The Uncertain Role of the ANSF in Transition: Establishing Real World Criteria and Metrics

Testimony to the House Armed Service Committee by Anthony H. Cordesman, February 27, 2013

The effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are only one element of success in Afghanistan, but the various elements of the ANSF are critical to providing lasting security and stability and denying Afghanistan as a future base for international terrorism and extremism.

If the US and its allies are to succeed in Afghanistan, they must continue to support the ANSF and provide them with the capability to support a successful Transition to Afghan responsibility to security. However, for a successful Transition to occur the US must change the way in which it evaluates the ANSF’s prospects for success, be ready to provide the necessary resources, and focus on the actual ability to achieve security rather than force building and evaluation tools like the CMA and CUAT system.

Anthony H. Cordesman, the Burke chair at CSIS has prepared a new report on the strengths and weaknesses of each element of the ANSF, and the conditions needs to make them effective enough to support a successful transition as part of his testimony to the House armed Service Committee on February 27, 2013.  This report is entitled The Uncertain Role of the ANSF in Transition: Establishing Real World Criteria and Metrics, and it is available on the CSIS web site at 130226_Uncertain_Role_ANSF_Transition_AHC.pdf

The report shows that two key criteria for success are external to the ANSF, and will require careful attention and support from the US. First, the ANSF cannot succeed without effective Afghan leadership and a reasonable degree of national unity following the 2014 election. Second, the ANSF cannot survive without adequate external funding through at least 2017.

These criteria, however, are only part of the issues that must be dealt with if key elements of the ANSF are to become effective enough to meet the new requirements that will be imposed by US and allied withdrawal over the coming two years.

  • The Real World ANSF That Emerges from Transition Will Be Far Different From today’s Force and Manpower Goals

The US and its allies – including the US Congress – must also understand the challenges both US and ISAF trainers and partners face, and the challenges the Afghans face as well. The ANSF is driven by pressures that mean change major changes in its structure and force goals are inevitable as Transition occurs.

These pressures include:

  • A failure to meet initial US and ISAF military surge goals, implement the 2010 campaign plan, and back the US build-up with a viable civilian surge.
  • Major shortfalls in providing the levels of Afghan governance and rule of law efforts in the field necessary to make ANSF efforts effective.
  • The inability of the Afghan government to treat the real world impact of power brokers, corruption, narcotics, and criminal networks around and within the ANSF and to treat these problems as if they did not exist.
  • The long history of underfunding and erratic funding by outside states and shortfalls in trainers and partners.
  • Long periods in which salaries were not competitive and high levels of annual attrition and turnover took place.
  • Steady rises in ANSF force goals based largely on arbitrary numbers and force goals accompanied by steady efforts to reduce the time available to achieve them.
  • Ongoing reductions in US and allied force levels, often with limited warning and that are larger and sooner than previously anticipated.
  • Reductions in outyear annual cost from some $9 billion to $6 billion to $4.1 billion.
  • Constant changes in performance standards and goals.

Creating an effective ANSF requires a new approach to assessing the development of Afghan forces that is based on a conditions-based net assessment of how given elements of the ANSF actually perform relative to insurgent factions, and one that is tied to a similar assessment of the relative success of the Afghan government, insurgents, power brokers, and other factions in winning support in given areas.

  • Measuring Effectiveness Needs to Be Based on Net Assessment of Performance relative to the Threat and Not On Meeting Manpower and Readiness Goals

It means shifting from force building metrics based on largely arbitrary total manpower goals to a focus on what elements of the ANSF prove to be most effective as Transition occurs, and their performance in the field. It means focusing resources on the most effective force elements, rather than arbitrary manpower or readiness standards, and regularly assessing how given elements of the ANSF’s order of battle perform relative to threat and militia forces.

Setting largely arbitrary force goals for all elements of the ANSF, regardless of their capability, value, and costs borders on military absurdity. So does assigning arbitrary resource levels like $4.1 billion a year for the entire force regardless of merit. 

  • A Focus on Total ANSF Manpower totals Like 352,000 is Absurd

The key test of success from this campaign season onwards will be how key elements of the ANSF actually perform, What level of leadership and unity exists within the Afghan government, who wins public support in key provinces and districts, what level of resources are really required for valuable force elements, and what level of resources are actually available.

A focus on building every element up to 352,000 men at the highest level of capability, and then over when it should be reduced to an equally arbitrary 228,500 in the future borders on becoming a mindless waste of time. 

