporting the Insurgency in Afghanistan Gained Access to Coalition-Controlled Facility (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

I write to inform you of an important safety matter in Afghanistan that warrants your immediate attention. Evidence obtained by SIGAR indicates that a contractor identified by the CENTCOM Commander as supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan gained access to a Coalition-controlled facility. This security lapse seems to have been caused by gaps in how contractor information is shared by U.S. government agencies supporting the reconstruction effort. Unless immediate action is taken to correct this matter, this contractor and other supporters of the insurgency could continue to gain access to U.S.- and Coalition-controlled facilities in Afghanistan.

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict; Concern Especially High Among Muslims in Lebanon

November 11, 2013 Comments off

Many Sunnis and Shias Worry About Religious Conflict; Concern Especially High Among Muslims in Lebanon
Source: Pew Religion & Public Life Project

This week Sunni and Shia Muslims ushered in the Islamic New Year and the beginning of the holy month of Muharram. For Shias, the month also is a time to mourn the events that sparked the centuries-old schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Pew Research Center polls conducted in 2011-2012 find high levels of concern about sectarian tensions in several countries where Sunnis and Shias live side by side. These concerns are particularly pronounced in Lebanon, where fully two-thirds of all Muslims, including about half of Shias and 80% of Sunnis, say sectarian tensions are a very big or moderately big problem. Roughly half of all Muslims in Iraq, more than four-in-ten in Afghanistan and nearly a quarter in Iran say the same.

The polls were conducted from November 2011 to May 2012 among a total of more than 5,000 Muslims in five countries with substantial numbers of both Shias and Sunnis (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon). Although Shias make up only about 10%-13% of the world’s Muslims, three of the five countries surveyed (Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan) have Shia-majority populations. Several of the countries polled also have a recent history of sectarian violence. This includes Lebanon, where a civil war was fought along sectarian lines from 1975 to 1991, and Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other suspected sectarian attacks have occurred in the last few years.

CRS — Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy (updated)

November 6, 2013 Comments off

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The United States and its partner countries are reducing military involvement in Afghanistan as Afghan security forces assume lead security responsibility throughout the country. The current international security mission will terminate at the end of 2014 and likely transition to a far smaller mission consisting mostly of training and mentoring the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, was reduced to a “pre-surge” level of about 66,000 in September 2012, and is currently about 52,000. That number will fall to 34,000 by February 2014. The size of the “residual force” that will likely remain in Afghanistan after 2014 might be announced later in 2013, with options centering on about 8,000-12,000 U.S. trainers and counterterrorism forces, assisted by about 5,000 partner forces performing similar missions. The U.S. troops that remain after 2014 would do so under a U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement that is under negotiation. Fearing instability after 2014, some ethnic and political faction leaders are reviving th eir militia forces should the international drawdown lead to a major Taliban push to retake power. The Administration remains concerned that Afghan stability after 2014 is at risk from weak and corrupt Afghan governance and insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. Among efforts to promote effective and transparent Afghan governance, U.S. officials are attempting to ensure that the next presidential election, scheduled for April 5, 2014, will be devoid of the fraud that plagued Afghanistan’s elections in 2009 and 2010. Other U.S. and partner country anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have yielded few concrete results. An unexpected potential benefit to stability could come from a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Negotiations have been sporadic, but U.S.-Taliban discussions that were expected to begin after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar in June 2013 did not materialize. Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups fear that a settlement might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights and ethnic power-sharing.

The United States and other donors continue to fund development projects while increasingly delegating project implementation to the Afghan government. U.S. officials assert that Afghanistan might be able to exploit vast mineral and agricultural resources, as well as its potentially significant hydrocarbon resources, to prevent a severe economic downturn as international donors scale back their involvement, U.S. officials also seek greater Afghan integration into regional trade and investment patterns as part of a “New Silk Road.” Persuading Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, to support Afghanistan’s stability has been a focus of U.S. policy since 2009, but has had modest success.

Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on foreign aid indefinitely. Through the end of FY2013, the United States has provided nearly $93 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which more than $56 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. The aid request for FY2014 is over $10 billion, including $7.7 billion to train and equip the ANSF. Administration officials have said that economic aid requests for Afghanistan are likely to continue at current levels through at least FY2017. See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.

Women and Conflict in Afghanistan

October 24, 2013 Comments off

Women and Conflict in Afghanistan (PDF)
Source: International Crisis Group

As the presidential election approaches in 2014, with the security transition at the year’s end, Afghan women, including parliamentarians and rights activists, are concerned that the hard-won political, economic and social gains achieved since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001 may be rolled back or conceded in negotiations with the insurgents. Afghanistan’s stabilisation ultimately rests on the state’s accountability to all its citizens, and respect for constitutional, legal and international commitments, including to human rights and gender equality. There will be no sustainable peace unless there is justice, and justice demands that the state respect and protect the rights of women, half its population.

Following the Taliban’s ouster, Afghan women worked hard to reverse the damage wrought by more than two decades of a civil war that deprived them of the limited progress towards gender equality experienced in earlier times. As a result of international support, donor aid and their own efforts, women are now an essential part of the post-Taliban order and have played a major role in reconstructing the state and its institutions. 40 per cent of all schoolchildren are girls. Women are more than 27 per cent of parliament. They are in the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and are lawyers, entrepreneurs, journalists and civil society activists.

In the last twelve years, women’s legal status has improved considerably. Gender equality is enshrined in the constitution. The Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law criminalises rape for the first time. The state is now legally bound to protect women from violence. The ministry of women’s affairs (MOWA) and the government’s National Action Plan for Women (NAPWA) place empowerment at the heart of state building. Yet, women still struggle to avail themselves of their rights and to consolidate and advance their progress.

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