Afghan National Security Forces: Shaping Host Country Forces as Part of Armed Nation Building
November 4, 2009
How to Use Host Country Forces to Win a War – And Lose One
Shaping the full range of host country security forces – from armed forces to regular police – has already proven to be a critical element in building such an alliance. No amount of experience, area expertise, or language skills can make US forces a substitute for local forces and the legitimacy they can bring. The US cannot structure its forces to provide a lasting substitute for the scale of forces needed to defeat an insurgency, deal with internal tensions and strife, fight what will often be enduring conflicts, while also fulfilling other US national security requirements.
No amount of US efforts in strategic communications or aid can substitute for a host government’s ability to both communicate with its own people and win legitimacy in ideological, religious, and secular terms. Key aspects of operations – winning popular support, obtaining human intelligence, minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage, and transitioning from military operations to a civil rule of law – all depend on both the quality and quantity of host country forces, as well as a level of partnership that assure the populace of a host country that the US will put its government and forces in the lead as soon as possible – and will leave once a host country is stable and secure.
The US has taken more than a half a decade to learn these lessons in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It has made major progress in recent years, but its efforts remain deeply flawed and the US military as well as outside military analysts still have not learned many of the painful lessons of Vietnam, Lebanon, and previous advisory efforts. At the same time, a US “whole of government” integrated civil-military effort, and true civil-military joint campaign plan represent at best a work in progress and are often little more than a triumph of rhetoric over reality.
Some of the gravest problems lie on the civil side, and the failure of the State Department and the civil departments of government to develop the necessary operational capabilities even after more than eight years of war. The US military, however, has yet to demonstrate that it can effectively and objectively manage its efforts to develop host country forces in ways that honestly assess their progress, the trade-offs needed between quality and quantity, and the need to create partners, rather than adjunct or surrogate forces.
This is partly a failure at the formal training level – sometimes dictated by unrealistic efforts to accelerate force quantity without considering the real world pace at which progress can occur. The pace of host nation force development can be slowed by a number of factors, including: national traditions and social values, the impact of a lack of political accommodation and capacity in the host country government, and the impact of ethnic, sectarian, and tribal divisions within the armed forces.
There also, however, have been two chronic failures in US efforts.
• One is the inability to properly structure efforts to create true partners once new units complete the formal training process and provide the proper quality and number of mentors, partner units, enablers, and efforts to integrate higher level command structures. Far too often the US has also sought to rush new battalion-sized combat elements into service to meet its own short term needs without considering the resulting problems in quality, force retention, and host country perceptions of the result. Expediency has led to fundamentally misleading ratings of unit warfighting capability like the CM rating system, using up half-prepared forces in combat, and major leadership and retention problems. The US and NATO/ISAF are turning out the minimum possible standard to meet the timeline given. The result is poorly trained soldiers and a low retention rate.
• The other is a series of far more drastic failures to create effective police and security forces. These include the failure to properly assess the need for paramilitary police that can operate in a hostile counterinsurgency environment; the need to structure other police and security elements in ways that suit the constraints imposed by a lack of government capacity, corruption, differing cultural values; and the need to create a “rule of law” or civil order based on host country standards rather than US or Western values.
The US will lose the war in Afghanistan unless it makes far more effective efforts to correct these problems in what now seems likely to be an effort to accelerate training to reaching current force goals while doubling the overall size of the force. Military action is only a part of the strategy needed to win in Afghanistan, but no other effort towards victory will matter if the Afghan people cannot be given enough security and stability to allow successful governance, the opportunity for development, and an established civil society and rule of law that meets Afghan needs and expectations.
The creation of more effective host country forces is critical to achieving these ends. NATO/ISAF and US forces cannot hope to win a military victory on their own. Their success will be determined in large part by how well and how quickly they build up a much larger and more effective Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) first to support NATO/ISAF efforts, then take the lead, and eventually replace NATO/ISAF and US forces. The challenge is find a workable trade off between how well is ‘good enough’ the how quickly is as fast as possible.
