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.