Creating the New Plans and Assessment Systems Needed for the Afghan Security Forces and a Successful Transition
July 24, 2012
This Commentary is based on spoken testimony delivered by Dr. Anthony Cordesman to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on July 24, 2012.
No one should approach the challenges of creating effective Afghan security forces—and creating the right assessment process—without remembering our failures in Vietnam and Iraq. These were very different wars from Afghanistan, but they had two things in common. We consistently exaggerated the progress being made in developing both sets of forces, and we made constant changes to our goals for force size, structure, and funding. Every year was the first year in Vietnam and Iraq in very important ways.
We have repeated this experience in Afghanistan. We have also repeated our tendency to try to rush force development and focus on progress rather than problems. Our current assessment tools like the CUAT system have taken years to evolve and still focus largely on force generation rather than the broader—and far more important issue—of whether we can create an affordable and sustainable force that can actually take over the security burden.
Once again, we lack a credible public plan for the future. We use broad numbers like 352,000 and 228,500 and $4.1 billion. We rate units individually in ways that ignore key issues like corruption and political alignments and the actual ability to deal with the overall insurgent threat. We have no public plan that explains progress in credible terms, the challenges we face, the real-world costs of sustaining progress, and what transition really means in terms of time.
History shows us how high the cost can be. In Vietnam, we helped create our own defeat by failing to honestly assess the problems in the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) by failing to explain the real-world dependence it had on outside support, and by losing the support it had from the Congress and the American people. We did not come to grips with the corruption, political problems, and North Vietnamese penetration of the force.
In Iraq, we did not confront a resource crisis of the kind we saw in Vietnam, but we are already confronting one in Afghanistan. Even so, we saw Iraqi units begin to sell positions and promotion within months of our departure from Iraq. We saw major problems emerge in terms of maintenance. The command system was politicized long before we left and has become highly politicized and divided in the months that have followed. The police quickly became more politicized than the army, and the lack of a functioning justice system in much of Iraq quickly pushed the police into the role of a political force that reverted to a confessions-based system.
In my detailed testimony, I have laid out the challenges we need to meet in changing our assessment system in considerable detail. I have not done so casually. We have made great progress in developing many aspects of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), but this remains a high-risk effort. Our assessments and metrics are weak and focused on creating the force rather than on transition. NTM-A has not issued a useful public report on ANSF development since 2011. We have no credible funding profile or plan.
With the exception of parts of the Department of Defense semiannual report to Congress, there is no command transparency and no reason for public trust. If we are to have any chance of success, we need to look beyond today’s assessment methods and make the following major changes:
- The main purpose of all ANSF assessments should be to determine whether the ANSF has the will to fight and the ability to hold together as a coherent force representing the central government. The issues the current ANSF assessment system focuses on (manning, equipment levels, training) are all secondary.
- Assessments should assess each element of the ANSF separately and include the ALP and APPF.
- Assessments should be tied to a credible force development and funding plan, altered as conditions develop, that shows progress and problems and that is public and transparent enough to earn and deserve the support of the American public.
- We need to honestly assess the problems created by corruption, ties to power brokers and warlords, and the political aspects of ANSF development and capability.
- We should assess how the ANSF does by region, district, and critical combat areas, and its ability to deal with the Taliban and other insurgent challenges in each region on a net assessment basis.
- Assessment should include reporting on the actual levels of outside and Afghan funding and on the actual levels of trainers, mentors, and partners relative to requirement without regard to “pledges.”
- Assessments of the police and security forces should be tied to how well the matching elements of the local justice system and governance function.
- Reporting on the funding of each element of the ANSF, and the overall force development effort, should be linked to the overall economic problems of transition and the affordability of all Afghan government activities.
To put it bluntly, “spin” and false optimism do not win wars or build the trust necessary to support transition in the years to come. We need honesty and depth, and a credible effort to build public trust.
A detailed analysis of these issues is provided in Dr. Cordesman’s formal statement, Afghan National Security Forces and Security Lead Transition: The Assessment Process, Metrics, and Efforts to Build Capacity. This statement is available on the CSIS website, http://csis.org/files/ts120724_cordesman.pdf.
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.