Afghan National Security Forces: Promise or Problem?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

Jim Foley gives us a little room for hope in the Afghan National Army.

… this was the first time the Afghans attached to HHT 1-75 had decided they were going after a bad guy.  It shows the importance of getting native soldiers who can speak the language and know the culture, off the Forward Operating Bases and out into the problem towns etc.  Captain Krayer said it was the first patrol the ANA had gone on without the U.S.  Also the first one they’d acted on their own intelligence gathering.

I’ve seen U.S. forces try to place Afghans in critical areas in Kunar and down in Kandhar after larger offensive operations.  In most cases the ANA/ or Afghan Police failed to hold the area- following Eagle Strike in Kunar the ANP supposedly abandoned their positions after a few weeks.  And in one of the most contested clearing operations in a heavily IED-ed strip called Macwan here in Kandahar, where two U.S. have been killed and many more wounded, the ANP are still dragging their feet on putting up an outpost.

Still, I can’t forget the speed and control the ANA were able to use in apprehending the suspects.  Some U.S. guys later joked they still would be out there trying to blow through grape walls if it had been done jointly.  The U.S. would surely have done it safer, but probably wouldn’t have been able to identify the suspects, much less nab them.

Read Jim’s entire writeup.  In this case the ANA showed some promise.  In other areas, the ANP is showing how bad things are in parts of the Afghan National Security Force.

An Afghan police unit cut a deal with insurgents to torch their own police station and defect, government officials said yesterday, in a bitter parody of the Government-led effort to bring rebel fighters in from the cold.

The incident triggered hours of pillaging as insurgents swept into a remote district south-west of Kabul, burnt government buildings, stole weapons, food and pick-up trucks, and escaped along with 16 policemen who were in on the plot. Nato and Afghan forces re-took the district in the volatile province of Ghazni the same morning.

The reintegration programme, one of the main planks in the Government’s efforts to make peace with the Taliban, offers low-level fighters amnesty and vocational training if they switch sides-or rejoin the “national mainstream”, in President Hamid Karzai’s words.

The programme has met with some success: yesterday 15 insurgents in western Afghanistan handed over their weapons and promised to lobby other insurgents to do the same.

But despite pledges from the international community of millions of dollars to the programme, there have been consistent reports of promises of training and support being broken. And many potential defectors are thought to be too scared of Taliban retribution, and doubtful of the Government’s ability to protect them, to make the change.

In Ghazni, provincial governor Musa Khan Akbarzada said that police stationed in Khogyani had handed over the district to the militants without a shot being fired, contradicting some earlier reports that the rebels had seized the area by force. When coalition forces arrived three hours later the attackers simply melted away.

A Taliban spokesman claimed that the police had switched sides after “learning the facts about the Taliban,” according to The New York Times.

“We never force people to join us,” he said. “The police joined us voluntarily and are happy to work with us and to start the holy war shoulder to shoulder with their Taliban brothers.”

Some news articles are focusing on astoundingly stupid things like whether ANP stations are being constructed according to seismic design criteria (yes, seriously).  Still short of answering the all-important question of whether the stations are able to withstand earthquakes, there is the question of whether the ANP should even be there.  If they are loyal to the Taliban (or only to themselves), then they have no business being employed.

And that’s the root of at least one problem.  The U.S. has made it clear that we want more ANP, even more than doubling the current size.  I advocate exactly the opposite approach.  We need a smaller Afghan National Security Force, both ANA and ANP.  Since the U.S. controls the purse strings, it doesn’t work to say that we don’t have authority over this process.  That “dog won’t hunt.”

We need a smaller, more reliable, well trained, force that will do the things that Jim Foley observed, and even more efficiently.  U.S. troops should be working hard to ferret out those who will and those who won’t, send home those who won’t, and give the extra pay to those who will.  Incentive is a common motivator for all mankind.


  1. On November 5, 2010 at 1:11 am, dennis said:

    will that’s just great. And I agree with you in part, But remember karzai wants his beloved ANP to take over guard duty’s for the contractors and aid workers when he removes the PSC. turning there guns on us will be easy now.

  2. On November 8, 2010 at 7:20 pm, BruceR said:

    Herschel, the dog hunts just fine: the U.S. has controlled the purse strings of the ANSF for nine years, and not a single Afghan soldier has ever been jailed, fined, or even “sent home” because an American felt he deserved it, in all that time. If you asked any American soldier from Petraeus on down how that could even possibly happen, they’d look at you blankly. You’re not going to start now. Sorry, but it’s true. If it was ever anyone significant, Karzai’s office or the defense ministry would reinstate within hours. I’ve seen it done. If Karzai was ever kicked out his successor would have the same policy. So what else have you got?

