Reforming the Afghan Security Forces

By Glickstein, Daniel; Spangler, Michael | Parameters, Autumn 2014 | Go to article overview

Reforming the Afghan Security Forces


Glickstein, Daniel, Spangler, Michael, Parameters


Abstract: Given the recent successes of the "Islamic State," it is unclear how well the Western-trained Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will perform against a resilient Taliban. This article recommends expanding the Afghan Local Police (ALP) to improve security, compensate for high Afghan Army attrition, and boost Pashtun recruitment in Afghanistan's south and east.

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Some scholars warn the "Afghanistan surge" from 2010 to 2012 fell well short of the positive, albeit short-term results of the 2007-08 surge in Iraq. (1) Since the Taliban threat remains high, its capabilities lethal, and its ideology resilient, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF--including both Army and Police) continue to face major challenges countering insurgency while protecting the civilian population, particularly in the south and east.

Against the backdrop of the "Islamic State's" initial successes against the coalition-trained Iraqi Army, there are doubts about the future effectiveness of the ANSF. The ANSF remains deficient in intelligence, logistics, and sustainment capabilities, with a shortfall of non-commissioned officers, a limited air force, and a relative dearth of Pashtun recruits from the south and east of Afghanistan. (2) To meet these challenges, this article recommends new Afghan leaders adopt a slightly larger target for the ANSF's overall size than announced at the NATO Summit in May 2012 by bolstering the Afghan Local Police to compensate for high Afghan Army attrition and low Pashtun recruitment. These adjustments would hold the total cost to NATO's previously agreed upon $4.1 billion per year by the end of 2017.

Key Challenges

The approach outlined here is designed to address three developmental challenges facing the ANSF. First, the ANSF suffers from roughly 30-percent attrition, 10-percent absenteeism, and inflated recruitment rolls, all of which impede its operational effectiveness and retention. (3) Soldiers and police are often recruited from other areas to serve in urban outposts and contested localities, providing space for insurgents to exploit indigenous populations. (4) Secondly, the standing ANSF appears to be falling into an unsustainability trap, undermining its long-term viability. The relatively high cost of the ANSF, if not reduced, might not be underwritten by international donors beyond another five years. (5) Thirdly, the top-down, corrupt practices of the national government could continue under the new "national unity" government, eroding its legitimacy and the ANSF's will to fight. If new Afghan leaders fail to show flexibility in incorporating their country's ethnically and tribally diverse populace into a national security architecture, Afghanistan may devolve over time into a political mosaic of different armed groups controlling separatist-like territories.

For these reasons, the United States and other coalition members should encourage new Afghan leaders to stand up a more resilient, inclusive, and localized security structure to deter and respond to terrorist and other criminal attacks, while keeping conventional forces focused on countering larger insurgent concentrations. Like politics, all security is local. Drawing on the personal commitments of Afghan Local Police (ALP) recruits to protect their families, community, and tribal ties, the ALP can improve security in both rural and urban areas.

The approach described here calls for improving the accountability of expanded ALP forces. Local communities must believe police forces can be held accountable, and new Afghan leaders must be convinced ALP forces will not support local or regional strong-men. (6) To address these issues, Afghan leaders should consider tapping Afghan National Army Special Operation Forces to assume the key tasks of recruiting, supplying, and mentoring ALP forces, while other authorities establish an overlapping monitoring system.

In addition, the ALP approach urges special forces officers to engage with local partners in recruiting and monitoring ALP forces. …

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