No meaningful form of success can occur, however, without giving the development of ANSF forces a much higher priority. The US and other NATO/ISAF nations need to act immediately to begin to support and resource NTM-A/ CSTC-A plans to accelerate current ANSF force expansion plans. They also need to act immediately to establish the groundwork for further major expansions of the ANA and ANP by 2014-2016. Recent planning efforts indicate that such an effort must nearly double the size of the ANA and ANP, although early success could make full implementation of such plans unnecessary. Making a fully resourced start will ensure that adequate ANSF forces will be available over time, and will greatly ease the strain of maintaining and increasing NATO/ISAF forces. Funding such expansion to the ANSF will also be far cheaper than maintaining or increasing NATO/ISAF forces. At a key moment of the ANSF’s expansion, mentor strength is decreasing because the priority of effort is based on operations rather than training
But, such efforts must not race beyond either Afghan or US/NATO/ISAF capabilities. Quality will often be far more important than quantity, and enduring ANSF capability is far more important than generating large initial force strengths. US/NATO/ISAF expediency cannot be allowed to put half-ready and unstable units in the field. It cannot be allowed to push force expansion efforts faster than ANSF elements can absorb them or than US/NATO/ISAF can provide fully qualified trainers, mentors, and partner units and the proper mix of equipment, facilities, enablers, and sustainability. At the moment, the US and NATO/ISAF are producing quantity not quality, and that is the inevitable result of speed of production.
US/NATO/ISAF expediency cannot afford to ignore the impact of Afghan cultural needs, regional and ethnic differences, family and tribal structures, and the real world “friction” that affects force development. Slogans and rhetoric about ideological goals, leadership, and morale cannot be allowed to lead the force development effort to ignore Afghan material realities: problems in pay, corruption, problems in promotion, inadequate facilities and equipment, poor medical care, overstretching or over committing force elements, problems in supporting families, vulnerability to insurgent infiltration and threats, and a lack of meaningful compensation for death and disability. The US military and NATO/ISAF have systematically ignored such problems in the past, and understated or lied about their impact. As one expert puts it, “In my view the biggest single issue is the J1 piece where at the moment we can not be sure that promotion is on merit or that people are posted on a regular systematic plot.”
It may be conceptually attractive to compare the price of creating Afghan forces to those of deploying US and NATO/ISAF forces. It is certainly clear that the US and NATO/ISAF cannot or will not deploy and sustain the forces necessary to compensate for any failure to expand Afghan forces. It will be a disaster, however, if the real world problems in creating truly effective ANSF partners are not fully addressed and equal attention is not given to correcting these problems. Each problem is a way to lose, and force expansion that fails to solve them cannot be a way to win.
They also need to realize that improvements in the training base are needed to emphasize the training at the Kandak level, and that these units must be integrated and trained as whole unit before going out into the field. These improvements proved to be very beneficial in Iraq, and while they could make the training effort longer – not shorter – they pay off the moment units become active in the field. At the same time, no element of the ANSF can simply be trained and thrust into operations. Moreover, the key to success is not the quality of the training in training centers, but the quality of the partnering, mentoring, support, and enablers once a unit enters service. This requires an ongoing, expert effort per unit for 6 to 12 months at a minimum, and the CM definition of a “in the lead” is little more than a joke.
Realistic efforts to shake out new units, give them continuity of effective leadership, deal with internal tensions and retention problems, and help them overcome the pressures of corruption and power brokers requires both time and careful attention to continuity from the embedded training/mentoring effort. Partnering and the creation of effective units in the field is an exercise in sustained human relationships, and the short tours and rapid changes in US and NATO/ISAF trainers can be as crippling as the assumption that training is more critical than mentoring and partnering.
Further shifts will be needed in the structure of training and partnering as ANSF forces move into populated areas and take on the full range of “shape, clear, hold, and build” tasks. Every aspect of clear, hold, and build requires help in preparing ANSF elements to go from a combat ethos to one of effective civil-military relations. At this point in time, it is unclear that even the most dedicated advocates of a population centric strategy within the US military and NATO/ISAF can really define how to implement clear, hold, and build in terms of tangible ways to execute and manage the tasks involved and chose truly valid measures of effectiveness. The moment such efforts become operational on a large-scale basis, however, they must be ready to partner ANSF forces and help them find the best way to deal with such problems. The COIN academy helps in this regard and the recent Afghan decision to open an Afghan COIN academy is a step in the right direction
The US and NATO/ISAF military need to address these issues at every level of command and operations. They need to take the warning from junior and mid-level officers, and in far too much media reporting, fully seriously. They must not downplay the number of times that “optimism” and exaggerated declarations of success have hurt US efforts in the past, or the continuing impact of problems documented by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, the General Accountability Office, and sensitive field reporting on the performance and retention problems in Afghan units in the field.
