Academic journal article Military Review

Local Governance and COIN in Eastern-Afghanistan 2004-2008

Academic journal article Military Review

Local Governance and COIN in Eastern-Afghanistan 2004-2008

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE EXAMINES local governance at the provincial, district, and municipal levels in the area of Afghanistan covered by Regional Command-East from 2004 to 2008. It reviews how local governance related to counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy and operations; how governance evolved at the national level, particularly with the establishment of the Independent Directorate for Local Governance in 2007; and how changes in the national laws may have an impact on counterinsurgency.

Counterinsurgency strategy in the U.S.-led Regional Command-East had three main components, or "pillars" - security, development assistance, and local governance. Of these, security, mostly building up the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police and taking active measures against various insurgent groups, received by far the greatest effort and resources.

Development assistance, such as building new or improving existing roads, schools, health clinics, irrigation systems, and the institutions to support them, also received considerable resources, primarily through the U.S. Agency for International Development and Commander's Emergency Response Program projects.

The third pillar, local governance, made progress during this period, but did not receive as many resources as the other two pillars. In part, this was the result of an imbalance between civilian and military capacity in Regional Command-East, with the military vastly overshadowing the civilian presence, both U.S. and international, including the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan. The situation also reflected a limited Afghan ability to absorb assistance, as many of the local government institutions had atrophied over the years of war. It was also the result of the priorities in the fight against the Taliban and other insurgent groups, with establishment of adequate security necessary before civil institutions could take root. Building local governance was inherently a slow process. Decades of war had reduced the pool of civil servants, many of whom had migrated to Pakistan or other countries. A decimated education system made it difficult to produce trained local leaders. Added to this was the lack of infrastructure; in 2004, most governors occupied physical compounds, but they lacked basic equipment and staff. At the district level, conditions were worse.


Regional Command-East is the American-led military area along the border with Pakistan, from Pakitka Province in the west to Nuristan Province in the east, then north to the Hindu Kush Mountain Range. In 2004, only one brigade, supported by a logistical aviation hub at Bagram Air Base, covered the 13 provinces of Regional CommandEast. By 2008, there were three brigades assigned to the area, and provincial reconstruction teams were present in all provinces (although one team covered both Kapisa and Parwan provinces).

The general structure of local governance was established over years, particularly prior to the Soviet invasion, and was defined through law; in practice, however, it was often ad hoc and varied considerably between and within provinces. The relationship between the central government in Kabul and the provinces was not always clear and often depended on personal relationships.

At the top of the local political hierarchy were the provincial governments, headed by governors, whom Kabul appointed directly for open-ended terms. Parallel to the provincial governments were the ministries, whose representatives reported to Kabul.

The district governors (also referred to by U.S. forces as sub-governors), the only officials the majority of Afghans ever met, were on the bottom rung of governance. Municipal government was ill defined in many ways, covering both urban and rural areas of varying sizes.

Elections in the fall of 2005 chose members of the provincial councils, as well as members of the wolesi jirga (the lower house); members of the meshrano jirga (upper house) were indirectly elected. …

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