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Study: Current plans for Afghan security forces risk failure

An Afghan National Army Special Forces commando attached to the 8th Special Operations Kandak stands over-watch in the village of Babus, Pul-E-Alam district, Logar province, Feb 16, 2014.

WASHINGTON — The authors of an independent, Pentagon-commissioned assessment of the Afghan National Security Forces concluded that current U.S. and NATO plans for the post-2014 ANSF are woefully inadequate to prevent a major deterioration in the Afghanistan security environment.

The study, which was published Thursday, was conducted by CNA, a think tank based in Alexandria, Va. The Defense Department requested the review under Congressional mandate.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the Pentagon has received the report and DOD officials are in the process of reviewing it.

“There’s no doubt that the work that CNA has done here will help inform decision-makers as we get close to the end of the year,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

The CNA analysts issued a dire warning about what will happen in Afghanistan after 2014 if current plans remain in place.

“In the likely 2015-2018 security environment, the ANSF will require a total security force of about 373,300 personnel [including 29,100 Afghan Local Police] in order to provide basic security for the country, and cope with the Taliban insurgency and low-level al-Qaida threat,” according to the report’s authors.

That force level is 44 percent higher than the one agreed upon by political leaders at the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago. Alliance plans call for 258,500 [including 30,000 Afghan Local Police] in that time frame. There are currently 382,000 ANSF.

“Proceeding with the drawdown of the ANSF as announced at the Chicago Summit will put the current U.S. policy goal for Afghanistan at risk,” the report said.

The CNA analysts noted that their conclusion is based on the assumption that the insurgent threat would increase post-2014, which differs from the alliance assumption in 2012 that the insurgency would be diminished by that point.

CNA estimated that the annual cost of sustaining a 373,400-strong force would be $5-6 billion per year at a time of budget constraints for the Pentagon and the U.S. government as a whole. The projected annual cost of maintaining a base force of 228,500 ANSF [not including the 30,000 Afghan Local Police], as envisioned by NATO, is $4.1 billion per year.

An insufficiently sized ANSF would severely undermine the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the report contends. Current strategy calls for nearly all U.S. and NATO forces to be withdrawn by the end of this year, with a residual force left behind to train, advise and assist Afghan forces and conduct joint counterterrorism operations. Afghan forces are to be responsible for direct combat operations against Taliban insurgents. But if the ANSF is too small to keep the Taliban at bay, the U.S. goal of achieving a relatively stable Afghanistan while remaining in a support role will be difficult to reach.

CNA convened a review board composed mostly of former high-ranking military officers and defense officials, and the board endorsed the general thrust and judgments of the report.

But the Pentagon indicated that there is no intention of changing the ANSF force-level plans, despite the analysts’ assessment.

“The secretary’s committed to the findings of the Chicago Summit, which had … a lower [ANSF personnel] goal,” Kirby said.

The post-2014 plan will be moot if the Afghan government doesn’t sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would allow a U.S. force to remain in the country past the end of the year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has yet to approve it. If neither he nor his successor inks the deal, all American troops will be withdrawn by the end of December.

The CNA analysts also looked at other aspects of the situation in Afghanistan, and reached the following conclusions:

• The security environment in Afghanistan will become more challenging after the drawdown of most international forces in 2014, and the Taliban insurgency will become a greater threat to Afghanistan’s stability in the 2015-2018 time frame than it is now.

• In the 2015-2016 time frame, the Taliban are likely to try to keep pressure on the ANSF in rural areas, expand their control and influence in areas vacated by coalition forces, encircle key cities, conduct high-profile attacks in Kabul and other urban areas, and gain leverage for reconciliation negotiations.

• In 2016-2018, once the insurgency has had time to recover from the last several years of U.S. and NATO operations, a larger and more intense Taliban insurgency effort will become increasingly likely.

• There is a low probability of the Taliban politically reconciling with the Afghan government by 2018.

• Al-Qaida remnants in Afghanistan are unlikely to regain the capability to become a substantial threat to the U.S. and other Western nations in the 2015–2018 time frame as long as adequate pressure is maintained by U.S. and Afghan counterterrorism forces.

• The ANSF will continue to have significant gaps in capability that will limit their effectiveness after 2014. Capability gaps exist in the following key areas: mobility; air support; logistics, intelligence gathering and analysis; communications and coordination among ANSF components; and recruiting and training of people with specialized skills.

• International enabler support — including advisers — will be essential to ANSF success through at least 2018.

• An absence of international advisors in 2015 is likely to result in a downward spiral of ANSF capabilities, along with security in Afghanistan.

• If the United States and NATO significantly decrease their commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan, tensions between the two nations are likely to be exacerbated.

• The loss of financial support from the international community, or even a quick decline in such support, is likely to result in another civil war in Afghanistan.

harper.jon@stripes.com
Twitter: @JHarperStripes
 

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