This study examines some of the issues affecting the expansion of Afghan forces, including the need for major changes in the way NATO/ISAF trains, mentors, and partners Afghan forces. It raises serious issues about the impact of excessive corruption and Afghan power brokers in the ANSF, particularly the Afghan National Police, and its highlights acute resource problems and issues in force quality. Its key recommendations, however, focus on the expansion of two key elements of the ANSF: The Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.
The Afghan National Army (ANA)
The fact that there are problems in Afghan force development should not minimize the impact of recent successes. The training effort is far better funded, manned, and structured than it was up to the fall of 2007, and partnering has improved – particularly with the Afghan National Army. The ANA has already proven its value in combat. In the near-term, the ANA will play a key role in the shape and clear missions, as well as in the hold mission because the ANP is not yet strong enough or capable enough to perform the task. The ANA needs to be expanded and fully resourced for its de facto role in the current fight, even while more concerted efforts are made to build an effective ANP for the longer term.
NATO/ISAF and the US must focus in the near-term on building up the ANA to carry out critical counterinsurgency tasks and to hold in threatened population areas. At the same time, they must improve the ANP and Afghan Civil Order Police (ANCOP) forces so they can provide hold capabilities where there is a less serious threat but when, and only when, this is clearly within their current capacity. This effort can only succeed if adequate resources are provided, if adequate time is taken to provide force quality as well as force quantity, and if NATO/ISAF and the US are willing to support the resulting force not only during critical periods of combat, but in phasing it down to a post conflict size that the GIRoA can fund and sustain.
CSTC-A has already begun active efforts to expand ANA forces from an assigned strength of roughly 91,000 to 134,000, and from 117 fielded Kandaks to 179. It is procuring improved equipment and raising the number of Commando Kandaks from 6 to 8. A total of 76 of the 117 fielded units are already capable of leading operations.
A successful US strategy to win the war in Afghanistan – and to create a true host country partner – does, however, require the full – and ruthlessly self-honest and objective – implementation of three additional decisions concerning the future of the ANA.
• The first decision is to accelerate training and current force expansion goals, and to set a new goal for the expansion of the ANA that will increase it from a goal of 134,000 men to 240,000 in 2014. This will mean a major expansion in funding, training facilities, trainers, equipment, and in mentors or partner units. Resources to do this well should be identified and committed concurrently. Every regional and task force commander visited or interviewed indicated that such as expansion is now needed. If NATO/ISAF proves to be more successful, then this process can be slowed and/or the force goal cut. Given the lead times, however, it is necessary to act now to begin this force expansion process, particularly if it is to be done both at the pace Afghans can support and to maintain the necessary force quality.
• The second decision is to end the shortfall in NATO and ETT mentors, and resources. There are no easy ways to quantify the present shortfall, but CSTC-A reports that the ANA had a need for a minimum of 67 OMLTs plus US trainers in July 2009. However, it had 56 OMLTs on the ground, of which only 46 were validated. American ETTs were also under resourced in the past, though ETTs are being replaced by the “two BCT” concept of providing mentors. The requirement for OMLTs also will expand along with the ANA. It will rise to 91 by the end of CY2010, and only a maximum of 66 OMLTs will actually be on the ground. This is a deficit of 25. Expert analysis is needed, but it may take the equivalent of a third new brigade combat team (changing the two-BCT approach to a three-BCT one) to correct this deficiency. Expanding to 240,000 men would require substantially more OMLTs plus additional ETT mentors, many of which must be carefully chosen to help the ANA develop critical new “enablers” like artillery, engineering, C2, medical services, as well as logistics and sustainability. The development of new ‘enablers’ is tied to the expansion of the branch schools that will provide depth to the ANA Orbat. These are not ETT members these are mentors in the NTMA orbat filling roles within CTAG-A.
