Can Afghan Army do it alone with US and NATO Forces Gone?
Nikolai BOBKIN | 07.02.2014 | WORLD

Can Afghan Army do it alone with US and NATO Forces Gone?

Afghanistan is to usher into a new phase of its history. According to the Bonn international conference on Afghanistan, as well as NATO Lisbon (2010) and Chicago (2012) summits, Washington is to hand over security to Afghan security forces by January 2014. As Afghanistan takes over control over the situation, ISAF will abandon its combat role in favor of support missions. The US and ISAF will not plan, assume command and conduct military operations... 

The overall strength of Afghan security forces has doubled since 2009 up to 344500. The army’s strength is around 185300, including approximately 11000 strong special operations forces. The army is divided into six regional Corps spread around the country, one division consisting of two brigades is located in Kabul, twenty four infantry and two mechanized brigades are deployed in other large populated areas. Afghan national police is around 152600 strong being a single law enforcement agency responsible for the whole country. It comprises typical elements such as territorial, criminal, border, drug enforcement, as well as emergency response and urban anti-terrorist units. The Afghan air force is about 6 thousand men strong. The service lacks aircraft, badly needs more helicopters and is not able to wage combat actions independently. It was established later than the army and police. The Afghan air force is expected to take over full combat responsibilities only in 2017. According to the US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent report to Congress on Afghanistan, Afghan forces are now handling 95 percent of conventional operations and 98 percent of special operations. With the training not up to par and morale rather low, the security forces suffer much greater losses than the ISAF contingent. The allies average monthly death toll was 13-27 in 2013, while the Afghan national security forces lost 3200 in 2012. 3000 civilians lost their lives as a result of operations they conducted against armed formations of the opposition. The attacks committed by Afghan military against Americans have become more frequent, there have been 41 cases of clashes between US and Afghan forces resulting in the death of 41 US servicemen and 11 American civilians. 

The Afghan government has not reported the losses in 2013. At least 3 thousand Afghan military are estimated to perish. No matter in roughly the same period of time around 45 thousand Afghans were recruited, the overall strength of armed forces was reduced by 10 thousand. Desertion is widely spread, about 30-35 thousand leave the ranks yearly. Losses, desertion and service leavers – it all creates problems with retention and translates into a third of the security forces strength to be recruited again to make up for lost personnel. The situation is exacerbated as a result of the NATO’s decision to reduce the security forces by one third down to 230 thousand before 2016. There is one more problem which negatively affects the army’s combat readiness – the Pashtun prefer to keep away from service. Today ethnic Tajik dominate the ranks while Pashtun are obviously underrepresented. The numbers of Tajiks and Pashtun holding top positions in the units deployed in the Pashtun populated areas are almost equal. It creates problems for the relationship between the military and the local population. The Taliban militants view the regular government forces as puppet army units pursuing the goal of spreading the Tajik influence across the country. Roughly a third of population is concentrated in only seventeen out of four hundred compounds. The army can control only large cities where ISAF forces are deployed. According to estimations, The Taliban controls the fourth of Afghanistan’s territory. ISAF decided to drop the plans to increase the Afghan army’s strength making it remain at 195 thousand, while the main effort is focused on honing professional skills and boosting combat readiness. The same policy applies to the police force. 

In 2012 US Congress allocated $11, 2 billion for the Afghan Security Forces Fund reducing it down to about $5, 7 billion in 2013. The United Nations and NATO also contribute to the Fund. In 2013 NATO members’ allocated $700 million with Germany shouldering the largest share ($55 million). The Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan – LOTFA (UN Development Program) has been created. In the period 2002 - 2012 the United States allocated around $1 billion, other countries accounted for over $1, 7 billion. The Afghan government’s contribution is to be about $500 million. 

The international community is interested in preserving peace and stability in the country but Afghan bureaucrats make it a bargain. The Afghan government thinks the international aid is not enough. The Afghanistan’s state budget for 1393 financial year (December 21, 2013 – December 20, 2014) is $7, 9 billion. The Afghan Minister of Finance believes the international community should shoulder the brunt of army and police expenditure. Nobody can be sure that the funds allocated will be spent properly and according to law. The Karzai’s government’s effectiveness has been seriously undermined as it has been plunging into the quagmire of corruption and squandering. 

The Afghan security forces lack clear understanding what they are defending and who they are fighting against. The West believes that the main mission is to defend the Afghan constitution and fight against rebels. Many servicemen believe that the President of Afghanistan, the Supreme commander, violated the constitution himself in 2009, many a time he called the Taliban militants «brothers». The Afghan military has many claims to the corrupted leadership of the country; the servicemen have no desire to defend its corporate interests. The effectiveness of security forces’ structural organization leaves much to be desired. The difference between the missions assigned to the army, police and intelligence (the National Security Directorate) is blur enough giving rise to internal strife for resources and clout, something that seriously undermines the unity of regime. 

As a whole the United States and NATO pinned their hopes on finding solutions to a number of questions before the troops pull out. Mainly the solutions are still to be found. Soon we’ll see if Afghanistan is able to maintain stability in the country on its own – the Taliban has promised to undermine the plans to hold a presidential election in April 2014… 

Tags: ISAF  NATO  Afghanistan  Middle East  US