March 2008 Monthly Forecast



Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to extend the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which expires on 23 March. An open debate on 12 March is likely. Unlike previous years when the mandate renewal was relatively straightforward, this time the vacancy of position of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan as well as the rapidly deteriorating security situation raise the possibility of a technical rollover.

The Secretary-General’s report, also due in March, is expected to highlight a number of priority areas for the next year. It is also likely to suggest strengthening UNAMA’s coordination role and discuss possible ways of doing this.

Recent Key Developments
The first two months of 2008 saw several deadly suicide bombings. On 14 January, six people were killed in a suicide attack at the Hotel Serena in Kabul. On 17 February, a suicide bomb struck a crowd watching dog fighting outside Kandahar, killing more than 100 people, the worst single bombing attack since 2001. The next day a suicide bomber attacked a Canadian military convoy, killing at least 37 and injuring 30. Following both the 14 January and 17 February incidents, the Council condemned the suicide attacks “in the strongest terms” in press statements.

Stationing troops in the south has led to tensions among the NATO allies involved in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Ahead of a NATO defence ministers’ meeting in Lithuania on 7-8 February, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that the NATO alliance risked becoming a “two-tiered” organization,” with “some allies willing to fight and die to protect people’s security, and others who are not.” He urged NATO allies, with an eye in particular on Germany, to accept a greater share of the burden in southern Afghanistan.

The US, UK, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia provide significant numbers of combat troops. Many NATO countries are facing a domestic backlash and are reluctant to send more soldiers, cautious about exposing them to high-risk areas. Canada has threatened to pull out its 2,500 troops out of the Kandahar province unless NATO allies send in 1,000 more troops. In response, France will send more troops to the south, while the US is also sending 3,200 more Marines but only for a single seven-month tour.

Relations between the Afghan government and some international partners have been strained over the last few months. In late December, a senior UN official and the acting head of the EU’s mission were expelled following accusations that they had held “illegal” talks and had given cash to the Taliban. UN officials denied the allegations and said that the expulsion was a result of a misunderstanding. Some observers feel this incident highlighted divisions over whether the Taliban should be brought to the negotiating table.

Tensions related to human rights concerns have also been evident. In November, Canada stopped transferring prisoners to the Afghan authorities due to fear of torture and the difficulty of monitoring prisoners properly. That same month, Amnesty International issued a report accusing NATO countries of turning a blind eye to torture by transferring prisoners to Afghanistan. In October, an Afghan journalist was detained on charges of blasphemy and defaming Islam, offences punishable by death under the country’s law. He was sentenced to death on 22 January, raising international concerns.

On 8 February, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband made a surprise visit to Afghanistan where they visited Kandahar and met Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board—which monitors the Afghanistan Compact, a five-year framework for reconstruction between the Afghan government and the international community—held its seventh meeting in Tokyo on 5-6 February. A key topic of discussion was the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report which said that opium cultivation in rebel-controlled areas in southern and south western Afghanistan is expected to expand this year and that the cultivation of cannabis, the plant that yields marijuana and hashish, was steadily increasing. Poppy cultivation increased in eight provinces and decreased in 26, including 13 declared poppy-free. “Taxing” the crop is a source of revenue for the Taliban insurgency.

At the end of 2007, the Secretary-General offered the position of Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) to Lord Paddy Ashdown, the British former High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Tom Koenigs, the previous SRSG, left his post at the end of December.) However, Ashdown withdrew his name on 27 January, following opposition from Karzai and some members of the Council. Karzai had interviewed Ashdown in Kuwait in December and apparently given initial approval. Observers note that Ashdown’s heavy-handed style in Bosnia and strong support from some Council members may have worked against him as Karzai has become increasingly wary of being seen to be too much under the influence of the West. Ashdown’s nationality, given Britain’s colonial past in Afghanistan, was also a possible obstacle. In addition, there are reports that Karzai may have been uncomfortable with the enhanced SRSG position Ashdown would occupy.

Among the options in renewing the mandate are:

Another option is a technical rollover if members want the new SRSG to be in place before a change of mandate.

Other options are:

Key Issues
A key issue is the deterioration in the security situation in recent months. The severity of the attacks in February was a stark reminder of the difficulties of creating a safe environment. A related issue is a possible backlash from the local population over the large number of civilian casualties from the recent suicide bombings.

There is also theimpact of opium production on the security situation. As opium production continues to boom in areas of the south and southwest, the profits from the narco-economy are helping to prop up the insurgency. (Afghanistan supplies some 90 percent of the world’s illicit opium, and the Taliban receives up to $100 million from the drug trade.)

