Afghanistan and the Uncertain Metrics of Progress : Part Five: Can Afghan Forces Be Effective By Transition?

The Burke Chair has prepared a new report entitled Can Afghan Forces Be Effective By Transition? It is available on the CSIS web site at  

It is the third in a series of seven reported that cover the key aspects of the war and which have been comprehensively updated as a product of a recent trip to Afghanistan and the region.

The other reports include:

This most recent report highlights the progress and challenges in creating the Afghan national security forces necessary to defeat the Taliban and other insurgents and allow a transition in which Afghanistan assumes responsibility for most military, internal security and police action. At the same time, Afghan force development is moving at a pace that will require large numbers of trainers and partners, and substantial US and other outside funding and support well beyond 2014. 

It is not yet clear whether the ANSF can really transition to a self-supporting force until after 2020. There are key shortfalls in foreign trainers and in partners for the police. Efforts to increase fully balanced forces with adequate leadership command structures, and logistics/sustainability are just being put into place. Above all, it is too early to judge how well ANSF units will perform without ISAF aid.

Shaping Transition: Creating an Effective ANSF and Laying the Groundwork for Transition
No serious effort was made to fund the creation of the ANSF until FY2007, these funding streams were erratic in FY2008, and funding of the scale of effort required did not begin until FY2010 – nearly a decade after the war began. This gross strategic negligence was compounded by a failure to provide even minimally adequate numbers of trainers until CY2010, and a matching failure to provide adequate basic equipment and facilities. The responsibility for these failures lies largely with the US and occurred at the highest level of US national security decision-making in spite of warning and requests from at least one US Ambassador and senior commander.
A matching failure may be coming. The growing political emphasis on getting enough Afghan forces for  “transition” in 2011-2014 tends to force an emphasis on numbers, rather than force quality and creating a force that can retain the manpower it needs and operate without major US and ISAF support.

Shaping Transition: Racing Towards Larger Forces
The charts in this section show impressive progress in setting force goals large enough to do the job and in creating larger force numbers. They also, however, show how rushed some aspects of basic training process is, how critical it is to have highly qualified Afghan and foreign  trainers, and that a force expansion this large depends on partner units to provide the experience and mentoring in the field necessary to make up for such an accelerated training process.

More detailed NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) data also show that attrition is still a major problem in spite of recent pay increases – in June 2011 General Caldwell indicated that 30 percent of Afghan soldiers leave the Army every year before their terms of service are up. 
Shaping Transition: A Crisis in Trainer Numbers and Quality, and No Meaningful Data on Partners
NTM-A has created what seems to be solid training base for creating the kind of Afghan National Army needed for transition. There also is a steady increase in the number of Afghans training Afghans and combat elements that can operate with minimal outside support. 

NTM-A, however, it is badly short of the foreign trainers it needs to succeed. Moreover, some estimates count pledged trainers as if they were there, and it is clear from the NTM-A figures that getting the right trainer quality will increasingly be more critical than simply increasing trainer numbers. It still seems to be short over 30% of critical trainers and over 50% of trainers overall – even if ISAF military with little prior training experience are counted as trainers.
Shaping Transition: The Afghan National Army (ANA): Much Better Data on Numbers than Quality and Endurance
Recent reports show a steady growth in the size of the Afghan Army and Air Force, and in many key qualitative aspects of formal training. The critical problem is that there is no matching mix of transparent, credible metrics and narratives on the quality and effectiveness of any element of Afghan forces once they leave formal training and enter the field, and no meaningful data on the quality of the partnering they need to succeed.

The effectiveness measures that are reported on the ANA measure formal training and equipment resources and not performance in the field.  Uncertain loyalties, ties to power brokers, retention, attrition problems, and corruption are not directly addressed. A new rating system is supposed to have been developed, but its value and realism is not yet clear, and there are reports that provinces are being rated – sometimes favorably – on the basis of grossly inadequate coverage of a few districts.
Shaping Transition: The Afghan National Police (ANP): Numbers that Disguise Major Problems in Quality, Ties to Power Brokers and Corruption
NTM-A provides data that shows the steady growth of the police force, and real progress in creating a more effective training system. Some manpower data do, however, lump together the different elements of the police force and -- like the data on the ANA – highlight some of the problems in retention. The data do not break out progress by element of the police, or spotlight the failure to expand the Afghan National Civil Order Police to anything like the needed goal. ISAF indicates this critical paramilitary element of the police needs to be over four times its current strength.
More realism is needed in measuring police force quality – particularly because corruption and ties to powerbrokers crippled the effectiveness of much of the police. Moreover, current rating systems do nothing to link the analysis of the police effort to the presence and effectiveness of the rest of the justice system and the presence of effective governance. The end result is that current effectiveness ratings are virtually meaningless if the police are to play a key role in  “hold, build, and transition” and free the Afghan Army to perform is military mission.
All of these problems may now be in the process of being corrected. The rule of law effort is being changed to emphasize put of tying the informal justice system to the formal system by giving GIRoA a role in validating decisions made by the informal justice system. There is also far more emphasis on creating an effective justice system at the local level through cooperation between the Afghan Local Police, ANP, village and local Shuras, and District officials.

Shaping Transition Looking Towards the Future of the ANSF

Progress is real, but uncertain, and much depends on whether the US and its allies will have the strategic patience to continue to fund and support the effort to 2014 and for many years afterwards. Better metrics and analysis are still needed to rate the creation and effectiveness of  police forces – and that address problems like ties to power brokers, insurgents, and local factions, and the level of corruption,  the problem of extortion and the abuse of power.
Most important, there is a need to provide clearly defined transition goals for the ANSF, and to set post-2014 force goals for ANSF development, and show the level of funding and the number of trainers and supporting forces that must remain after 2014 for the ANSF to succeed.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy