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Problems with the size and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces

August 5, 2012

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.

 

Contemplating the scale of the problem

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:

CSIS – testimony before the US House Armed Services Subcommittee:

“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.”

 AAN – Paint It Pink: The US redefining ANA success:

“…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.”

El Snarkistani – Fun with Numbers: ISAF’s ANP Training Math

“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.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2012 3:32 am

    Good Roll-up! Posted a link to the article over at at The Kabul Cabl on FaceBook. The AAN article really did a good job of laying out how we’ve been moving the goalposts on our metrics. I don’t know how to close the gap.

  2. August 6, 2012 9:19 am

    A well put together piece sir.

    ”wherever things stand on the ground at the end of December 2014, that’s what transition will look like”…

    It’s the absolute truth. We have some hard working CF members out there embedded with the ANA and ANP units. However, no matter where their partnered ANSF units stand on issues like resourcing, training, leadership effectiveness and HQ oversight – at the end of 2014 it will fall on the Afghans to work through those critical issues.

    With that being said – there are specific issues ISAF should focus on between now and then: 1) ANP training – strengthen the regional ANP training centers with additional advisors and Law Enforcement Personnel.

    2) Establish a cadre of competent Afghan ANP regional trainers for an AFG sustainable future.

    3) ANSF logistics – grow those ANSF relationships so the Afghans know who to call for a resupply.

    4) ANSF literacy – grow the education/continuation training efforts within the fielded ANSF units.

    ISAF’s time is growing short here in AFG – but let us not forget we still have 2 1/2 years left here to continue the gains that those who came before us have sacrificed so much to make. I’ll finish with a quote from an Afghan Army infantry officer that sticks in my head to this day. I asked him what he has to feel optimistic about here in Afghanistan. His reply to me was: “Easy, look at where we where in 2001 and look at where we are now.”

    Toran Majeed.

  3. Johan Freckhaus permalink
    August 6, 2012 11:14 am

    The ANSF is already over-sized and divert budget from Education, Public Health, Rural Development, etc. Insurgency is rebels supported by people. Millions of Afghans have been supporting the Taliban because of foreign troops with “hidden agendas”. A complete and sincere withdrawal will break down this support. These misunderstood supporters don’t want an Islamic Emirate; they want the end of unknown evil plans currently implemented by force. Don’t believe in “increasing role of the neighboring and regional countries” (UNSC’s big mistake) but give back political power to the people (decentralization) and neutrality to the country! Then, a few dozens of thousands ANSF will be enough to help the not-so-stupid, not-so-weak Afghan farmers to keep the Taliban away from their villages.

    • August 9, 2012 1:39 pm

      Johan, hi and thanks. You have a brave and bold solution to put forward, but, for me, it is far too vague. I don’t really believe that “millions of Afghans” support the Taliban (although many – perhaps millions – are scared into acquiescence or have some support for some of the Taliban’s values). I think the “complete and sincere” withdrawal you suggest is highly likely to lead to civil war as the various militia, warlord, insurgent, ethnic and political groups thrash around in the power vacuum. I also believe that neighbouring countries have played, are playing and will continue to play pretty negative roles – Pakistan is by far and away the worst culprit. I don’t understand what you mean by “give back political power to the people and neutrality to the country!”. It sounds great, but the reality of application is perhaps harder to realise. Please let me know what you mean by “unknown evil plans”?

      Cheers

      Tim

      • Johan Freckhaus permalink
        August 14, 2012 6:51 am

        Hello Tim. Sure, we hear the same story for years: WE do the security, without us it would be civil war because the Afghans are like beasts struggling for power and money with a gene of violence in their blood… Actually, the foreign military is the main problem for security in Afghanistan. Believe it or not, there are millions of Afghans who voluntarily provide food, accommodation, transportation, intelligence, etc. to the Talibans in order to push the foreigners out of their country. They don’t know about the hidden agendas but it should be evil: converting Muslim people to Christianity, redrawing the Middle East, sharing Pakistan between Afghanistan and India, invading Iran, containment strategy towards China, going deeper into Central Asia, confiscating Afghan natural resources, laying pipelines? So many “expert views” circulating… They don’t want to discuss with you and me about geopolitics and just go back to the basics, fighting a Jihad!

      • August 14, 2012 7:46 am

        Johan, hi and thanks very much for your time and thoughts. Its helped me remember why I try to write a blog – to have some debate and discussion. I might not be able to get back to you for a week or so as I am away from computers, but will get you a response when I can. Cheers

        Tim

      • Johan Freckhaus permalink
        August 14, 2012 7:02 am

        You believe that “neighbouring countries have played, are playing and will continue to play pretty negative roles”, and so do I! That is why we must protect Afghanistan from them by an international status of neutrality. (Not inviting them to enter Afghan politics to solve their regional issues. Not being ourselves inside with the most powerful military force ever.) Everybody in the United Nations will sign such a treaty and Pakistan first! Not with America against Iran, not with India against Pakistan, not with the West against China, not with any terrorist organization against the Civilization: Afghanistan must be neutral. Remember Congress of Vienna in 1815 and neutrality of this very similar country at that time: Switzerland.