  • The CM and CUAT System Is Useful Only For Force Generation And Is Already Going to Be Replaced by an Afghan Set of Standards

This requires the US and ISAF to develop far more realistic and honest security reporting than it has made public to date. Measures like the CM and CUAT ratings will remain important to NTM-A and its successors. Even here, however, DoD has already announced that there will be a shift to Afghan developed metrics that are certain to evolve steadily with time, have to vary by element of the ANSF, and need to focus on actual performance in the field.

  • Success Will Depend on the ANA, AAF, ANCOPS, and ALP/Militias

This means assessing each element of the ANSF separately and resourcing elements like the ANA and ANCOP that can actually perform the mission. Training, aid, and Afghan resources must concentrate on building up the force elements in given forces within the ANSF that can actually preform effectively in the field. It is both meaningless and actively misleading to focus on the total manning and size of the ANSF, rather than assess it by service.

The key elements of the force now include large parts of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which as a current force goal of some 172,005 – or some 49% of the present total manpower goal. The key issue for the success of the entire ANSF will be the performance of the ANA’s of its seven corps in the field, the level of threat involved, the capability sustain and support these forces, and their future cost relative to future resources.

Another key element will be the ability to build up a meaningful Afghan air force during 2014-2017, where the present manpower goal is only 7,639 men or 2% of the 352,000-man force, but actual air capabilities in terms of combat sustainable aircraft will be critical.

The third key element will be the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), with a present manpower goal of 14,451 or only 4% of the 352,000, but which is the only fully effective paramilitary element of the ANP. 

It is the actual performance of the most capable elements of these three forces – whose manpower goals make up a little over half of the current total of 352,000 – relative to the threat over time that will largely determine whether the entire ANSF can contain and defeat the insurgents during 2013-2014 and beyond.

The fourth set of key elements is not even included in the formal ANSF structure or manpower goal. Given historical experience, it is the capability in given areas of the better elements of the best elements of Afghan Local Police (ALP) and militias that support the government – some 30,000-40,000 -- men that will determine the government’s ability to hold key rural areas. Yet these forces are not even included in the meaningless debate over total manning numbers like 352,000 or 228,500 and a theoretical debate over how to reduce the entire ANSF in the future.

  • Most Other Elements of the ANP Will Have Marginal Effectiveness, Remain Corrupt, Lack Adequate Support from Civil Governance, and the Other Elements of a Justice System, And Be Tied to Local Power Brokers,

There are other elements of the Afghan National Police (ANP) – such as the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) and Afghan Border Police (ABP) – will have some utility. Most of these   forces – which make up some 45% of the 352,000 total, however, will remain corrupt, have limited effectiveness, and lack support from effective governance in the field and from the other elements of a criminal justice system.

Barring far stronger Afghan leadership than now seems likely to emerge in 2014, many elements are also likely to revert to control by local power brokers or the highest bidder and much or most of the present NTM-A effort and goals will be replaced with afghan solutions that allow the AUP and ABP to revert to force shaped by Afghan resources and standards and that have limited effectiveness.

  • Continued US Support for the Key Elements of the ANSF Will Be Needed for 3-4 Years After 2014

The US and its allies need to recognize that many elements of even the ANA will not be fully ready for transition before 2016-2017, and that– if combat continues – they will require outside support in the form of airpower, trainers, intelligence, and sustainment. At the same time, current force development plans cannot survive engagement with reality. The Afghans must restructure their force development plans to do it their way, to cope with the problems posed by power brokers, ethnic and tribal factions, and corruption.

The US and its allies need to stop focusing on equally arbitrary and largely meaningless total manpower numbers and provide a clear explanation of what elements will stay in Afghanistan, what their mission will be, haw they will be deployed and given security, and how they will advise, train, partner, and enable the ANA, ANCOPs and other critical elements of the ANSF. Talking in broad terms about US manning levels of up to 9,500 US troops and 6,000 allies has all the intellectual merit of debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Afghan forces that have been rushed into being will need conditions-based support based on merit and not arbitrary outside manning and funding.

The mix of ANSF and outside forces that actually emerges over the next few years is almost certain to fall short of the current goals set by the US, ISAF and aid donors. This does not mean, however, that the force that actually does emerge cannot meet actual Afghan needs and provide an acceptable level of strategic success if the US, the Afghan government, and its other allies focus on conditions-based realities rather than nonsense numbers for total manning and arbitrary cost and resource levels.

  • Support Must Include Support for the Civil Sector and Economy

These conditions do, however, depend as much on Afghan leadership, governance, and economic stability as the capabilities of key elements of the ANSF. The level of employment and economic security that emerges during 2013-2014, and particularly in the critical post withdrawal period between 2013-2017 – will be at least as critical to Afghan stability and security.

