October 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2009
Download Complete Forecast: PDF


Expected Council Action

The Council is expected to consider the mandate of the ahead of its expiry on 13 October.

Given international focus on the question of a new strategy for Afghanistan, the issues that have arisen following the 20 August elections and ongoing civilian casualties, the Council may choose to have a wider discussion on Afghanistan. There may also be some discussion about the high-level international conference proposed by France, Germany, and the UK.

Key Recent Developments
At press time the official results of the 20 August elections had not been released. The final preliminary results gave incumbent President Hamid Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote and his closest opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, 27.8 percent. However, allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation have led to calls for a recount of votes. On 15 September the head of the Independent Election and Electoral Complaints Commission said that there was “clear and convincing” evidence of fraud, and called for 10 percent of the votes to be recounted. EU election observers estimated that about 1.5 million of the 5.6 million votes were possibly fraudulent. Karzai called the EU assessment “partial” and “irresponsible”. Within the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), differences emerged between the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Kai Eide and his deputy Peter Galbraith over what to do about the situation. This led to Galbraith abruptly leaving the country.

France, Germany and the UK on 9 September wrote to the Secretary-General, calling for a high-level international conference before the end of the year to take stock of progress in Afghanistan and to assess the challenges ahead. The letter also suggested that the conference should agree on a joint framework for new benchmarks and timelines for turning over responsibility to the Afghan authorities. It said the conference should also spell out a vision of a gradual transfer of this responsibility. During a press briefing on 17 September the Secretary-General welcomed the proposal to hold an UN-led international conference, describing it as “timely and appropriate”.

The new US Commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, reported on the situation in Afghanistan to President Barack Obama on 31 August. From a declassified version of the report it seems that McChrystal’s assessment is that the situation in Afghanistan is serious and that failure to “gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum” in the next 12 months “risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible”. He stressed the need to change the operational culture away from “force protection” and urged a focus on protecting Afghan civilians, and on much improved coordination within ISAF. He indicated that the new strategy would require better use of existing resources, but would also entail additional resources.

Civilian deaths continued to be a highly contentious issue in the weeks following the election:

  • A NATO bombing raid in Kunduz on 4 September requested by a German commander killed thirty and wounded nine civilians, according to an Afghan-government commission. Also killed were 69 alleged Taliban. Germany defended the airstrike as necessary. McChrystal distanced the US from the attack and apologised to the Afghan people. Karzai condemned the decision to strike, calling it a major error of judgment. The UN called on NATO to investigate the bombing.
  • On 4 September one Polish soldier was killed and five others wounded after a bomb exploded near a Polish convoy in eastern Afghanistan.
  • On 17 September a suicide bomb attack on a military convoy in Kabul killed six Italian soldiers and ten civilians, marking Italy’s single greatest loss in Afghanistan.

At press time the Council was expected to discuss the Secretary-General’s latest UNAMA report on 29 September. Among the observations of the report, circulated on 22 September, was that:

  • the elections were demanding and challenging from many perspectives;
  • there had been engagement and debate during the campaign period on political alternatives; and
  • in spite of safeguards, serious electoral fraud occurred but that much of it was detected.

The report also highlighted the need to enable the Afghan government to assume the responsibilities of a sovereign state with a new “contract” between the government and its people being a critical component. It also signaled that as a result of planned future expansion and strengthening of UNAMA the estimated budget for 2010 will increase by 70 percent over the 2009 budget.

On 25 September Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Canon, hosted an informal meeting on Afghanistan where Eide briefed foreign ministers of key troop-contributing and donor countries and the Afghanistan foreign minister, Rangin Spanta.

On 2 September the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009. It reported that poppy cultivation decreased by 22 percent, opium production declined by 10 percent and the number of opium poppy-free provinces rose from 18 to 20 (out of 34).

Developments in the Human Rights Council

In her address to the 12th session of the Human Rights Council on 15 September, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay urged “all those States contributing to military operations, whether it be in their own country or in other countries, to enhance their efforts to prevent civilian casualties, which in Afghanistan and elsewhere remain at unacceptably high levels”.

Pillay also said the elections in Afghanistan were “a cause for hope” but expressed concern that they “have been marred not only by insurgent violence, but also by heightened pressures on freedom of expression, and on political participation, as well as by a severe backlash against women’s rights. The failure to tackle impunity weakens efforts to build the rule of law”. Pillay expressed the hope that the government and its international partners “will make accountability and justice central elements in the next stages of Afghanistan’s transition”.


Key Issues

A key issue is whether the Council will be used as a place for discussing and delivering the strategy for Afghanistan or whether it will be bypassed in favour of conferences or meetings elsewhere. At least one NATO head of state in the general debate of the General Assembly called for the Council to be seen as the principle focus of strategy setting.

There has been much discussion of the issue of domestic political legitimacy in Afghanistan as a result of controversy over the elections, and the risk that this could lead to an increase in popular support for the Taliban because among the Afghan people there is an increasing crisis of confidence in their government. However, there is almost no discussion of the need to increase the legitimacy of ISAF or the UN presence and the corresponding need that the Council’s role not be marginalised.

