Aiding Afghanistan

Afghan security forces must increase focus on training and equipment


Photos by REUTERS

Ahmad Murid Partaw

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are seen as the guardians of the country, especially in providing security and keeping the insurgency at bay. The Afghan Army and police have come a long way in their operational and institutional capabilities in the past 16 years. In particular, the country’s military has seen substantial progress in its new structure, doctrine, training, equipment, ethnic composition and development. International efforts to build a durable force to protect Afghanistan’s government and people have been ongoing for more than a decade. But the real investment by the international community, especially the United States, started in early 2009 with efforts to build a modern and capable Afghan Army along with a strong police force.

The primary purpose of these efforts was to strengthen security institutions to provide security for the Afghan people, who have suffered greatly through four decades of conflict. While the ANSF have progressed in recent years, deficiencies need to be addressed by the Afghan government and its international partners. This remains an important task for the Afghan government. The security situation has recently witnessed setbacks, with the Taliban stepping up attacks against Afghan forces and innocent civilians.

The task is equally significant for coalition nations, especially the U.S., which has invested blood and treasure during the past 16 years to stabilize the country. Owing to the activities of transnational terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan’s security is closely linked with regional security and stability — and ultimately connected with the rest of the world. The effects of these groups’ activities are not confined to Afghanistan, but are also felt in other parts of the world, including the U.S.

For 16 years, there has been enormous focus on improving the performance of the Afghan military to provide security for the country. The continued existence of terrorist organizations, in addition to other factors, has led to mixed assessments about the progress of the Afghan National Army (ANA). Although the ANSF have progressed significantly during recent years, many areas need improvement. These include air power, intelligence collection, medevac capabilities, large-scale military planning and coordination. These areas remain crucial to help the ANSF gain momentum in the fight against terrorists.

An Afghan National Army Soldier keeps watch during a patrol in Dand Ghori district of Baghlan province.

The U.S. and other coalition nations can help Afghanistan’s military address these challenges. The recent decision by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to send more American troops to support Afghan forces is a step forward. This will greatly assist Afghanistan in its fight to overcome security challenges and triumph over the insurgency.

Despite the ANSF’s shortcomings, its public approval ratings — in particular those of the ANA — remain high. The ANA is a respected institution with the capability to provide security for the people.

Through the development of three main pillars on which every modern army must rely — infrastructure, equipment and manpower —  the ANA has made significant progress in manpower and recruitment since 2002. While there have been many investments in the military’s infrastructure, challenges remain in the organization and structure of the force. With the help of coalition partners, Afghanistan can improve.

Afghan National Army Soldiers man a checkpost in Logar province.

According to current data, the Afghan military has made the least progress in modernizing its supplies and equipment. The ANA remains a ground-fighting force rather than a well-equipped Army with the potential to address myriad security challenges facing Afghanistan. While the ANSF are fighting bravely and tenaciously against the Taliban and other terrorist groups, such as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan affiliate of Daesh, security forces face logistical problems. Those challenges and a lack of equipment have impeded the operational proficiency of Afghan forces.

The only well-equipped and well-trained units in the Afghan Army and police forces are their elite special forces. These units have been successful in the fight against the Taliban. It is because of these success stories on the battlefield that the Afghan government is considering doubling the size of the Afghan Special Forces. But most of the Afghan military (Army and police) is insufficiently trained or uses only obsolete, ineffective Soviet-era equipment. These deficiencies require sustained attention from the U.S. and the rest of the NATO states to improve the combat efficiency of the Afghan forces. A decision by the U.S. and coalition nations to provide modern equipment for the Afghan Army and police would help the ANSF gain momentum in the fight against terrorist groups.

At the same time, the ANSF faces challenges in training and mentoring, particularly in properly training different units and deploying them on time to fight the insurgency. This has been a major problem for the Afghan units deployed to various provinces. As units succumb to fatigue, they are frequently rotated and replaced by untrained, less experienced troops. Help from partner nations could further strengthen the ANSF. Proper training will decrease high casualty rates from which the ANA and police forces have suffered since 2014.

Therefore, with the support of coalition nations deployed in the country, the Afghan government must invest in combat readiness, training and advising of Afghan military personnel to build the capacity and capabilities of the ANSF. In addition, the coalition should provide the Afghan forces with proper equipment to defeat the Taliban and secure a stable and prosperous country for the Afghan people.

Ahmad Murid Partaw, a former Afghan Army major, served for four years as Afghanistan’s senior national representative to U.S. Central Command and is an alumnus of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C.

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