An immediate issue is whether UNAMA’s mandate should be expanded and in what areas. Giving the UN a greater role in coordination and cooperation requires support from other international actors and the Afghan government. This will not be easy as any perceived infringement on military strategy could result in friction with NATO generals. The Afghan government is increasingly uncomfortable with the UN becoming involved in combating corruption and crime, and may be sensitive to assistance on human rights.

A related issue is whether the Council should consider expanding UNAMA’s mandate to include electoral assistance before the Afghan government makes a formal request.

A growing concern for international partners is how to prevent further deterioration of human rights in Afghanistan. Allegations that prisoners are tortured, and that death sentences may be imposed for blasphemy are likely to be on the minds of some members.

Also unresolved is the type of political outreach and mediation UNAMA should undertake. While UNAMA has facilitated dialogue between the authorities and estranged tribes, the reaction of the Afghan government late last year to a UN official talking to the Taliban showed clear limits to UN activities.

An issue also is finding a balance between respecting the Afghan government’s desire both to stand on its own feet and win the hearts and minds of its people and its continued need for assistance with institution-building.

An ongoing issue is the search for a new SRSG. While the Council is not directly involved in filling this position, some members are likely to be concerned that UNAMA’s activities will be constrained if the position remains vacant too long.

An open question is whether there is a need to expand the role of the SRSG. Last year a “super envoy” or expanded SRSG role was suggested, with strong backing from the US. However, some countries are uncomfortable with tinkering with the current mandate of the SRSG and feel that it is sufficient if used effectively. The Afghan government is not keen to have this role expanded.

Another issue is how to assist in fostering better regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours, particularly Pakistan.

Council and Wider Dynamics
The Council is of one mind on the need for a UN presence in Afghanistan. Although comfortable with UNAMA’s current mandate, members are likely to differ over any expansion of the mandate, particularly if it involves greater civilian-military cooperation. Members may also differ on whether a substantive resolution should be adopted now or after a new SRSG is in place.

In the past, there were divisions over handling civilian casualties between members of the Council with troops in Afghanistan (e.g. UK, US and Italy) and others. Council members like Libya, Indonesia and South Africa may want a greater focus on this issue than would members with troops in Afghanistan.

In September, Russia abstained from voting on extending the NATO-led ISAF resolution. It felt that the issue of maritime interdiction had not been clarified sufficiently and the resolution “should not have given priority to domestic considerations.” Russia’s position took other members, who expected a smooth adoption of the ISAF resolution, by surprise. While sharing similar positions to the US on issues like NATO’s role, there are growing differences between the two countries over how to fight the Taliban and the best methods for defeating the opium trade.

Other than Italy, which is the lead country in the Council on this issue, members do not appear to have fresh ideas on how best to make UNAMA more efficient, relying heavily on Italy and recommendations from the Secretary-General.

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UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1776 (19 September 2007) extended ISAF’s mandate until 13 October 2008.
  • S/RES/1746 (23 March 2007) extended UNAMA’s mandate until 23 March 2008.
  • S/RES/1401 (28 March 2002) created UNAMA.

Selected Presidential Statement

  • S/PRST/2007/27 (17 July 2007) welcomed international initiatives to improve security, stability and reconstruction in Afghanistan and reiterated support for the Afghan government.

Selected Report of the Secretary-General

  • S/2007/555 (21 September 2007) was the latest report.

Other Relevant Documents

  • SC/9251 (17 February 2008) was the Council press statement on the Kandahar attack.
  • SC/9226 (15 January 2008) was the Council press statement on the Kabul hotel bombing.
  • S/2007/494 (15 August 2007) was the latest ISAF report.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UNAMA’s Chief of Mission


UNAMA: Size, Composition and Duration

  • Current strength: 217 international civilians, 1,027 local civilians, 15 military observers, three civilian police, 32 UN volunteers
  • Duration: 28 March 2002 to present; mandate expires on 23 March 2008

ISAF Military Commander

General Dan McNeill (US)

ISAF: Size, Composition and Duration

  • Current strength: about 43,250 troops
  • Contributors of military personnel: 40 NATO and non-NATO countries
  • Current top contributors: US, UK, Germany, Canada, Italy and the Netherlands.
  • Duration: 20 December 2001 to present; mandate expires on 13 October 2008

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF): Size, Composition and Duration

  • Current strength:13,500 (this is an estimate as the troop numbers shift continuously)
  • Top contributor: US
  • Duration: 7 October to present

Useful Additional Sources

Full forecast

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