January 08, 2015

CNAS Releases Policy Brief on Future of the Afghan Security Forces

Washington, January 8 – Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Next Generation Fellow Capt. Tyler Jost, USA (Ret.) has written a new Policy Brief “Defend, Defect, or Desert?: The Future of the Afghan Security Forces.” In the brief, Capt. Jost, a former U.S. Army Company Commander who served two tours in Afghanistan, lays out how the United States can most effectively support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The full report is available here: http://www.cnas.org/future-of-afghan-security-forces
Please find a summary of the brief below:

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are soon to become the center of gravity for security in Afghanistan. In September 2014, U.S. and Afghan leaders signed a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and have since announced that approximately 10,800 U.S. service members will remain in Afghanistan as the formal portion of the international combat mission ends. The size of the U.S. support mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to decrease even further. Earlier this year, President Obama stated that the United States would drawdown to a “normal embassy presence” by the end of 2016. In the coming months, Afghanistan will depend on increasingly independent Afghan security forces to fight a tough insurgency—one that is perhaps even as strong as it was four years ago during the height of U.S. and coalition operations.

In order to achieve its strategic goal to deny safe haven to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the United States must continue to provide support to the ANSF. To be sure, Afghanistan is only one part of a larger U.S. mission to disrupt and destroy the Al-Qaeda network. Both the 2010 National Security Strategy and President Obama’s comments this year highlight that the shift towards an advise and assist mission in Afghanistan will afford the United States greater “flexibility to fulfill different missions” in the rest of the world. However, while refocusing to other parts of the globe, the United States must remain committed to sustaining the ANSF. Without functioning security forces, Afghanistan will be unable to defend even the most fundamental population areas and transportation routes. This may undermine the ability of U.S. special operations forces to conduct counterterrorism operations—and will almost certainly deny the United States a host country partner in disrupting the Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan. Although Afghanistan and Iraq are vastly different places, the crumbling of Iraqi security forces in northern and western Iraq this summer demonstrates what the collapse of military forces means for state stability and the devastating impact that it can have on U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Similar developments in the ANSF would be strategically and politically disastrous.

The good news is that the Afghan security forces are not doomed. Over the past decade, the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) have manned, trained, and equipped an ANSF that is 350,000 troops strong – composed of the Afghan National Army (which includes the Afghan Air Force), the Afghan National Police, and the Afghan Local Police. The quality of forces has improved as well. As of September 2014, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) trainers assessed 33 of 44 ANSF units to be either “capable” or “fully capable.” Moreover, the ANSF are now “in the lead” for security operations across the country and are scheduled to be fully responsible for this mission by the end of 2014.
At the same time, the ANSF will face serious challenges going forward. Throughout Afghan history, national military units have been notoriously difficult to build. Once formed, they have been even more troublesome to control. At several points in Afghan history, Afghan military units have disintegrated or defected to adversary forces in the face of military confrontation or political crisis – and senior military officials in Afghanistan have launched coups against civilian leaders. Today, many of the current indicators for sustainability of the ANSF are troubling. Two interrelated factors, the rate of attrition in the Afghan National Army and the fiscal costs associated with Afghan security forces, highlight future sustainment challenges. Going forward, the ANSF will need continued support in key areas, as requested by newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier this fall. Without it, the ANSF stands little chance of holding together.