Are Afghan security forces up to the post-2014 job?
By SUBEL BHANDARI | Deutsche Presse-Agentur | Published: May 15, 2012
KABUL — Mohammad Khalid is eating at his favorite Kabul restaurant, the Afghan Fried Chicken.
This is a celebration, said the 24-year-old, who just got into the national army and was set to start a rigorous 16-week training at the Kabul Military Training Center - a basic infantry training school for new recruits in the outskirts of the Afghan capital.
"I don't know if they will let me go out and eat, so I will eat as much as I can before I join," Khalid said while munching on hot wings.
Khalid said posters of Afghan commandoes in Kabul got him excited to join the Afghan army. "The photos of the commandos looked really honorable," he said. "I wanted to be like them."
Khalid has signed up to be a member of the 352,000-strong Afghan national security forces that are slated to take over all responsibility for the country's security when the United States and NATO stop their combat operations in 2014.
The question of NATO's commitment and Afghanistan's capability after 2014 will be the focus of debate Sunday and Monday when the 28-member defence alliance and many of its leaders come together.
The security transition, which began in stages in July, is occurring while the decade-old Taliban insurgency continues to pose a serious threat to the Western-backed Kabul administration.
Many Afghans doubt the actual capability of their local forces, without support from the Western troops, to fully take control of the security.
According to an Afghan Police Perception Survey earlier this year, only 20 per cent thought the Afghan forces were ready for transition, while 28 per cent said the police had the capacity to deal with the Taliban insurgency.
In the Afghan national army, only two units can operate independently of the international forces, officials say. Even the special forces need intelligence and logistical support from the NATO-led coalition, including air support and medical evacuation.
Last month, as the Taliban launched brazen coordinated attacks in Kabul, Afghan commandos repelled successfully, but the foreign troops did provide air support.
Apart from their abilities on the battlefield, several serious challenges lie ahead institutionally for the Afghan security forces.
In recent months, there have been repeated incidents of turncoat shootings. Since January, at least 22 foreign troops have been by Afghans wearing uniforms in 16 incidents.
The Taliban have taken responsibility for all the shootings although foreign forces have said most of the attacks were "personally driven."
The US Defence Department in its recent report said those "attacks have significant negative operational and strategic impact on the coalition mission.”
The NATO-led coalition has started to take security measures in the vetting and screening procedures while Afghan intelligence has also embedded "counter-infiltration staff" among the soldiers and recruits "to monitor the behaviour of Afghan service members."
Meanwhile, the Afghan forces suffer from a record attrition rate. An Afghan security official told dpa almost a quarter of new recruits leave within the first two years.
Officials at the Afghan Defence Ministry refused to confirm the exact figure. "It is not important," an official said. "What is important is how many recruits are willing to join the Afghan forces every day."
The current number of Afghan national security forces is around 344,000, which will reach 352,000 by the end of this October, only to be reduced to 228,500 in the years after 2014.
Western allies proposed the one-third cut saying they would not be able to carry the enormous expense.
Afghan officials have opposed the cutbacks, saying they need a bigger force to contain the Taliban insurgency. It is also disconcerting that more than 100,000 trained young men will be without jobs, they say.
It is indeed hard to find a job in Afghanistan. Khalid, who is from Kabul, said one of the reasons he joined the Afghan army was because it would help him to support his family.
"I get a salary and support my family while serving my country. I am not afraid," Khalid said. "I hope Afghanistan will be a peaceful country one day."
Despite problems, the security forces have made tremendous progress, especially considering that a decade ago, the Afghan army did not exist.
This week, the Afghan government announced the start of the third phase of the security transition, which will expand to 75 per cent the part of the Afghan population under the protection and control of Afghan forces.
Zahir Azimi, Defence Ministry spokesman, said the army is trained and equipped to provide internal security. He also said the future of Afghan forces largely "depends on the international community fulfilling their commitments regarding funding, training and providing equipment."
Last year alone, more than 6 billion dollars was spent on the Afghan national security forces, most of it from foreign contributions.
The Afghan government revenues were only 1.7 billion dollars.