Seeking Better Support for Afghanistan’s Security Forces
WASHINGTON — As NATO prepares to wind down its Afghan mission in 2014, the allies face the goal of transferring all combat operations across the country to Kabul while U.S. and NATO forces move into a support role. With the demanding timetable in mind, ensuring continued and sustained funding and training for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) — which includes the army, police, and special forces — is absolutely imperative. Having confronted the challenges of under-enrollment, ethnic disproportionality, illiteracy, and corruption, the ANSF has come a long way over the years, and will lead security efforts in 75 percent of the country in the next six months. The force is currently comprised of more than 330,000 trained soldiers, and will soon reach its peak size of 352,000. Yet many key challenges remain, not the least of which is the ANSF’s financial sustainability post-2014 and Kabul’s ability to take full control of Afghanistan’s security.
At present, there is no functional plan in place that stipulates the size, structure, and cost of the ANSF over the longterm. The Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak recently announced that the ANSF’s strength will be cut by roughly 120,000 starting in 2015 to make it more affordable. While natural attrition and a reduction of recruiting efforts will take care of some downsizing, the planned cutback may also mean putting trained Afghan soldiers into a dim job market where they could easily become vulnerable to recruitment by the Taliban and criminal networks. NATO and its Afghan partners must ensure that there is a proper alternative employment plan in place for those who are demobilized. Similarly, while Afghan Special Forces have recently stepped up to the plate, Afghanistan’s posttransition security cannot be maintained by Special Forces alone.
Their numbers remain small, and they still require support from international troops to be effective. Financing the ANSF will also remain a challenge. Washington has focused on an arrangement to provide the ANSF about $4.1 billion annually until at least 2024, a commitment recently reinforced by the signing of the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement. Britain and Germany have also pledged $110 million and $190 million, respectively, per year as have other Allies — a small step towards the $1.31 billion required from Allies. The Afghan government itself will provide $500 million and it has been forging bilateral strategic agreements with some NATO countries over the past months to further augment support. Though the price tag may seem high, training and financing ANSF costs much less than sustaining NATO troops on the ground. And while NATO’s support remains invaluable, Chicago largely ignored encouraging and engaging major non-NATO allies such as Japan, Korea, and the Gulf States to shoulder some of the costs.
However, the assurance portrayed through the Chicago Declaration that NATO will retain a presence beyond 2014 through a robust training mission in Afghanistan to train and advise ANSF is a welcoming sign. This new non-combat mission is a good venue to engage key non-NATO partners in burden-sharing responsibilities by integrating them into training missions in Afghanistan that will not only help strengthen ANSF but also give them a modicum of control in Afghanistan to safeguard the many hard-won years long achievements.
NATO must also specify the names and responsibilities of all partner countries that will engage in the non-combat mission, and explain the actual framework for spending the $4.1 billion. As we move beyond Chicago, it will be crucial to relay the right narrative regarding NATO’s future support of the ANSF for rallying public support for Afghanistan, not least because it will have implications for the future of the alliance. Like Libya, Afghanistan continues to be regarded as a key test for NATO’s future.
Javid Ahmad is a Program Coordinator with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. Image by ISAF.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.