Posts Tagged ‘Afghan National Police’

Build, Buy, Leave

January 29, 2010

Following the conclusion of the London conference on Afghanistan yesterday, it became clear that the West’s exit strategy for the war-torn country can be summed up in three words: Build, Buy, Leave.

Build–The US and its NATO allies are trying to recruit and train more Afghans security personnel.  The Western coalition wants to increase the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA) from approximately 100,000 troops to 178,000 by October 2011 while adding 14,000 patrol officers to the Afghan National Police (ANP), which currently has 95,000 patrolmen.  Plans call for the security forces to eventually total 400,000, comprised of 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police.

Buy–Britain and Japan have agreed to donate $500 million to help the Afghan government persuade Taliban fighters and their commanders to lay down their arms and engage in peaceful politics.  Officials believe that militants can be bought off with promises of money, protection,  jobs and political appointments.

Leave–America and its European partners have said that they will begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year when security conditions are expected to improve.  Western leaders want to reduce casualties and costs at a time when the war is becoming increasingly unpopular at home.  They also fear that an extended foreign presence will alienate Afghans and make them turn against international forces.

The odds that the coalition’s exit strategy will work according to plan are low.  Nearly doubling the size of the Afghan army in less than two years may not be feasible because recruiting and training quality troops takes a lot of time, and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that 90 percent of Afghans are illiterate, which means that training manuals cannot be widely used.  Most Western soldiers are engaged in combat or combat support duties, so there might not be enough military trainers to do the job.  The current police force is considered by many to be corrupt and ineffective, so augmenting the ANP might not make much of a difference in terms of improving security on the local level.

Buying off the Taliban probably will not be as easy as some policymakers think.  Although some lower echelon militants have left the battlefield after being offered incentives by the government, the latter has not lived up to its end of the bargain; safety and employment for former fighters remain elusive.  In addition, many Taliban, especially senior leaders, are ideological fanatics and ardent nationalists who are determined to drive foreign elements out of their country and re-establish an Islamic state, and they seem to believe that their ultimate victory is inevitable if they continue their attacks.

Pullout Western troops out of Afghanistan next year would likely create a security vacuum given the strenth of the insurgency and the high probability that the Afghan security forces will not be much stronger by then.  In that case, the US and NATO will have to choose between maintaining their current operational footprint or letting the situation on the ground deteriorate.  If they go with the second option they will have to scale back their objectives, which now include defeating the Taliban, facilitating economic development, increasing the capacity of the government to deliver basic services to its citizens and protecting human rights.

The Cost of Expanding Afghan Security Forces

January 28, 2010

Today in London, 70 nations are taking part in a conference about the future of Afghanistan.  One of the main focus points is the plan to greatly increase the size of the country’s security forces.  The US and its European allies intend to fund the expansion and help train new recruits.  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that there will be 134,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army by October of this year, and 171,600 in October 2011; he also said the Afghan National Police force will have 109,000 officers and 134,000 personnel by the same respective dates. 

The Pentagon estimates that it will cost between $10 billion and $20 billion to bankroll the augmentation, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai estimated that it will take five to 10 years to complete the process and as many as 15 years before his government can finance its defense establishment.  According to these figures, the West will have to spend tens of billions of dollars to enlarge the army and police, and several billion dollars annually just to sustain the forces.  There is reason to doubt that Afghanistan will be able to pay for its national security apparatus on its own by the end of Mr. Karzai’s timetable because the country’s yearly tax revenue currently totals a mere $1.1 billion.  Considering the facts that the government will need to spend money on other programs and corruption is a major problem, it is highly unlikely that the state will be able to afford to maintain sufficiently large security organizations without a high level of financial assistance from the international community for decades to come, barring an economic miracle in one of the world’s poorest nations.

