Date of Submission

Spring 2019

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Global and International Studies

Project Advisor 1

Sean McMeekin

Project Advisor 2

Malia Du Mont

Abstract/Artist's Statement

This thesis evaluates the viability of Building Partner Capacity (BPC) as a strategy to achieve the US objectives of preserving the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and denying safe-haven to transnational terrorists.

The development of the civil state and the enabling of security forces are two simultaneous and mutually supporting processes, each of which are necessary for the future of Afghanistan. This thesis hypothesizes that the process of Building Partner Capacity is the key to achieving the security dimension of this goal. Early success in the 2001 intervention was a direct product of working by, with and through Afghan forces. By contrast, the failures of the subsequent era stemmed from attempts to unilaterally achieve security, while under-supporting true partner capacity building. Although central to success, BPC has only recently been prioritized, beginning in the 2014 shift towards an advisory mission, and away from Counter-Insurgency led by international troops.

Final resolution of the conflict will require a diplomatic process between the Afghan government and insurgent forces. However, groups like the Taliban enjoy continued sustainment from Pakistan and ties of alliance with terror groups like al-Qaeda. At present, the Taliban believe total military victory to be possible and will not negotiate in good-faith. Before the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are made sustainable, no compromise can ensure Afghanistan does not regress again into a safe-haven for transnational terrorists.

With the ideal operational footprint and consistent prioritization of resources, Afghan security capacity can be made sustainable. Already, forces like the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) have been built up into highly credible partners. Technically sophisticated assets like Afghan military aviation have also enjoyed steady growth while proving decisive on the battlefield. Problems in wider conventional units persist, but strategies like the newly formed Territorial Force represent a promising evolution for providing local holding forces.

If the US can politically sustain its partnership with the Afghan state, then BPC constitutes the most constructive form of pursuing the security-half of the nation-building whole. As it stands, BPC represents a progressive break in the models of the past, a lower-footprint means of sustaining engagement, and a tangible way of empowering the only actors capable of providing lasting security, the Afghans themselves.

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