A closely related issue is the UN’s role in underpinning the legitimacy of the elections and assisting in finding political solutions.

Another issue is timing. This is relevant both to the ISAF mandate renewal (due 13 October) and any run-off election. It would need to be held by the third week of October, or delayed till next year as the onset of a harsh winter would make voting difficult in much of the country.

A significant underlying question which bears on all of the above questions is the declining public support in many Western countries for the war in Afghanistan. Several have indicated they may withdraw in the next few years:

  • Canada has indicated that it is likely to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in 2011.
  • The deaths of six Italian soldiers prompted a renewed debate in Italy over the future of Italian troops in Afghanistan.
  • In Germany videos from Al-Qaida warning Germany to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan turned Afghanistan into a key election issue.
  • British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he hopes that some British troops could be withdrawn once the Afghan army takes over on security.
  • Questions have been raised in Poland about the wisdom of the Polish participation after the country lost several soldiers in recent weeks.
  • The new Japanese government has said it would not extend its naval refueling operation (which provides fuel and other logistics to ISAF) when it terminates in January, but has hinted that it might shift its efforts toward more development aid.

A future issue is accountability for civilian deaths. The International Criminal Court has begun gathering evidence about possible war crimes committed by combatants on all sides.

One option is for the Council to simply re-authorise ISAF in a resolution similar to resolution 1833 of 2008, which in an essentially mechanical way extended ISAF’s mandate for twelve months until 13 October 2009. However, this approach would demonstrate a continuation of the essentially instrumental role of the Council pursued by the Bush administration under which the UN was absent from the strategic policy debate, and might feed into lessening respect for ISAF and the UN both domestically in Afghanistan and amongst the wider public in troop-contributing countries.

Another option might be to defer the ISAF mandate until concrete proposals for a new strategy are available. This would suggest a technical roll-over in October. The Council could then play a fundamental role in debating a new strategy in light of both General McChrystal’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and the changes needed for ISAF to achieve its mission.

Another option would be for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to brief the Council and for General McChrystal (or another senior commander) to brief an expanded group of ISAF troop and police-contributing countries (TCC/PCCs). (This would fit well with the precedent set by President Obama during the General Assembly when he met with major TCC/PCC contributors to UN peacekeeping.)

As part of the Council monitoring ISAF developments more closely, an option is to request timely, quarterly reports. (The last ISAF report covers the period August 2008 to January 2009.)

Council Dynamics
While Council members are following events in Afghanistan closely, the ISAF renewal seems to have been far from top of mind in recent weeks. Eide’s briefing, scheduled for 29 September will sharpen the focus on the post-election situation and UNAMA’s benchmarks. Members are expected to begin discussions on the ISAF resolution only in early October.

The US position appears to be still evolving.

The need for more troops in Afghanistan could be a difficult issue for some Council members. In anticipation of a possible request for more NATO troops, some members may wish to begin discussions on ways of speeding up the “Afghanisation” of the national army and police forces.

A possible controversial area that could be raised by some members is that of civilian casualties. In the past, countries like Austria, Costa Rica and Mexico have stressed the importance of civilian protection and may take up this issue again. This could lead to difficult discussions over possible wording in the ISAF resolution.

Japan is the lead country on this issue in the Council.

Sign up for SCR emails
UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1868 (23 March 2009) extended UNAMA’s mandate until 23 March 2010 and asked for reports with benchmarks every three months.
  • S/RES/1833 (22 September 2008) extended ISAF’s mandate until 13 October 2009.
  • S/RES/1659 (15 February 2006) endorsed the Afghanistan Compact (on international cooperation with Afghanistan) and its annexes.
  • S/RES/1401 (28 March 2002) created UNAMA.

Selected Presidential Statement

  • S/PRST/2009/21 (15 July 2009) stressed the importance that the elections be free, fair, transparent, credible, secure and inclusive.

Selected Report

  • S/2009/475 (22 September 2009) was the Secretary-General’s UNAMA report.


  • SC/9735 (26 August 2009) was the Council’s press statement on the terrorist attack in Kandahar.
  • SC/9734 (20 August 2009) was the Council’s press statement following the elections.

Other Relevant Facts

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

Kai Eide

UNAMA: Size, Composition and Duration

  • Strength (as of 30 August 2009): 334 international civilians, 1,204 local civilians, 15 military observers, seven civilian police, 53 UN volunteers
  • Duration: 28 March 2002 to present; mandate expires on 23 March 2010

ISAF Military Commander

Army General Stanley McChrystal (US)

ISAF: Size, Composition and Duration

  • Total strength: about 64,500 troops
  • Contributors of military personnel: 42 NATO and non-NATO countries
  • Current top contributors: US, UK, Germany, France, Italy and Canada.
  • Duration: 20 December 2001 to present; mandate expires on 13 October 2009

Operation Enduring Freedom: Size, Composition and Duration

  • Current strength:13,500 (this is an estimate as the troop numbers shift continuously)
  • Top contributor: US
  • Duration: 7 October 2001 to present

Useful Additional Resources

Full forecast

Subscribe to receive SCR publications