A Key Update: Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition: Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence

The Burke Chair has recently released a four part survey of the Afghan Transition, titled, Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition, which is available on the CSIS web site at https://www.csis.org/analysis/afghan-forces-edge-transition

The four parts include:
I.    Introduction, US Policy, and Cuts in US Forces and Spending

II.    Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence

III.    Measuring the Transition from ISAF to ANSF

IV.    Progress in Afghan Force Development

Volume II of this series, Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition: Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence, has just been updated to reflect the results of a significant new poll by the Asia Foundation called “Afghanistan in 2014: A Survey of the Afghan People,” which is available on the web at http://asiafoundation.org/country/afghanistan/2014-poll.php.

The survey should be read in full by anyone interested in Transition in Afghanistan, but even the short summary trend data that are now include in the Burke Chair’s report Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition: Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence highlight the seriousness of the near total lack of credible NATO, ISAF, US reporting on the war.

The summary data in the report provide a deeply disturbing picture of the recent unclassified data on the fighting. The new data from the Asia Foundation survey are not all negative, and reflect many positive trends the new government in Afghanistan can build upon. At the same time, they show that the Taliban and other insurgents have far more influence and impact on security in given parts of the country than ISAF and the US have been willing to admit.

The data reinforce the need for transparency, and for honesty rather than spin and attempts to sell the war and current process of Transition at a time when ISAF and the US have virtually ceased to report any metrics or hard data on the fighting, limiting information to press briefings.

The only unclassified official data that are now being provided are a few quarterly trend data for the percentages of change in Enemy-Initiated Attacks (EIAs). This focus on Enemy-Initiated Attacks (EIAs) assumes that enemy forces will concentrate on taking the tactical initiative at a time they know the US and other ISAF states are leaving. It ignores the very nature of an insurgency and the insurgent effort to increase political influence and control. It ignores the need to make net assessments of ANSF and insurgent influence and capability. It also ignores the far more negative trends in UN estimates of casualties, areas of violence, and State Department estimates of patterns of terrorism.

This is a fundamental contradiction of Present Obama’s pledge to provide full transparency in government and the other reports show that this is only one of the failures by NATO, ISAF, and the US to provide such transparency and report on Transition and the war with suitable integrity.

For example, Part IV of the series, the report on Progress in Afghan Force Development does reflect major progress in many areas of ANSF development. It also warns, however, just how rapidly the ANSF has expanded, and how poorly that expansion was initially funded and staffed with adequate advisors. It also shows that much of the ANSF is a relatively ineffective and corrupt police force that lacks the support of other key elements of the justice system in many areas. The unclassified reporting also have ceased to provide any meaningful insight into the development of either the Ministry of Defense or Ministry of the Interior, and that the reporting of unclassified readiness data on the ANA and ANP has been reduced in scope over the last six months to the point where it has little or no real meaning.

The ANA force data are in general far stronger than the ANP data, but do not adequately address attrition in terms of the loss of experienced fighters, and weapons accountability. There is not a clear picture of post 2014 training efforts, and the data reveal serious uncertainties about the future size and capability of the Afghan Air Force.

The ANP, ALP, APPF and CNPA data are limited, but still raise critical questions about force quality, the future nature and level of the advisory effort, and how major elements of the police like the Afghan Local Police, Afghan Public Protection Force, and Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan are to be structured, employed, and funded in the future. No meaningful transition plan is publically available for any element of the police, and reporting in the latest Department of Defense 1230 Report on Afghanistan highlights the shortfalls in the rest of the justice system. It is also worth noting that the fact the police take high casualties is scarcely a measure of effectiveness.

More broadly, there is a striking lack of credible information on future plans, what will happen during the period between 2015 and 2016, the strategy the ANSF will pursue, and what will happen if it comes under pressure. The current withdrawal of the remaining advisors – which cannot adequately cover even the ANA at the Corps level seems to be a rigid plan rather than conditions-based. The statements in Part IV by General John F. Campbell and Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson do provide considerable narrative insight, but in broad terms there is a critical need for more transparency and for more integrity and less “spin” in the data provided.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy

with the assistance of Aaron Lin and Michael Peacock