• The third decision is to create a full operational partnership, focused around the development of the ANA and key elements of the ANP, so that Afghans are a true partner in all NATO/ANSF and US operations and take the lead in joint operations as soon as possible. It is not enough for NATO/ISAF units to partner with the ANSF. The ANSF must be made a full partner at the command level as well. Afghans should see Afghans taking the lead in the field as soon as practical, and as playing a critical role in shaping all plans and operations as well as in implementing hold and build. This often cannot be done immediately; it must be done as soon as possible. This can be accomplished by embedding a brigade combat team, brigade, or similar force into each echelon of each ANA Corps (which cover the same areas as the ANP regional commands) to provide the expertise and enablers to carry out joint planning, intelligence, command and control capabilities, fire support, logistic expertise, and other capabilities that the ANA now lacks and can acquire through partnership and joint operations with the US. Partners need to come back to join the Afghans when they are doing their collective training.
There is a fourth critical decision that the US, NATO/ISAF, the Afghan government, and the Afghan Ministry of Defense need to make. It is all very well to use a slogan like “shape, clear, hold, and build.” It is quite another to systematically implement it as part of a population centric strategy. No matter how much effort is made to improve the integrity, size, and capability of the various elements of the Afghan police, improve governance at the local level, and create an effective structure for prompt justice – there will be 3 to 5 years in which the ANA must play a critical role in various clear and hold efforts, and in solving build problems with local, aid, and government workers. No effort to make a population centric strategy work – or that relies on hope and rhetoric to make “shape, clear, hold, and build” work without explicit plans that reflect this reality can succeed.
The ANA Air Corps (ANAAC)
The Afghan National Army Air Corps will take time to form as an effective force, although it already is contributing to the COIN fight, and further contributions – particularly airlift and CASEVAC [CASEVAC vs. MEDEVAC] better captures the majority of what the Afghans have done to date. MEDEVAC missions are beginning to be scheduled but lack of doctors and med-techs challenges them. Expanding the ANAAC could relieve ISAF of some key requirements, but ANAAC development plans must be tailored to Afghan needs and capabilities. There is a clear case for giving the ANSF at least the currently planned mix of airlift, battlefield, mobility, RW attack, multi-role trainer and attack capability, and ISR. This would expand the ANAAC from a total of 43 aircraft and 2,800 soldiers and airmen in October 2009 to 154 aircraft and over 8,000 soldiers and airmen by CY 2016.
One senior expert notes, however, that
“Since just about every seemingly simple decision has to be made at the highest levels of ANA leadership (ANA GS/G3 or higher) timely decisions are very hard to come by.] – would [I would put ISR last since I believe it will be the last developed. The Afghans have a phenomenal HUMINT capability, but little to no high-tech ability or know-how. Additionally, their lack of C2 capability will inhibit near real time transmission of airborne-collected data.”
The mistakes the US and NATO/ISAF have made in using airpower over the last eight years have shown, however, that there is a broader and more urgent role that the ANAAC may eventually be able to perform. It can develop the skills to support NATO in targeting and managing air operations, and take on responsibility for vetting air strikes and air operations. Such a partnership would do much to assure Afghans that Afghan forces were true partners in all air operations and played the proper role in reducing civilian casualties and collateral damage. Such a “red card” role would present obvious difficulties, but it could in time be applied to all NATO/ISAF operations, including ground operations, in time. Working to make it effective now as well as a key partner and part Afghan and NATO/ISAF strategic communications could have major benefits.
At the same time, a senior expert warns that,
“[I can’t speak to the “mistakes” the US and NATO/ISAF have made in using airpower over the last eight years, and although I agree with what is said with regard to intent, it can NOT happen “now.” There is a twofold reason for this in my opinion: 1) lack of English skills severely hampers the Afghan airmen being accepted into the ICAO community of airmen. It is our long-term goal to help them overcome this, but the learning process is excruciatingly slow. Until the Afghans send the best candidates to English Language Training (be it by DLI or contracted teachers) rather than political candidates, I don’t see much change with regard to our expectations in the near term, and 2) their C2 capability is extremely immature; they continue to rely on “cell phone” C2 with little to know prior planning…from the highest levels of MoD and the ANA GS down to the lowest levels of “command.” (Command in quotes since their sense of command leaves much to be desired.) Just the process of having their Taskiel manning document reflect the requirement for C2 personnel to man the multiple C2 nodes (NMCC, ACCC, Base Operations/Command Post, and as we do integrate more and more with the IJC, the IJC JOC) is very slow in coming.”