However, the American-led war effort is expected to cost more than $100 billion a year as long as the size of the foreign military presence remains the same, so requisite spending on indigenous forces would only be a fraction of current operational expenditures.  NATO members, including the US, have stated that they intend to begin withdrawing their combatants next year, but given the strength of the insurgency and the weakness of the Afghan National Army, it appears that a major drawdown in 2011 will be infeasible if Western leaders are determined to prevent the Taliban from taking over large swathes of Afghanistan.  The attendees at the London conference should recognize these facts before they devise plans for the future.

Chinese Influence in Afghanistan

December 30, 2009

Earlier today, the New York Times published a very interesting article by Michael Wines in which he discusses China’s large investment in Afghanistan’s Aynak copper mine, which is located in Logar Province.  He also analyzes China’s commercial strategy, which is part of its overall foreign policy, and its efforts to secure mineral resources abroad.

One aspect of China’s investments in Afghanistan that Mr. Wines largely ignores is the Chinese  government’s attempt to gain political influence in Afghanistan to counter India’s recent development efforts there.  In fact, five countries are jockeying for power in the war-torn nation: China, India, Pakistan, Iran and the US.  China and India have economic motives for their financial investments, but the geopolitical rivals are also trying to limit the reach of their traditional enemies.  India and Pakistan are even greater rivals, and those two states have political motives for their involvement in Afghanistan; in the case of Pakistan, it seeks to maintain ties to the Taliban in case the group regains power in Kabul, and it also wants to check India’s encroachment into a country that Pakistan considers to be of vital interest to its national security.  Iran meddles in Afghanistan, and it is trying to thwart  US efforts to encircle and contain the Islamic Republic.  America’s presence in Afghanistan is primarily for counterterrorism purposes; it wants to prevent the Taliban from retaking control of the country and giving Al Qaeda a safe haven there, and it needs airbases in Afghanistan from which to launch drone strikes into the tribal regions of Pakistan where anti-American militants are based.

The ongoing geopolitical competition in Afghanistan is complex.  How it plays out will largely depend on the government in Kabul and its ability to establish and maintain security with the help of the US.

Abdullah Abdullah Withdraws from Runoff

November 2, 2009

On Sunday,  Hamid Karzai was declared the winner of the presidential run-off election in Afghanistan, which was scheduled for Nov. 7, after his last remaining challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew. Mr. Abdullah cited his belief that the election process would be fraudulent as the basis of his decision to withdraw. Evidence of widespread fraud in Mr. Karzai’s favor partially invalidated the results of the first round of balloting on Aug. 20, which initiatlly gave Mr. Karzai the number of votes needed to win another term as president without a runoff.

The US, the UN and other members of the international community have congratulated Mr. Karzai for his victory. But there are concerns that many Afghans view him as an illegitimate leader at a time when the Obama administration is considering deploying an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight insurgents who are trying to overthrow the weak central government.

The Karzai administration has been corrupt and ineffective. But Western officials continue to back Mr. Karzai because they do not see a better alternative. Like Richard Gere’s character in An Officer and a Gentleman, the West believes it has no place else to go.

To date, the US has spent nearly $250 billion on the war effort, but the results have been disappointing to say the least. There are only 50,000 Afghan soldiers capable of fighting insurgents independently, and the national police force is corrupt and incompetent. Economic development has been slow because of the violence, and the security situation is deteriorating rapidly. Thus far, attempts to create a strong central government capable of securing the country and delivering services have failed.

Perhaps a new approach is needed. As an alternative to trying to build up Mr. Karzai and the government in Kabul, the US and its NATO allies could work closely with tribal leaders and other local powerbrokers to combat the Taliban. Training tribal militias might be quicker and easier than trying to beef up the Afghan National Army because there would be fewer ethnic tensions and tribal leaders are more respected than government officials. Militiamen would also have the advantage of knowing the local terrain and people better than soldiers from other areas, and they could be counted on to stay in their localities permanently and prevent the Taliban from carrying out reprisals against those who cooperate with anti-Taliban forces.

There is no guarantee that a bottom-up strategy would work in Afghanistan, but there is a good chance that it would yield better results than efforts to create a strong central government given the history of the country and the social conditions there.