The latest six-monthly Report to Congress on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan notes that ISAF has made important security gains - except in areas along the border with Pakistan - and has transferred responsibility for security to Afghan forces in seven areas. However, safe havens in Pakistan and the limited capacity of the Afghan government remain the biggest risks to creating a stable country.
After five years of increasing violence, attacks begn to fall in May 2011 compared to the previous year and they continue to decline. As a result 10,000 of the US 'surge' troops with be withdrawn by the end of 2011, with the remaining 23,000 surge troops withdrawn by the end of September 2012.
Whilst there have been security gains in the south-west and south of the country, security in the east "remains tenuous". And Kabul remains vulnerable to high-profile attacks and assassinations. The build-up of Afghan forces continues apace, with the Afghan National Army reaching 170,781 soldiers and the Afghan National Police Force reaching 136,122 policemen. Both the ANA and ANPF remain on track to achieve their respective growth goals for October 2012.
This report contains some interesting nuggets in its 138 pages. The Afghan National Army has been issued with 29,896 pieces of rolling stock in 64 variants, including high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles, all built to the same standard as those issued to US troops. Afghan special forces also get the best quality night vision goggles - although the report notes that "Reinforcement of accounting procedures for these highly sensitive items is ongoing", suggesting some are going missing. There is an interesting discussion of the Afghan Air Force, which is rated as "CM-4" ie it exists, but cannot accomplish its mission.
On Special forces, the report notes that the UK has trained Commando Force 333 - a special police commando unit originally developed by UK Special Forces for counter-narcotics and interdiction, but now considered a multi-functional commando force capable of high-risk arrests - as well as Task Force 444 - a national task force developed by UK Special Forces to conduct operations in Helmand Province. In addition there is the Crisis Response Unit, based in Kabul and trained for high-risk arrests and hostage rescue missions.
The report notes that safe havens in Pakistan "represent the most significant risk to ISAF’s campaign". It adds: "Taliban senior leaders remain capable of providing strategic guidance to the broader insurgency and channeling resources to support their operational priorities. Pakistan-based senior leaders exercise varying degrees of command and control over the generally decentralized and local Afghan insurgency. Within Afghanistan, leadership structures vary by province. In general, the insurgency is led by a shadow governor and a military commander at the provincial level, who oversee district-level shadow governors and lower-level military commanders."
Other nuggets: ISAF employs 34,000 private contracted security guards, 93 per cent of whom are Afghans. However, many of these are due to be replaced by March 2012 under Presidential Decree 62, which directs that they should be replaced by the Afghan Public Protection Force. Some companies, owned by Afghan officials, have already been disbanded.