Afghan National Security Forces- Hiccups Continue

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  1. Daredevil

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    An effective Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is the main plank of the ongoing security transition in Afghanistan and critically influences the country’s political and economic transitions. However, the ANSF is struggling with the onerous task of assuming full responsibility for internal security by mid-2013 and overall security of the country post 2014. The current approved end-strength of the ANSF required for an effective security transition – is 352,000 personnel by December 2014, comprising 187,000 for the Afghan National Army (ANA) by December 2012, 157,000 for the Police (ANP) by February 2013, and 8,000 for the Afghan Air Force (AAF) by December 2014.

    As of September 30, 2012, the ANA had reached 182,209 soldiers in training or in fielded units, the ANP reached 147,158 police, and the AAF reached 6,224 airmen. The significant increase in the size of the ANSF has resulted in the fact that Afghans now constitute more than two-thirds of all those in uniform in Afghanistan. Approximately 68,000 U.S. forces now remain in Afghanistan; planning and negotiations continue to determine ISAF force level requirements post 2014.

    The ANSF are being increasingly tasked to assume responsibility for security in districts from which the NATO-ISAF troops are gradually withdrawing. The ANSF as of September 2012, are unilaterally conducting approximately 80 percent of total reported operations and are leading roughly 85 percent of these, although many of these operations are routine patrols.

    Additionally, the ANSF have started to expand security cover in areas where ISAF did not have an established presence; all 34 provinces are now in some stage of transition. While the number of ANSF personnel is growing steadily, they continue to be operationally and logistically challenged.

    At the Chicago NATO Summit and in the run-up to it, ISAF troop contributing nations and other donors had pledged to contribute approximately $3.6 billion annually (period 2015-17) for the build-up of ANSF. The Afghan government agreed to provide at least $500 million per year during the same period, with a commitment that it will progressively increase its contribution over time.

    The establishment of the ANSF as a reckonable force to the threats envisaged has been impacted by several factors other than the availability of external financial aid. Issues as such recruitment rate, insider attacks, ethnic composition, US drawdown policy, and equipment profile continue to impair its development.

    Desertion

    ANSF is grappling with the fact that its recruitment rate is not matching its wastage rate which has been pegged at a whopping 30 per cent a year. Given its present strength it needs to recruit approximately 60,000 personnel every year. This high wastage rate has been attributed to many factors. First is the low re-enlistment. According to Al Jazeera, about one-quarter of all recruits decline to sign up for extended service beyond their initial three-year contractual period for various reasons such as service conditions, intimidation by the Taliban ect. Then there is the issue of desertion. The Afghan Defence Ministry puts the desertion figures at 7-10 percent of its troops every year; other estimates put it at as high as 20 percent.

    The effective strength of the ANSF has also been adversely affected by the casualty rate. With the progress of the security transition the casualty rate of the ANSF has increased. ANA has more than 1200 soldiers confirmed killed in 2012 (up from 550 fatalities in 2011) and the ANP has 2,200 killed for the same period. There are also a large number of wounded impacting the fighting strength in a situation where the medical support is rudimentary and largely dependent on the ISAF and its airborne casevac services.

    Equipping Policy

    Another key question facing the ANA is whether its troops are adequately equipped to take on the Taliban or any external threat. Vehicles issued to the ANA are similar to those used by U.S. forces. Individual weapons are primarily standard U.S. weapons, while crew-served weapons are a combination of former Warsaw Pact and U.S. weapons. In 2008, worried about Afghans deserting the security forces with their weapons, the US replaced ANA’s standard issue weapon, the trusted AK-47, with the American M-16 rifle. This was supposedly because the 5.56mm rounds of the M-16 rifle would be more difficult to obtain for a deserter than the widely used 7.62mm rounds of the AK-47. However the M-16 rifle was found to be requiring more maintenance and regular oiling which caused it to jam frequently. The decision also added the rifle cleaning oil on the ANA logistics inventory.

    There is the issue of Russian arm sales to Afghanistan which are financed by US aid. U.S-Russian cooperation on arms for Afghanistan started in 2011. The US has so far purchased 33 new Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan National Army for $640 million. The Mi-17 acquisition effort is critical to building the capacity of Afghanistan security forces. Together with NATO, the US and Russia have established a Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to support Afghanistan’s fleet of Russian-built Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters. Russia and the United States also plan to set up a maintenance center for these Mi-17 helicopters in Afghanistan. However, in November 2012, the US Senate unanimously approved a motion to bar the Pentagon from purchasing any kind of military items (including Mi-17 helicopters) from Russia’s major arms exporter Rosoboronexport over the firm’s weapons sales to Syria.

    The ban by the US senate has a proviso that it can be overturned if “the Secretary of Defense determines that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States with respect to the capacity of the ANSF.” The reopening of the Pakistani GLOCs has made available to the ANSF equipment, especially vehicles, which had been held in Pakistan since the GLOC's closure in December 2011. This has helped the ANSF to meet its fielded force requirements.

    Drawdown

    The high rate of the desertion and the probability of the ANSF, particularly the ANA, disintegrating on ethnic lines has also influenced the US policy on the equipment to be left behind for the ANSF as the drawdown progresses. The fear that potent equipment may fall into the hands of the rival forces and worse be used against friendly forces has influenced the ANA equipment profile in terms of their lethality and tech content.

    Insider Attacks

    Taliban attempts to degrade the capability and morale of the ANA and its partnership with ISAF, has been one of the major motivations for the insider attacks. These attacks have had a negative operational effect, albeit temporarily, on partnered operations. It is even believed that there may be a correlation between one insider attack inspiring another. Seventeen attacks in 2012 occurred within 48 hours of a previous attack. ISAF and ANSF commanders have made preventing insider attacks a top priority. Collective countermeasures or DOTMLPF, a process to consider gaps in this context within the domains of Doctrine, Organization, Training, Material, Leadership and Education, Personnel, and Facilities have been instituted. The ANSF itself continues to face insider attacks, better known as Green-on-Green attacks.

    The NATO Security Force Assistance (SFA) framework is the basis for the transition of security responsibility to ANSF. The SFA model, through ISAF advisor teams, is shifting efforts from combat to training, advising, and assisting the ANSF to the stage where they are able to conduct operations independently. However insider attacks and faster drawdown of ISAF have led to increase in independent operations by both forces and a drop in partnered operations, indicating a trust deficit.

    The role of ANSF, one of the most respected institutions in Afghanistan, is critical to any progress towards peace and stability in the country.

    The author Monish Gulati is an independent analyst in New Delhi.

    The Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
     
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