Sim Tack: Hi, I'm Sim Tack, military analyst at Stratfor and I'm joined here today by Paul Floyd, another military analyst at Stratfor, and we'll be talking about the official ending to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and what that means for Afghanistan's future. So Paul, tell us. What actually changes on the ground with the end of this mission and the start of the follow on U.S. operation?
Paul Floyd: The short answer is not much. So this has been a transition that has been going on for years now, with the draw down. But more importantly we've seen Western forces… that NATO ISAF force has been pulling back from direct combat for a longtime and has been more in a training and supportive role of Afghan security forces. And this is really just kind of symbolically marking the official transition. But this is really kind of a no-later-than date of saying that this must be completely done by this time, but it has been going on and in a process of. And, as you know and as we've seen in the media, there's still going to be a fairly robust force remaining after this in operation Resolute Support that will continue to train, advise and some will actually have outside of that, there will be some actual forces that will have combat operations abilities as well. Will there be a huge change on Jan. 1? No. Afghanistan is going to be along the same trajectory it's been on for the last year or so.
Sim: So along that trajectory, the common view of the situation in Afghanistan right now is that security forces are not really capable of doing everything on their own yet. How do you see that capability of the Afghan forces. You've actually served with some of Afghanistan special forces when you were, during your tour over there. From your experience and the current situation, how well is Afghanistan actually capable of dealing in this situation where the U.S. is limiting its engagement.
Paul: In a very micro sort of view, you know, the Afghan security forces aren't very good, especially relative to the NATO counterparts that have been supporting them. But relative to the people that they're fighting, the militancy and the insurgency that they're fighting, they're okay. But in a macro view what we're talking about is can the Afghan security force as a whole accomplish a certain objective. The answer is yes, but with a lot of caveats, one of them being that the Afghan security forces are artificial. And I say that in the sense of the Afghan state cannot support on its own. Afghanistan has no economy. All of its ability to support and stand up these security forces comes from foreign assistance, and that's really the crutch here is the billions of dollars in support that come in directly to make this state kind of functional and keep the security forces kind of functional.
Sim: So when you're saying that Afghanistan's main challenge is maintaining that financial support of the whole security organization, are there any places outside of the U.S. that Afghanistan is going to be looking for or is this going to be mainly an actual U.S. responsibility in bankrolling security in Afghanistan even if they're not directly operating those security organs?
Paul: It's an interesting question, and really the future of the Afghanistan state kind of depends on this. I think we've some interest from India and China in some of the mineral wealth that might be available in Afghanistan. So when we talk about that decades in the future, you know, there might be enough investment if there is enough stability to actually prop up a real economy, that is legal, that can actually support these security forces outside of that. So those are probably the two biggest states, both China and India, that might actually be interested in that. Pakistan to a point even, but that will really hinge on stability to a certain degree. I mean the short answer is Afghanistan is not going to be a pretty place. The U.S. objectives there have shifted a lot since the beginning. The original goal was, you know, oust the Taliban government that have supported terrorists that have attacked the United States, and then it kind of shifted to let's destroy them and we found that was impossible. Its impossible because of the terrain and the fact you've got an international border there, and we got limited support from Pakistan and that becomes a very complicated quagmire. There's huge ethnic tensions and divides that make this very complicated so that we're going to destroy this, kind of we got lost in that. But pulling back and kind of refocusing, we've kind of gone back to the original mission, which is let's not let Afghanistan turn into what it was in the first place that allowed 9/11 to happen. It can't be a place where a government that supports terrorists… it can't be that place. It can't function that way and it can't be so unstable that it affects the stability of Pakistan.
Sim: So of course the responsibility of tackling this security issue does not fall on the U.S. alone. There's regional impacts from this insecurity as well, and we recently saw the agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan to cooperate and combat the Taliban on both sides of the border. How successful can they be at that? And what kind of challenge actually remains from the Taliban in that area.
Paul: I think their success will be limited in reality. And I say that because both sides obviously have a militant problem, but both sides have you know used militants in achieving goals and have supported certain militants. You know, Pakistan is famous for trying to parse out the good militants from the bad militants and that really as we've seen in recent events, it's coming back to bite them in some ways. But the idea that both states will get together, have functional security forces that then will work together in some kind of unison to attack both sides of this border in really severe terrain is kind of far-fetched. It's probably not going to happen. They have a very very rocky relationship. And so we're seeing the very beginnings of them trying to do this. I think they'll have some capability in combatting and containing the Taliban, and some of the militants up in this region. But it would take such a coordinated effort and we've seen nothing that would indicate that they can do this to actually get into this terrain and seriously disrupt militant activity and degrade their capabilities very far. So, you know, looking forward, Pakistan and Afghanistan have similar interests to a degree in dealing with this problem, but it's probably more about containing the problem. And they're going to cede certain territory, especially the severe terrain that runs along this border in this area, but that's kind of where it's going to stop. The ability to kind of destroy these militants is limited to almost non-existent.
Sim: Thank you very much for that. That was a very comprehensive explanation. Sorry, that that's all we've got time for. If you want to know more about this issue and others, please visit stratfor.com. And we wish you a happy new year.