Money will continue to be a critical issue at every level. Loyalty will often be for rent, an armed nation will unify divide according to its leadership and who controls the money, the men who leave the present ANSF along with the roughly 50,000-80,000 other armed men in the ALP, militias, PSCs, and APPF will remain critical wild cards. Any element the Afghan government cannot offer Afghan’s armed young men a future will often either striker out on its own become a threat.

This means the US and its allies need workable and realistic plans and assessment that can deal with both the needs of the ANSF and civil aspect of afghan stability and security. These plans will need to be regularly updated and altered to deal with the conditions that actually emerge, but there must be some basis for cohesive and consistent action. 

  • Afghan Leaders Must Be Told that Such US Support is Conditions-Based on the Effectiveness, Integrity, and Unity of Their Leadership or the US Will Leave

That said, there is a critical caveat to be added about any effort to make the ANSF successful. “Conditions-based” does not mean open-ended or even continued support for the ANSF or any other aspect of the Afghan government. No one outside Afghanistan owes Afghanistan support it government fails to earn. At present, the lack of leadership, reliance on power brokering, and corruption in both the ANSF and civil side of Afghanistan are as much a threat as the insurgents.

If the Afghans cannot find a successful leader in 2014, produce a reasonable degree of unity and governance, reduce corruption and power brokering to more acceptable levels, and show they can make the ANSF effect, that US and its allies should react to the fact they have higher strategic priorities than Afghanistan and central Asia.

The US may need to continue its present public rhetoric about enduring strategic partnership. In practice, it should be honest in privately communicating to Afghan officials that it already has many incentives to leave Afghanistan and use its resources elsewhere.  Moreover, it should remind them that the US has already shown it can largely walk away from Iraq – a country with far more strategic importance than Afghanistan, that it has many higher priority strategic priorities throughout the world, and that it has increasingly constrained resources to meet them.

In the case of the ANSF, the US and its allies should make it clear that they are prepared to cut support and funding for force elements that remain grossly corrupt, and serve power brokers in ways that do not provide stability or serve the people. If the effort to create “Afghan good enough” results in failed Afghan leadership, governance, or ANSF development; the US and its allies should regard an exit from Afghanistan as mandatory.

The report has the following Table of Contents:





National Leadership, Politics, and Unity of Effort




The Impact of Leadership, Political Alignments, and Corruption




Karzai (and His Successor): With the US or Too Much of a Barrier for Success?




Figure 1: Kabulstan vs. Afghanistan: Ethnic and Sectarian Divisions




Focusing on the Real World Effectiveness of Key Elements of the ANSF




Figure 2: The Power Structure of Afghan Forces During and After Transition in 2014  




A Caution About Peace Negotiations




Money as a Key Criteria and Metric for Afghan Success




A History of Erratic Resourcing




The Need to Fund the Future




Figure 3: Projected US and Other Donor Support for the ANSF




Figure 4: Afghan Government Dependence on Outside Aid: 2006-2011




The Need for Predictable and Effective Outside Support from US and Allied Forces and Advisors




US Force Cuts Set the Stage




Figure 5: Changes in US Troop Levels: 2003-2014




Withdrawal With or Without Adequate Advisors, Trainers, Partners, and Enablers?




The Need for Clear and Credible Plans for Outside Support




Security and Transition




An Extremely Uncertain Level of Security In Spite of the “Surge”




Relying a Largely Irrelevant Metric: Enemy Initiated Attacks




Figure 6: No Meaningful Improvement in Afghan Security Metrics: 2009-2012 Part One




Figure 6: No Meaningful Improvement in Afghan Security Metrics: 2009-2012 Part Two 




Other Metrics Show No Clear Improvement in Security as A Result of the “Surge”




Lies by Omission? Dropping the Metrics that May Be Less Favorable but Also Could Reflect Actual ANSF Performance




Figure 7: Insurgent Attacks by Province in Fourth Quarter 2012




Transitioning Districts and Provinces to the ANSF by the Calendar with No Clear Picture of ANSF Capability




Figure 9: Transitioning Provinces and Districts: Tranches 1-3




The ANSF, Security, and Popular Support




Building and Sustaining Afghan Forces




The Limits to Capability Milestone (CM) and Commanders Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) Ratings




Broad Metrics of Numbers of Operations and Afghan-Led Operations Have Some Value




Figure 10: Levels of Contingency Operation and Trend in Partnered Operations




Measuring Progress in Force Generation




Figure 11: ANSF Development – Institutional Metrics and Benchmarks




The MoD and the MoI




Focus on the ANA




Worry About the AAF




Accept Marginal Success with the Police and Rule of Law




Focus on ALP and Future Role of Militias





A report dealing with the other challenges of Transition, entitled Afghanistan: Meeting the Real World Challenges of Transition, is available on the CSIS web site at