The ANSF Will Win the War

by Joshua Foust on 1/25/2011 · 4 comments

There is a solid consensus within the policy community that if we just train enough Afghan soldiers, the war will be won, since we can withdraw. I’ve never bought this argument, in part because it seems to confuse building a state with building a military, and because without a state a military is just… a military. It has nothing to defend.

Anyway, so there has been a lot of upbeat stories about how training the Afghan National Security Forces, as the Army, policy, and whatever else have you is called, and that’s been encouraging. In fact, we’re discussed here how some ANA units in Khost, as one example, actually perform really well. The problem is, excellent Afghan military units seem to be an exception, not the rule: most are unremarkable, and there is also a substantial number of stories about Afghan security forces being actively counterproductive. It can be difficult to make sense of. So then SIGAR discusses the massive ANSF build-out that’s underway:

Poor planning and weak management are undermining the effort to build up the Afghan army and police while putting billions of U.S tax dollars at risk, the U.S. official charged with overseeing the rebuilding of Afghanistan said Monday.

Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting it is not clear how U.S. military authorities are going to construct enough bases and training facilities by late 2013, when the Afghan forces are supposed to assume responsibility for the country’s security.

There are 884 projects valued at $11.4 billion planned for completion over the next two years, but as of November only 133 have been finished, Fields told the commission, which was created by Congress to examine spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another 78 are under construction and 673 have not been started, he said.

Fields, who announced his resignation earlier this month, said the U.S. doesn’t have a comprehensive plan that sets priorities, maximizes resources and tracks with the Afghan government’s needs. He also said the projects his office has audited so far “have been seriously behind schedule.” That makes it doubtful construction will keep pace with the goal of recruiting and training 240,000 Afghan soldiers and 160,000 Afghan police.

So, the picture is muddled. I don’t expect this to get in the way of certain die-hard ANSF boosters. But, despite the challenges, that doesn’t mean we should abandon our training efforts. Rather, we should take critical reviews honestly, to heart, and think about ways of addressing the problems. Afghanistan might not need a 400,000 man Army (and we definitely don’t want to pay for it forever), but it does need some sort of Army, and America is left better off in the long run with a functioning and effective Afghan Army. I hope policy makers can get over their urge to spin only happy news out of the war and actually figure out how these significant shortfalls can be addressed.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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M Shannon January 25, 2011 at 11:52 am

Well everyone knows that LCol Achmed of 2nd Kandak of 204 Corps is doing an excellent job in maintaining the security of his own HQ villa, 201 Corps has announced after eight years it plans to have it’s own NCOs teach shooting is nearly on track, 3rd platoon 8th Kandak 202 Corps has made great strides this year in weapons cleaning and the attrition rate for soldiers with serious drug problems in 203 Corps has been cut to 45% (or is it raised to 45%) …no matter it’s doing whichever is better?

Sorry, ignore this I was channeling another poster.

Madhu January 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I sometimes think that ANSF is emphasized because it is the one area where we have the most control. Karzai and local warlords and constitutions and power-sharing is difficult business.

And for reasons beyond my grasp, it seems we will never confront the Pakistani regime. I don’t think fear of nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons blackmail is the answer, either. Well, it might be one reason, but we handle all of that very badly in my opinion. We should’t give money to institutions that are predators of their own people but I suppose I’m not sophisticated enough to understand the grand strategic logic of keeping an ally on the great big board of Risk while “elements” within shoot at your troops.

On really bad days, I think the concepts of Irreversible Transition and ANSF building in such large numbers is simply to lock in long-term international support. Even if they bail in the future monetarily, if you make it big enough, some money and support will come through.

Am I too cynical? I fear sometimes that I am becoming too cynical. I don’t like that.

Informative article in the Atlantic, btw, Mr. Foust.

Madhu January 25, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Oh, and in all of that I forgot to add: yes, Afghanistan needs some type of Army and perhaps Herschel Smith is correct in that we ought to focus on quality over quantity.

Can such a force stop Taliban assassinations of local Afghan leaders that are effective? How would that work?

I suppose that is one of those variable where we will have to wait and see as we build up some reasonable force. That is what worries me about going too big, but I don’t know and can’t know for sure.

BruceR January 25, 2011 at 10:08 pm

+1 Shannon

True story… Supporters of more Mexico style border cameras for combat outposts still regularly cite the concern about the ANA pickets’ likelihood of being asleep as their primary raison d’etre.

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