As of January 1, 2015, the United States and its partner countries have completed a transition to a smaller post-2014 mission consisting mostly of training the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF), which lead security operations throughout the country. The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, has been reduced to just over 10,000, of which most are trainers and advisers as part of a 13,000-person NATO-led "Resolute Support Mission." About 1,000 of the U.S. contingent are counter-terrorism forces that also operating under a new U.S. "Operation Freedom's Sentinel" that replaces the post-September 11 "Operation Enduring Freedom." President Obama directed in May 2014 that the U.S. force will shrink during 2015 to about 5,000 by the end of this year, and their presence after 2015 will be exclusively in Kabul and at Bagram Airfield. The post-2016 U.S. force is to be several hundred military personnel, under U.S. Embassy authority. However, doubts about the ability of the ANSF to operate without substantial international backing have led to recent U.S. alterations of the post- 2014 U.S. rules of engagement and debate over the size of the post-2016 force.
Deploying a post-2014 international force was contingent on Afghanistan's signing a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States and a similar document with NATO. These accords were delayed by a dispute over alleged fraud in the 2014 presidential election, which was settled in September 2014 by a U.S.-brokered solution under which Ashraf Ghani became President and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah was appointed to a new position of Chief Executive Officer of the government. Even though the election dispute was resolved, at least for now, experts remain concerned that Afghan stability is at risk from weak and corrupt Afghan governance. Ghani and Abdullah's disagreements over new Cabinet selections delayed the appointment of a new cabinet until early January 2015. Aside from the tensions between Ghani and Abdullah, governance is widely assessed to suffer from widespread official corruption. Since taking office, Ghani has signaled he will prioritize anti-corruption issues.
An unexpected potential benefit to stability could come from a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Some negotiations have taken place periodically, and in May 2014 indirect U.S.-Taliban talks produced an exchange of prisoners that included the return of U.S. prisoner of war Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Ghani's trips to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China since taking office have been intended, at least in part, to invigorate negotiations. Persuading Afghanistan's neighbors, particularly Pakistan, to support the reconciliation process has shown some modest success, although Afghan insurgent groups continue to operate from Pakistani territory. Yet, Afghanistan's minorities and women's groups fear that a settlement might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights.
As part of a longer-term economic strategy for Afghanistan, U.S. officials seek greater Afghan integration into regional trade and investment patterns as part of a "New Silk Road," and say that Afghanistan might be able to exploit vast mineral resources. Still, Afghanistan will remain dependent on foreign aid for many years. Through the end of FY2013, the United States provided nearly $93 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which more than $56 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. The appropriated U.S. aid for FY2014 is over $6.1 billion, including $4.7 billion to train and equip the ANSF, and the FY2015 request is about $5.7 billion. These figures do not include funds for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Administration officials have pledged to Afghanistan that economic aid requests for Afghanistan are likely to continue roughly at recent levels.
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