The Afghan National Police (ANP)
Improving the various elements of the ANP, while less time critical in terms of direct combat operations, is equally urgent due to the ANP’s central role in performing the hold function in population centers, without which COIN will not succeed. Such improvement, however, presents different challenges than improving the ANA.
The ANP currently suffers from critical problems in capability, leadership, corruption, supporting governance. It is also affected by shortcomings at the district and local levels and lacks the courts, legal services, and detention facilities necessary to implement prompt justice and a rule of law. Most of the ANP also lacks the ability to support the hold and build missions in the face of insurgent attacks, bombings, and subversion. In July 2009, the Afghan Uniformed Police had an authorized strength of 47,000 and 51,000 assigned. Strength, however, is only part of the problem. The ANP faces critical problems in winning popular support and acceptance. Unlike the ANA, which is the most respected institution in the Afghan government, there is a wide consensus that many elements of the ANP are too corrupt, and too tied to politics and power brokers, to either be effective or win/retain popular support.
As a result, NATO/ISAF plans raise serious questions as to whether the hold function can be performed with the NATO/ISAF and ANSF resources available, and without a major expansion of and improvement in the ANP. Time is critical because the initial phase of the hold function will require a transition to proving regular policing activity and supporting the prompt administration of justice, and ANP are not yet sufficiently trained, effective, and free of corruption in this regard. At the same time, the build phase cannot be properly implemented unless the ANP has the capacity and integrity to support an effective civil rule of law by Afghan standards and custom.
There are several areas where NATO/ISAF and the US need to work with the Afghan government at the central, provincial, and local level to shape the future of the ANP:
• First, reducing current levels of corruption in the ANP, and limiting the impact of political abuses and power brokers must be part of the operational plan for shape, clear, hold, and build. NATO/ISAF cannot succeed in its mission unless these problems are sharply reduced, and the ANP can carry out the political aspects of the hold mission and show that they provide real security and prompt justice. As is the case with the ANA, fighting corruption and political misuse of the ANP are as critical as expanding forces. This can only be done through great improvements in ANP leadership, facilitated by far more robust mentoring and training efforts.
The Focused District Development (FDD) program is one possible key to this process. The program is still in development, and any effort to apply it is necessarily slow, because it is time and trainer/mentor limited. The Directed District Development program may offer a possible solution to provide an additional quick reaction capability, and this will need continuing reassessment to determine what scale of effort is practical. Both programs also need to be tightly focused on ensuring that they meet the needs in the population areas most threatened by insurgent activity and where providing the hold function is most urgent.
No ANP programs can succeed, however, where political interference, corruption, and power brokers block effective ANP action or ensure it cannot be reformed. Power brokers have a clear incentive and need to disrupt this process, as it directly threatens their operations. This must be understood and be included as part of the planning for ANP improvement. The political dimension of ANP development is as critical as the military and civil dimensions.
• Second, major efforts need to be made to increase the size and quality of the ANP. NATO/ISAF should begin to expand the ANP and the other elements of the Afghan police from an authorized strength of 82,000 to 160,000. In Kabul alone, for example, the current goal for the ANP is 4,800 and commanders feel some 7,200 are needed. Current plans seem to leave the ANP underequipped for some aspects of its mission, in spite of current orders, and that additional attention is needed to improve the quality of its leadership and facilities.
The ANP’s most urgent immediate need in order to execute this expansion, however, is adequate numbers of qualified trainers and mentors who have the military experience and counterinsurgency background that will be required for several years to come. These must be placed under CSTC-A and the NTA-A, and not under civil leadership or trainers. The day may come when the ANP’s main mission is conventional law enforcement in a secure environment, but that day is years away and the ANP needs to focus on security.
Filling these gaps will be difficult. The ANP faces even more severe shortfalls in partnering and training than the ANA. A CSTC-A report in July 2009 stated that the ANP needed at least 98 additional Police Operational Mentor Liaison Teams POMLTs), plus added US PMT trainer/mentors by the end of CY 2010, and 46 more by the end of CY 2011. It is requesting a total of 182 POMLTs and PBMTs by the end of CY2011. There will be a need for added PMTs as well. However, these requirements will be substantially increased if the goal for the end-strength of the police was raised to 160,000 by the end of CY 2014.
