Numbers Matter, But Not Entirely

by Joshua Foust on 2/15/2011 · 1 comment

General Caldwell wants us to know how well the ANSF build-out is going:

Volunteering by the thousands, Afghans continue to answer the call to serve their nation. Like the American “Greatest Generation,” this group of more than 79,000 (and growing) Afghans will be changed by their experience in the Afghan army and police, which will, in turn, allow them to become leaders of their communities. With only a 14 percent literacy rate among new recruits, every Afghan soldier and police recruit now undertakes mandatory literacy education. By October 2011, a projected 128,000 Afghans troops will be literate to at least the first-grade level, further enabling the Afghan security force to professionalize and become self-sustaining and enduring. While army, air force and police training provides invaluable life lessons for all who enlist, a good percentage of others will also receive specialty training (vocational skills) in logistics, maintenance, human resources, engineering, finance, and other fields. The literacy combined with the vocational skills will change these young Afghans, who, after their service to their country, will return to their towns and villages as leaders. What was once a matter of darkness and despair is now a matter of hope and opportunity for members of the Afghan National Security Force.

That sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But while General Caldwell talks about how great it is to bring these thousands of men up to a child’s literacy, and the heroic efforts of NTM-A fund and support it all, he doesn’t actually address the performance of the ANSF. Put differently: he’s described building a widget (e.g. a functioning security sector) but hasn’t actually said whether it performs its functions or not. This is where things get tricky.

Yesterday, the Ministry of the Interior said something worrying: Interior Ministry Spokesperson Zemarai Bashari complained that the 2-4 month training the police get is woefully insufficient to build an effective force. As Jean MacKenzie has been documenting, efforts to train other ANSF programs have faced similar challenges: the focus, like with Caldwell, is in simply getting people out the door, and not necessarily on what those forces are capable of doing once they’re out.

That doesn’t mean the ANSF are a total loss. There are units out there, and I’m sure the commenters will explain which ones, that are quite effective. On the other hand, I’ve had some distressing conversations with people coming back from provinces in the Southwest, and they are universally downbeat on the prospects of having even an effective Afghan Army to work with. Calling the ANA a “wash” overall seems fair, in other words: there are some effective units and some ineffective units. The ANP, on the other hand, remains an embarrassing failure. And don’t get me started on the constellation of local security groups, some of which show promise if given the space to function, many of which are terrifying to contemplate.

So General Caldwell isn’t really selling a line. The metrics he noted in his op-ed really are encouraging. I just wish he’d spoken to their actual capabilities. That will tell us if those metrics are meaningful—that is, if they really mean anything when it comes to the war, or if they’re just pretty to think about.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. 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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{ 1 comment }

anan February 16, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Caldwell does speak about actual capabilities to some degree. But his role ends where Karimi’s ANATC and Pattang’s ANPTC end. After ANSF are fielded, advising them is IJC’s role.

One of the most important metrics of ANSF “flows” [how their capacity changes over time] is how many ANSF are being trained at any given time.

Best data as of now is 10 K ANP [increasing to 23 K ANP] and 24 K ANA [near projected peak.] By contrast, the Iraqi MoI alone trained about 40 K at any given time 2006-2010. In other words, far too few ANSF continue to be trained at any given time.

This is the real reason that a typical ANA/ANP officer is only trained for 20 weeks before deployment; and why a typical ANA/ANP enlisted is only trained 10 weeks/6 weeks before deployment. If the number of ANSF being trained at any given time was doubled, this would enable the lenght of training cycles per ANSF soldier/policeperson to be doubled. Leading to a sharp increase in ANSF quality and performance. But that would require far higher funding for NTM-A, ANATC and ANPTC.

On ANP, it is important to remember that almost all of them were trained very recently. One reason the growth rate of the ANP has slowed down is that NCO training cycles for many/most ANP have risen from 14 weeks to 18 weeks [4 more weeks of literacy training.] As many ANP would say, this is essential, since it increases the respect that ANP officers and Afghan elders have for ANP NCOs.

Be curious to hear perspectives on the performance of these new ANP NCOs, few though they are. [ANCOP has been stealing the majority of them to date from ANPTC’s training base.]

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