This paper is a Policy Analysis Exercise by students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. This research was supported, in part, by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School.
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)—the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) military mission in Afghanistan—is shaping its strategy and operations around the 2014 withdrawal. This will mark the full transition of security and governance responsibility to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). This paper investigates why ISAF's strategy for governance and development (gov/dev) transition is not incorporated into the implementation of gov/dev projects at the tactical unit level. The question is grounded in the assumption that all military gov/dev projects are part of the nationwide unity of effort toward supporting the capacity and legitimacy of GIRoA, and that strategic principles—in addition to the local operational outcomes—should be part of the assessment process. This paper's findings are based on over 60 in-country interviews in Kabul, Bagram, and Jalalabad, with military and civilian members at all levels of the chain of command. We found that ISAF gov/dev transition principles, as articulated in operational plans, are not present in the gov/dev strategy and conversations at sub-brigade levels. Where the principles may be recognized as a good idea, they are not contributing factors to the decision of how and where to implement gov/dev projects.