About the Author: Dereck Hogan serves in the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). He previously served on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Uruzgan and Kunar, Afghanistan.
As Ambassador Holbrooke's Senior Advisor for Governance and Civilian-Military Coordination, I make it a point to travel frequently to Afghanistan to meet with senior Afghan and international officials in Kabul and the field to discuss the implementation of our sub-national governance assistance strategy. I just returned from a very productive and encouraging one-week trip in Afghanistan.
Key security and service delivery ministries are working on a plan with U.S. Embassy Kabul and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters to dramatically improve security, restore government control and improve service delivery in 80 critical districts over the next 18 months to reverse the momentum of the Taliban. These districts are mostly concentrated in the highly contested south and east of Afghanistan, but a number of districts in the north and the west are being included in this joint civilian-military effort.
The first targeted districts are in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand Province, specifically in the central Helmand River valley. Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and ISAF will "clear" the districts of insurgents, and the most important service delivery ministries, including Health, Education, Agriculture, Rural Rehabilitation and Development, and Justice, will immediately roll out an integrated package of services to respond to the population's most basic needs.
President Karzai has instructed the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG) to coordinate the Afghan-led effort, which includes appointing strong provincial and district governors and organizing district councils. Even though the United States, United Kingdom and other key international actors are providing the IDLG and relevant Afghan ministries the necessary technical and financial assistance to carry out this initiative, I was impressed with the extent to which the Afghan government is in the lead.
Afghanistan's President Karzai has made improvement in governance at the provincial and district level, or sub-national governance, a key pillar of his reform agenda. Although the Afghan government has historically maintained a limited presence outside of Kabul, the insurgency will continue to gain traction as long as the Afghan population perceives its local authorities as weak, or even predatory. One of the main conclusions of President Obama's strategic assessment of the U.S. Afghanistan-Pakistan policy is that we must help make local Afghan government more visible, capable, accountable, and responsive to reduce the "governance" space of the insurgents in politically and economically strategic districts. Together with the international community, the United States has realigned its assistance strategy to support the Afghan government's ambitious but achievable sub-national governance plan. Improved security, governance, and development in the 80 targeted districts should reduce the attractiveness of the Taliban's brutal alternative brand of governance and, hopefully, encourage the insurgency's mid-level commanders and foot soldiers to reintegrate into normal political and economic life.
I look forward to providing an update on this important district-level initiative following my next trip to Afghanistan.