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A “national survival test in 2014” for the ANSF: it needs more money, not less (and for longer…)

May 10, 2012

By Tim Foxley

There is much talk of a decline in the size of the Afghan National Security Forces from the current (and, by all accounts, soon to be reached) goal of 352,000 soldiers down to something around 230,000.  This reduction may start as soon as 2014/2015.  In the media it seems to be discussed and even accepted in a quite matter-of-fact fashion.

Daily Outlook, 30 Apr: “…due to the global financial crisis and lack of interest in Western capitals about Afghanistan, the US and its NATO allies are considering a plan to downsize ANSF to 230,000, reducing a third of it starting gradually from 2015 to 2017.  Maintaining the reduced size of ANSF has an estimated $4.2 billion annual cost. The United States is urging its NATO allies to contribute about 1 billion Euros to this, while Washington would channel about $3 billion. But among NATO allies, only Britain has pledged $110million annually. It is expected that Afghanistan add about $500 million to $1 billion to the annual cost of its security forces.  It is estimated that maintaining the current strength of ANSF will cost annually about $10 billion, which the US and its NATO allies have clearly said is beyond their commitment…”

contemplating life after ISAF…

But this idea is flawed.  It is a very limp and unclear message from the international community to the people of Afghanistan (and the Taliban).  In reality, the international community should probably be doing the reverse.  In other words they should be increasing the funding for the ANSF as ISAF leaves (and after) and committing it for a long period – at least for five years, but more plausibly for a decade – in which this funding is guaranteed.  Only after a decade should a reassessment and revision of funding and support level requirements be made.

A look across the eastern border into Pakistan shows a much more “sophisticated”, equipped and trained army.  Decades of tradition and experience.  And yet it is barely capable of entering large parts of insurgent-held territory in its western reaches.  When it does, it has to use tanks, artillery and airpower in a very unsubtle fashion and gets out as soon as it can.  I don’t see much “clear, hold and build” going on there.  What should the international community realistically expect from the fledgling ANSF; the collateral damage issue is surely more likely to increase as the Afghans take over from ISAF, rather than decrease?

Ashraf Ghani: 2014 is a national survival test

Reuters, 10 May: Afghanistan faces tougher security challenges in the next phase of a transition from foreign to Afghan forces as insurgents step up their attacks, Afghan officials said on Thursday.  President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce on Sunday the transfer of 230 districts and the centres of all provincial capitals to Afghan control in the third phase of a handover before most NATO troops pull out by the end of 2014.  “In 2014 we will face a national survival test, but our enemies have to know that this nation is committed to fulfil this process,” Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, head of the transition process, told reporters in Kabul.  “The third stage is a difficult stage. We don’t want to tell lies to Afghanistan’s people, but these difficulties are not ones that have no solution. The fourth and fifth stages will be more difficult,” Ahmadzai, a former finance minister, said.  Afghanistan and its Western backers plan a total of five stages of security transfer, which will eventually include Taliban-strongholds such as Kandahar and much of Helmand as well as volatile eastern provinces, among other areas.

I think it would be much better practise to assume that the ANSF will probably find the post-2014 period a bit tougher than the west thinks, rather than a bit easier.  If this assumption turns out to be wrong, ie the ANSF didn’t need so much assistance and they’re doing very nicely, thank you, then presumably Afghanistan is moving in the right direction – money well spent.  If this assumption turns out to be right, and the ANSF are getting into difficulties, then at least there will be a better chance of fixing things – and earlier.  The current plans look to be a really dangerous false economy and I still have the thought of 100,000 unemployed trained ex-ANSF soldiers dumped in the streets and villages after ISAF has gone looking for some new outlet for their skills…

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