Problems with the size and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces
By Tim Foxley
Summary: Regular and credible non-ISAF analysis continues to flag up problems with ANSF capabilities, recruitment and assessment. This in itself is unlikely to change this state of affairs and time is running out.
Three useful pieces have emerged from, respectively, the Afghanistan Analysts Network, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and El Snarkistani at the Its Always Sunny In Kabul blog. They all highlight the problems, not only of recruiting and training ANSF personnel, but of assessing and measuring their capabilities. In a few lines from each:
“Measuring the ANSF’s ability to fight is not nearly as important as measuring its will to fight – and its will to fight for the central government and not some powerbroker or warlord.”
“…it is critical to look at the metrics…since January 2009, the DoD has changed its standards so regularly that it has become practically impossible to measure the ANA accurately. The DoD and, indeed, ISAF, are spinning ANA success.”
“The number of untrained personnel in the Afghan National Police (ANP) is increasing, not decreasing, in an attempt by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to put untrained recruits into the total force. This is being done in order to make the “end strength” number look better than it actually is. Even though it’s doing that, ISAF’s own recruiting/retention/attrition numbers show that the ANP is going to start losing personnel, not gaining them, within the next few months.”
CSIS also makes one of my favourite points:
“Lower ISAF troop levels will also make data collection more difficult at all levels – from ANSF development, Afghan governance, and Rule of Law — to basic security metrics such as enemy attacks and IEDs. ISAF troops are our eyes and ears on the ground. If the ANSF and other Afghan actors do not learn to collect and report on a whole host of metrics, we will be increasingly blind and deaf.”
As we move closer towards 2014, we will become increasingly less able to understand the ANSF’s capabilities, readiness and willingness. But, in the end, the impression I get is a big “so what”?. We have had a good sense for some time now that the ANSF will not be up to scratch post-2014 (although we will probably be much less clear on the extent). But I don’t sense the international community (ie US, ISAF, NATO) is actually going to do anything significant about it other than shift the goalposts, or obscure them, or ignore them. Barbara Stapleton from AAN wrote down the comments at a conference we both attended in November last year from a former US advisor to NATO:
”wherever things stand on the ground at the end of December 2014, that’s what transition will look like”…
Regrettably, this will turn out to be uncomfortably true.