International approaches to the Afghan security sector over the last nine years have exhibited the tendencies of security sector reform (SSR), counterinsurgency (COIN) and stabilization, and exposed the inherent tensions between them. This paper argues that while an SSR, COIN or stabilization approach may have been appropriate at the beginning of the post-Taliban period or currently, actual practice has been to attempt all three simultaneously. This leads to confusion, and the combined approaches tend to undermine one another as they attempt to address the security issues facing Afghanistan.

The paper concludes that, ultimately, the lack of strategic direction and focus in the international intervention — as demonstrated by the evolution of United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions, the plethora of international missions and interventions in the security sector, and the realities on the ground — has served both Afghanistan and its international partners poorly.

The Afghanistan Papers are essays authored by prominent academics, policy makers, practitioners and informed observers that seek to challenge existing ideas, contribute to ongoing debates and influence international policy on issues related to Afghanistan’s transition. A forward-looking series, the papers combine analysis of current problems and challenges with explorations of future issues and threats.