      • August 14, 2012 10:27 am

        Johan, hi. Thanks again for your interesting and provocative thoughts – I’ve had a go at a response, below. I very much welcome you getting back to me…!

        Hello Tim. Sure, we hear the same story for years: WE do the security, without us it would be civil war because the Afghans are like beasts struggling for power and money with a gene of violence in their blood…

        [Tim: they seemed to manage a pretty impressive civil war on their own during the 1990s. They don’t have “a gene of violence” but a horrible combination of circumstances.]

        Actually, the foreign military is the main problem for security in Afghanistan.
        [Tim: I don’t believe it is the main problem – although it is a complicating factor – the two decades of conflict, destruction and civil war that allowed the rise to power of both warlords and the Taliban and international neglect and mismanagement…]

        Believe it or not, there are millions of Afghans who voluntarily provide food, accommodation, transportation, intelligence, etc. to the Talibans in order to push the foreigners out of their country.
        [Tim: I don’t agree to the “millions”. But there are many thousands of Afghans who provide food, accommodation, transportation, intelligence involuntarily because they are scared and intimidated and under threat of violence. But, of course, there are many who are resisting to drive foreigners out, for a range of reasons. There are also millions who want the foreigners to stay but to somehow “get things right”. There are many naïve expectations at play here – partly due to the fault of the international community efforts and promises (many of them genuine) in all its myriad of forms. But how do we decide which Afghans are “right”? I guess you are expecting the Taliban to vanish naturally once ISAF leaves?]

        They don’t know about the hidden agendas but it should be evil: converting Muslim people to Christianity, redrawing the Middle East, sharing Pakistan between Afghanistan and India, invading Iran, containment strategy towards China, going deeper into Central Asia, confiscating Afghan natural resources, laying pipelines? So many “expert views” circulating… They don’t want to discuss with you and me about geopolitics and just go back to the basics, fighting a Jihad!
        [Tim: I don’t quite understand what you are saying here – but there are definitely millions of Afghans who believe some or all of these agendas]

        You believe that “neighbouring countries have played, are playing and will continue to play pretty negative roles”, and so do I! That is why we must protect Afghanistan from them by an international status of neutrality. (Not inviting them to enter Afghan politics to solve their regional issues. Not being ourselves inside with the most powerful military force ever.) Everybody in the United Nations will sign such a treaty and Pakistan first!
        [Tim: Come on Johan! You are 100% accurate in asserting that everyone in the UN will sign it with Pakistan first – but I’m not sure if you are joking! This is a triumph of theory over harsh reality! Signing a neutrality treaty is the easy bit, actually abiding by it, funny enough, never happens. Realpolitik, geopolitics, “strategic depth (Pakistan’s favourite), whatever. I have lost track of how many treaties and non-intervention agreements have been signed in and around Afghanistan in the last 10 years. It means nothing.]

        Not with America against Iran, not with India against Pakistan, not with the West against China, not with any terrorist organization against the Civilization: Afghanistan must be neutral. Remember Congress of Vienna in 1815 and neutrality of this very similar country at that time: Switzerland.
        [Tim: Remember Belgium in 1914!!!!!!!!!! Neutrality for countries only works if everyone respects it and the country has nothing that powerbrokers want, be it resources, transport routes, defensive line, etc. I repeat my point – how do you realistically achieve this neutrality of which you speak?? I didn’t quite catch your point about the Congress of Vienna? Do you mean it as a good thing or not? ]

        You don’t want a civil war in Kabul?
        [Tim: I don’t want it anywhere in Afg!]

        So, don’t concentrate all the power in Kabul.
        [Tim: so, spread it around the country and see everyone fight for it…?]

        There will never be enough seats of power for all the components of the Afghan population. You will never find the “good dictator” to lead (and obey to our orders). We must decentralize and that is what I call “to give back political power to the people”.
        [Tim: “Decentralise” to a warlord, means he once again controls his own chunk of Afghanistan. Seems like we go from one “good dictator” to half a dozen bad ones. Saying “decentralise”- like saying “neutrality” needs developing in realistic, practical, achievable and measurable detail].

        Don’t worry, they will stay together inside the borders of a unique country and they will organize themselves for that purpose with their old rules. The first of them: “Every Afghan is a king in his own house.” [Tim: Apart from the women of course. You argue for a big social/political/security experiment – leave them alone and see if they can play nicely and ask everyone to stop meddling. What happens if it doesn’t work?]

        Cheers

        Tim

      • Johan Freckhaus permalink
        August 14, 2012 7:12 am

        You don’t want a civil war in Kabul? So, don’t concentrate all the power in Kabul. There will never be enough seats of power for all the components of the Afghan population. You will never find the “good dictator” to lead (and obey to our orders). We must decentralize and that is what I call “to give back political power to the people”. Don’t worry, they will stay together inside the borders of a unique country and they will organize themselves for that purpose with their old rules. The first of them: “Every Afghan is a king in his own house.”

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