• Third, a major reorganization is needed to strengthen several major elements within the ANP. These include elite gendarmeries or paramilitary elements to deal with counterinsurgency and key hold missions. These could build on ANCOP and police commando cadres. The Afghan Civil Order Police (ANCOP) are designed to provide more capable forces that can defend themselves, perform key hold functions in urban areas, and provide a lasting police presence in less secure remote areas. Its assigned strength was 3,345 in July 2009, and it had four fielded brigade headquarters and 16 fielded battalion headquarters. It could grow to 20 battalions by the end of the year; and significant further increases could take place in 2010. Other special elements may be needed to work with the NDS and ANA to eliminate any remaining insurgent shadow government, justice systems, and networks; and to deal with the investigation of organized crime and power brokers involved in gross corruption. The majority of the Afghan police can be trained to the levels of police capability suited to meet Afghan standards and needs.
• Fourth, the development of the ANP must be linked to improvements in the Afghan formal and informal legal processes to provide prompt and effective justice. The ANP cannot succeed in meeting one of the most critical demands of the Afghan people -- the need for prompt justice – unless ANP development is linked to the creation of effective courts and the rest of the formal justice and corrections systems, or use of Afghanistan’s informal justice system. The ANP’s problems with corruption also cannot be corrected unless the criminal justice system is seen as much less corrupt and subject to political influence. Fixing these problems reflects one of the most urgent demands of the Afghan people. An integrated approach to ANP development and improved popular justice is critical and may need substantially more resources on the justice side of the equation.
The Afghan Border Police (ABP)
The ABP already has an authorized strength of 17,600 authorized and 12,800 assigned. Afghanistan will require a competent and sufficient border police function in the future. However, border forces are notoriously difficult to create and make effective under counterinsurgency conditions. Afghanistan’s geography and historical border disputes make border enforcement even more difficult than usual, and NATO/ISAF and the ANSF have more urgent priorities.
Present plans to develop the ABP should be executed, and the Focused Border Development program may help to improve performance, reduce corruption, and in crease government revenues. These efforts should be complemented by specific technologies, including biometrics and ISR, to the extent feasible.
Border protection, however, should not be a priority area for NATO/ISAF action or additional forces and capabilities. A tightly focused effort could help the Afghan government get substantial revenues from commercial vehicle traffic across the border than are now being lost through corruption. There is no prospect, however, that the ABP can seal the borders or do more in the near-term than harass the insurgency while becoming a source of casualties and more corruption. This is particularly true as long as elements of the Pakistan government and ISI covertly support key elements of the Taliban.
The Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3)
Tribal and local security forces can play a useful role under carefully selected conditions. The AP3 is a tribal force designed to provide the equivalent of security guards for district-sized areas. (In Afghanistan, there are 364 districts, excluding major urban areas). This force is still in development, and Afghanistan’s tribal and regional differences mean that it may not work in every area and needs to be carefully tailored to local conditions.
The best approach is to use the AP3 model only where it is clear that local Afghan commanders and officials, and local NATO/ISAF commanders, feel this can work. Ensure that the expansion of the AP3 is fully coordinated with Afghan provincial and district officials, local ANSF commanders, and NATO/ISAF regional and task force commanders to limit loyalty problems and tribal friction.
The Need for a Far More Effective NATO/ISAF Effort
NATO/ISAF and the US must follow several “iron laws” for force development in carrying out all these efforts, First, they must pay as much attention to ANSF force quality as to increasing force quantity. They must not create units where there are inadequate mentors, partner units, facilities, equipment, and training capacity. Furthermore they must pay close attention to performance in the field versus formal training and quantified readiness measures. Second, they must properly equip and support ANSF forces or not put them into harm’s way. So far, this is not taking place, indeed as capacity increases, the relative numbers of mentors is decreasing, NATO needs to deliver troops to mentor.
