Time to Cut the Cord: It’s Time Afghanistan National Security Forces Were in Charge of Afghan Security
Afghanistan Study Group Blogger
The jury’s still out on whether the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) are completely ready to take on responsibility for enforcing security in Afghanistan. Regardless of the exact extent of their capabilities, however, it’s time to stop relying on US troops and let the local forces take on the role they were trained for.
Fortunately, we have some good news recently on ANSF’s ability to do just that. They had a large role in ending the Taliban attacks on the US Embassy and NATO command center in Kabul, according to US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker. “Since Kabul is in the hands of Afghan security it’s a real credit to the Afghan National Security Forces,” Crocker said. “They are the ones that took down the building and took down those attackers.”
Recruitment measures also indicate success in developing ANSF, according to the Department of Defense. The force has grown steadily, meeting its recruiting targets in 2010, and growing from 266,000 to the current level of 305,000, an increase of 15%, in less than one year. According to Lieutenant General William Caldwell, the commander of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, ANSF is on track to meet the new goal of 352,000 by the end of next year.
This is certainly encouraging, but it’s clear that the ANSF still has a long way to go. First and foremost there is the fundamental question of whether the ANSF can do what it’s supposed to: provide security. Beyond that, are accusations of brutality and abuse, documented in a recent report by the Human Rights Council. Finally, there’s the question of whether DOD’s facts and figures really mean what DOD says they mean. Critics argue that attrition rate is a better measure of success than recruitment rates, and by this measure, ANSF doesn’t do so well. According to DOD’s own estimates, which are likely low, the attrition rate for the Afghan National Army is 25%, and 20% for the Police.
The bottom line here is that there’s no clear-cut answer when it comes to evaluating ANSF. With so many unknowns, perhaps the best we can say is that their “performance..has been uneven.”
Acknowledging that whatever progress that has been made in developing a capable local security force is certainly fragile, we are left with two options. The first is to maintain or even increase our presence in Afghanistan, relying on US troops to make up for the unreliability of the Afghan forces. This way promises low risk to US goals, but very high costs, in terms of time as well as money.
The “we’ll leave when the job is done” policy is not without advocates, from commanders in the field to policymakers and opinion leaders. General John R. Allen, commander of coalition and U.S. forces in Afghanistan articulated this school of thought in an interview with CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux. Asked why we’re still in Afghanistan, ten years after 9/11, Gen. Allen replied,
“We’re here because Afghanistan must be left as a sovereign nation, a member of the international community, governed by a democratic government that ultimately dispenses human rights, dispenses the rule of law and is not a platform for foreign terrorism.”
It’s not hard to see where this is leading. If the nation Gen. Allen described is our vision for Afghanistan, then, as TIME’s Mark Benjamin put it, “Guess we’ll be there a while.”
The problem, of course, is that this path is simply not sustainable, even in the short term. That brings us to the other option, one we’ve recommended before: continue to invest in the Afghan National Security Forces, but bring US troops home.
This option is not only more sensible, it also the more fiscally responsible. ANSF costs are a small fraction of the costs to support US troops in the field. In FY 2011, Congress appropriated $157.8 billion for overseas contingency operations totaled. Of that, $11.6 billion, or 7.4%, went to training and equipping the ANSF.
Considering the crucial role ANSF plays in maintaining stability in Afghanistan, the relatively low cost of investing in ANSF, and current fiscal constraints, it might make sense to continue investing in ANSF while cutting other war costs.
Rather than cutting war costs and maintaining funds for ANSF, policymakers seem to be doing the opposite. The White House recently announced plans to significantly reduce its request for ANSF funds from $12.8 billion in FY 2012 to below $6 billion in FY 2014. Even more indicative of the inclination/preference/proclivity to lean on US troops rather than transition to the ANSF is the Senate appropriations bill for FY 2012, which cuts $1.6 billion, almost 13%, from the administration’s request, but fully funds the overseas contingency operations request at $ 117.8 billion.
ANSF may need a lot of things to become the capable security force that Afghanistan needs. What it does not need is 100,000 American troops doing the work it was trained to do.