What's the Plan? The Afghan National Security Forces


Dec 2, 2014

Afghan National Army soldiers walk at the Forward Base in Nari district near the army outpost in Kunar province, February 24, 2014

Afghan National Army soldiers walk at the Forward Base in Nari district near the army outpost in Kunar province, February 24, 2014

Photo by Omar Sobhani/Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on War on the Rocks on December 2, 2014.

This is the third in a series of articles based on insights gleaned from Jason Campbell's recent NATO-sponsored trip to Afghanistan that featured meetings with senior NATO and Afghan officials, members of Parliament, representatives from a number of international organizations, and prominent members of Afghan civil society. Read the first two articles in the series on the Afghan government and the NATO coalition.

It has been a trying year for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) as they bore the brunt of the drawdown of coalition forces. As of October 2014, the Afghan National Army (ANA) had conducted over four times more independent missions than it had through the same time in the year prior. This resulted in casualty rates one senior coalition official described to our group as “unsustainable.” Still, the year is broadly viewed as a positive one by those in Afghanistan as national elections took place with fewer disruptions than anticipated, and insurgents were unable to hold territory despite attempts to do so. Going forward, as the coalition continues its drawdown, the challenge will be to build on these successes. As a senior NATO official declared over dinner one evening, “Now we are focused on building confidence within the ANSF to convince them that they can do this.”

A shake-up is coming. As I noted in a previous article on the plans of the Afghan government, President Ashraf Ghani is pushing hard to demonstrate positive change quickly, and the security services are not immune. One Ministry of Interior official stated that, currently, deadlines on presidential directives are measured in hours, not days. Among his early priorities is a thorough reassessment of sitting ANSF senior leadership, to include the Ministries of Interior and Defense. A senior Afghan official conceded that chronic management issues continue to plague the ANSF: “We probably have the best soldiers but not the best leaders,” he said. And while Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah are still outlining the traits they want in senior leaders, one will definitely be a willingness to improve coordination among the various security entities. As a senior International Security Assistance Force official noted, “During the Karzai years, the ministries were doing whatever they wanted.” Of the Ministries of Interior and Defense, he said they “were not communicating and resentments grew.” A lack of synchronization between the ANA and the Afghan National Police is a concern often cited by both Afghan and coalition officials. The new government, looking ahead to a 2015 fighting season that will see the ANSF operating truly independently (i.e., without coalition troops providing direct assistance), is appropriately making improvements in this area a priority.

The remainder of this commentary is available at warontherocks.com.

Jason H. Campbell is an associate policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

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