  3. On November 8, 2010 at 10:26 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    You’re being testy, Bruce, and it isn’t necessary to make your point. So what else do I have?

    Let’s not be hasty. Let’s stick to the main point. You are making it for me. The U.S. has controlled the purse strings for a long time, and we have yet to follow the policy I am advocating here. And so what else would the point be? What is it that you think I am saying, or should say?

    I do this not for a hobby, but for advocacy. I advocate one thing or another, and in the absence of the policies, strategy and tactics that I think are necessary to be successful, I advocate disengagement. Bring the boys home. This isn’t a game for me, and I trust not for you. It isn’t merely some academic exercise for PhD in counterinsurgency.

    We have not sought a smaller ANA or ANP and discharged the bad ones simply because we haven’t chosen to, not because we can’t, or we don’t have the capacity. We simply don’t pay the poor ones. We take enough control over the process that Karzai’s wishes are irrelevant. We aren’t going to start now? Why not? Because it’s always been that way? We can do what we choose to do, and to claim otherwise is incorrect. That dog won’t hunt. You can trot it out all you want.

    Why would anyone ever do advocacy for anything or anyone if the presupposition is that nothing will ever change? If it’s true, though, that this will in fact not change, then that’s one more plank in the platform I am building. From this platform I will launch a full throated, full orbed, all out, full on, no holds barred advocacy for complete withdrawal, and not some time in the future. Now.

    I have seen some things I advocate get implemented, and most not. I am read in the halls of the Pentagon, and even the White House, sometimes, and the Congress and State Department, most times. I am summarily ignored much of the time. So be it. My duty to to advocate what I believe to be best for the campaign whether someone else believes it will be successful or not. Then, depending upon whether there has been any success, I can choose to transition to advocacy for disengagement. You might be helping me along in that process.

    After all, that’s all you’re arguing, isn’t it Bruce? Not that my policy isn’t the right one, but that my counsel will be ignored. Right? That’s the problem that you’re addressing, I think.

  4. On November 9, 2010 at 8:46 am, BruceR said:

    Herschel, you’re right that there’s no need to be testy. If I came across as such I apologize.

    If we can mix animal metaphors, it’s not that the dog wouldn’t ever hunt, it’s that what you’re advocating is a case closing the barn house door after the dog has left.

    You talk in the Iraq context about the lack of a good SOFA now. Well, I’m saying there is a very strong SOFA-type understanding between ISAF and the Afghan government that would be almost impossible to alter now in the ways you’re advocating.

    I think you make a very strong case that the political and military autonomy undertakings that we have given to the Afghans in this case years ago were not well thought out. I tend to agree that a smaller force, with more limited goals, building incrementally on and rewarding success, would seem in hindsight to have been a more sustainable approach. Growing big and fast in a shooting war in the absence of any Afghan accountability for results achieved is not optimal. I’ve been writing posts to that effect for the last 18 months (starting here: But any approach like that would have required a very strong Western military presence in those first few years of the Karzai government, which simply wasn’t possible given the concurrent Iraq commitment.

    We said to the Afghans in 2003, we’re busy elsewhere, here we’ll pay the way for your army and your national government, no questions asked, keep the insurgents down the best you can. Then when the insurgents actually showed up in late 2005-early 2006, we went through a couple years of denial. About two years ago we realized this was going south, but it seemed a little late at that point to say, okay, President Karzai, because we’ve been paying for it all this time, we’re taking back your army and putting it under American military command, so our sergeants can discipline your men. To do that, you’d have to basically decapitate the political leadership structure of the entire country, now, because otherwise whatever action you took the Afghans would just countermand .

    Could you still do it? Sure, in extremis, with the Taliban army at the gates of Kabul, maybe. But the simple fact is that even with historical negative experiences in similar circumstances with the ROK army and the ARVN, the accountability structures imposed on the ANSF and the Afghan government as a whole this time were even looser. So I just don’t see how this omelette is getting back in the egg now… and if that means you need to advocate withdrawal, then I understand the strength of that position, even if I don’t agree with it.

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You are currently reading "Afghan National Security Forces: Promise or Problem?", entry #5714 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghan National Army,Afghan National Police,Afghanistan and was published November 4th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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