As former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai prepared to leave power in his final year, he made a series of decisions to restrain International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) from participating in combat operations in Afghanistan. Further, he repeatedly tightened the constraints on United States Special Operations Forces (SOF). Due to a series of incidents in which an experienced and well-entrenched insurgent information-operations network crafted narratives and successfully pressured political powers into repeatedly taking public positions against U.S. combat power, ISAF capacity to wage effective campaigns to erode and degrade the rising tide of resurgent Taliban and Haqqani Network attacks was effectively mitigated. This has had a significant and deleterious effect upon the efforts of both ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to rollback insurgent gains in key areas of Afghanistan.

Almost immediately after taking office in September, Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, has diverged noticeably from his predecessor. Through several policy changes and a tangible shift in foreign policy, Ghani has signaled that he is charting a path that coincides with many of the strategic objectives of both the Western-dominated ISAF alliance and his own government. A few of the more important changes have elicited praise from both the Afghan public and allied force officials.

In November, Ghani reached out to Pakistan’s leadership, traveling to Islamabad after visiting two of Pakistan’s allies, China and Saudi Arabia:

Arriving at the military headquarters in Rawalpindi on Friday, Ghani was greeted by an army honor guard and received a security briefing, officials said. In the meeting, Ghani praised “Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism” and pledged to boost security cooperation, including training and border policing, according to a Pakistani military press release.

In Kabul, Ghani’s office issued a statement saying the countries had agreed to double bilateral trade, which now stands at $2.5 billion annually, within two years

“There are high expectations for the visit on both sides,” said Hasan Khan, a security expert in Islamabad. “The recent visits of senior Pakistani officials, including the army chief, have given Kabul a lot of reassurance.”

Afghan officials say that Ghani’s recent visits to Saudi Arabia and China – two major allies of Pakistan – marked an attempt to raise pressure on Islamabad to help restart Taliban peace talks. China has indicated a willingness for the first time to help mediate talks, partly, analysts believe, because it is worried that the withdrawal of most U.S. and international troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year will create a security vacuum that could be exploited by ethnic Uighur militants. (Auon Sahi and Shashank Bengali, The Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2014)

In an effort to stem the tide of rising insurgent violence, Ghani alleviated some of the pressure on ISAF military forces operating in Afghanistan by somewhat surprisingly lifting the ban on night raids conducted by ANSF SOF (some of which will include American partner forces). The lifting of the ban was specifically welcomed by Afghan generals commanding forces in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The trust Ghani signaled to his SOF (especially) went a long way toward engendering goodwill from his military forces: