Shaping Afghan National Security Forces
April 20, 2010
No one element is critical to the success of the new strategy in Afghanistan. ISAF and Afghan security forces must show they can shape their operations in ways that clear and hold Afghan population centers. Major improvement must take place in the quality and integrity of Afghan governance at every level. Aid donors and ISAF forces must become far more effective and far more unified in both civil and military operations. Internal unity of effort will be equally critical, and the US must develop and implement plans to link its civil and military efforts together. Pakistan must continue to become more effective in dealing with the Taliban, Al Qa’ida, and other internal and external threats, and outside power must find better ways to provide aid.
It is clear, however, that the war will be lost unless ISAF and the Afghan government can make far more effective efforts at creating effective Afghan forces than in the past. Much larger and more capable Afghan forces are critical to providing the scale of security effort that is needed to secure the major population centers, and to defeat insurgents in the field. They are needed to provide an Afghan face to the war, and to convince the Afghan people that the war will end with full ISAF withdrawal and full Afghan sovereignty.
Effective Afghan forces are the key to providing the human intelligence and a lasting presence that can reduce civilian casualties, resentment, and collateral damage. They are the only way to demonstrate to the American people, the Congress, and those of our allies who will sustain their commitments that a long war is winnable, and will end in a meaningful level of lasting Afghan security and stability. They are essential to make the eventual transition to a full rule of law, and to providing the “prompt justice” Afghans demand right now.
It has taken eight years, however, for the US and its allies to realize the level and quality of Afghan forces that will be required, and to provide anything like the proper mix of funds, equipment, and trainers, mentors, and partners. Until mid-2009, the training effort was crippled by setting unrealistic goals that incrementally called for increases in force size without proper regard for force quality.
The blame for these problems does not lie with the US and ISAF personnel in the field. Decisions were made at the highest policy levels of government that prevented an effective effort from taking place, and only led to serious funding for Afghan force development in 2007. Even today the US and its ISAF allies have serious problems in providing all of the required number of trainers, mentors, and partners. This has severely limited the quality and actual strength in the field of the Afghan Army. It interacted with crippling problems in the US and German efforts to organize the Afghan police that still leave it a largely inadequate and broken force.
The impact of these problems are analyzed in detail in a new report by the Burke Chair entitled "SHAPING AFGHAN NATIONAL SECURITY FORCES" and which is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/100420_Shaping_Afghan_National_Security_Forces.pdf.
This report also indicates, however, that major reforms in the ANSF development effort have now been underway for several years, and they have been reinforced since the adoption of the new strategy by major efforts to provide all the required resources and reorganize the training, mentoring, and partnering efforts. These changes come late in the game, but they do offer a solid prospect of providing the mix of Afghan forces needed to both win and provide lasting security and stability.
The problem is not whether it is possible to create the Afghan forces critical to winning the war. It is whether ISAF command and the Afghan government will be given the time and resources they need. Afghan “war fatigue” and opposition to the war is a steadily growing problem. There is a broad range of political pressures within ISAF countries that seek a rapid withdrawal of national forces, or are calling for ISAF and GiROA to rush the pace of Afghan force development. Several key countries – Canada and the Netherlands – already plan to withdraw their forces in 2011. The US has said it will begin to withdraw at some point in 2011 (although Administration officials have so caveated President Obama’s original deadline that it has become virtually meaningless.)
The US and its allies cannot, however, win by rushing Afghan force development and generating force numbers at the cost of force quality. Nothing about current ISAF plans indicates that this is ISAF’s intent, but the past is scarcely one that builds trust in US and allied political leadership at the national level. There is a grim history of false promises and reassurances -- and of official reporting by the US Department of Defense that has failed to honestly reflect the problems in the Afghan force development effort and the limits to real world level of progress that has been made.
Some of these problems have been addressed in ISAF and USCENTCOM reporting since the adoption of the new strategy, but the Department issued a report in April 2010 – claiming to reflect the “progress” in ANSF development as of June 2009 -- that exemplifies this process of inaccurate assessments and lies by omission. The Department has promised more timely – and hopefully more honest -- reporting in the near future. It is critical, however, that anyone assessing both progress in the war, and prospects for the future, understand what has happened in the past. These issues are addressed in the Burke Chair report.
There is reason to hope that ISAF’s new leadership, and the President’s new strategy, will make the necessary changes. At the same time, it is brutally clear that we cannot afford to repeat past mistakes, or fail to show enough strategic patience to improve both Afghan force size and force quality in the future. It is all too easy to blame the Afghan government, military, and police for past failures. It is all too convenient to make false promises and set unrealistic goals for the future. The cost can easily be losing a winnable war.