Every increase in ANSF force quantity must be accompanied by suitable improvements in force quality and in the size and capability of NATO/ISAF mentoring and partnering capabilities. As ISAF and USFOR-A adjust their command structures, regardless of the specific decisions about command structure, it will be critical to retain both the mentoring and partnering components of ANSF development. Mentors will still be required in the fielded force, although their numbers can decrease as the partners will be able to provide force protection and ‘fires.’
NATO/ISAF cannot win if it pursues the fragmented, stovepiped, and under resourced efforts -- and real world lack of integrated civil-military efforts -- that have helped cripple ANSF development in past years. “Unity of effort” has been an awkward cross between a lie and an oxymoron. Far too many national efforts have acted as if the ANSF was not involved in a real war. This cannot continue if a very real war is to be won.
Third, NATO/ISAF and the US must act to give to “partnership” real meaning. All the elements of NATO/ISAF must begin to work together with all of the elements of the ANSF to create equivalent forces that can conduct combined operations together. This will take time, resources, and patience. NATO/ISAF regional command task force commanders must understand, however, that partnering with ANSF forces does not mean simply using them as they are, but making them effective, and treating operations as key real world aspects of training.
The Need for an Integrated Civil-Military Partnership
More broadly, this partnership must go beyond simply fighting the insurgency. NATO/ISAF and the ANSF will lose the war unless their military successes are matched by a timely and effective civil-military effort in the field. It is not enough for the ANSF to be able to perform its security missions and develop an effective NATO/ISAF/US/Afghan partnership in security. A mix of NATO/ISAF and ANSF fighting forces can perform the shape and clear missions and part of the hold mission, but if this is all that is accomplished they will still lose the war to an opponent that can win a battle of political attrition against an Afghan government that is perceived as over-centralized, distant, failing to provide basic services, and which is seen as corrupt as well as supporting power brokers rather than the people.
NATO/ISAF, the US, and the ANSF must work together to provide civil-military action programs while security is being established and make this a key aspect of the hold and build missions. A transition should take place to leadership civil aid efforts and to Afghan provincial, district, and local government as soon as this can be made effective at the local level, but NATO/ISAF and the ANSF cannot wait and must establish basic services, encourage local leaders, and provide a functioning justice system immediately.
They must realize that national elections and democracy do not bring any form of political legitimacy or loyalty without tangible actions - only actions count. The grim reality is that the Afghan central government is too corrupt and incapable to take these necessary actions in far too many areas and far too many ways. At the same time, outside civil aid efforts are far too narrow, far too security conscious and far too oriented towards talk and planning to serve Afghan needs in the field. The ideal is an integrated civil-military effort.
The reality must become a consistent operational demand for effective civilian and formal Afghan government action. This will take time, however, and in the interim some combination of NATO/ISAF and ANSF must act immediately to provide at least enough civil services and support to local governance to offer an alternative that is more attractive than the Taliban and at that at least takes initial steps to hire young men and underpin security with stability. They must provide at least enough justice, local security, jobs, and progress in areas like roads, electricity, water/irrigation, clinics, and schools to establish lasting security and stability.
The mix and phasing of such efforts will vary as much by region and locality as the need for given kinds of tactics, and range from meeting urban needs to those of scattered rural tribal areas.
In far too many cases, however, this will require dramatically new standards of performance by the US, and other national aid donors. There must be a new degree of transparency that shows which aid efforts actually produce effective and honest results in the field, and actually win broad local support and loyalty, and move towards a true “build” phase.
In the process, a significant number of national caveats and restrictions on aid will have to be lifted. Corrupt aid officials and contractors will need to be removed and blacklisted. Exercises in symbolism, ephemeral good works, fund raising and “branding” will need to be put to an end. Above all, the military must act immediately when civilians are incapable and these efforts will need ANSF support and leadership where the Afghan civil government cannot act. There is little point in fixing the efforts that can win the war, and not fixing the efforts that will lose the peace.
One key step in this process is for the US to look in the mirror. The US country team failed dismally to create the kind of truly integrated civil-military plan the US needs to have for its own ends, to lead NATO/ISAF by example, and to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Stovepipes and turf fights, and internal bickering – particularly by elements within the State Department -- crippled the effort necessary to create a plan with the depth, detail, and content needed. The resulting compromise has not created the kind of plan or effort required. Petty interagency bickering continues in Washington, and the Obama Administrations needs to force real unity of effort at every level.