During the first few months of 2012, more than 40 NATO soldiers have been killed by the Afghan National Security Forces personnel in around 32 incidents.
From 2007 to 2011, 58 alliance military personnel have been killed in 26 such incidents. The rise in number of these incidents is a cause of concern for Afghan and NATO military officials. General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, called on Afghan leaders to try to find a solution for what appears a real threat to the NATO forces.
A question often asked is why Afghan soldiers turn their guns against their allies? The Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, pretends that they have infiltrated Afghan armed forces and their militants are the ones who kill NATO soldiers. The Afghan government, while denying the claims of the Taliban, pretends that these attacks are ordered by foreign (i.e. Pakistani and Iranian) spy agencies but it has no clue as to how these spy agencies infiltrate its army. NATO officials attribute 10% of these incidents to infiltration by enemy and the remaining to personal motivations. However, they fail to point out the nature of the personal grievance. Observers in Afghanistan note that the growing frustration of ordinary Afghans over the misdeeds of the foreign troops (indiscriminate killings, humiliating and culturally inappropriate behavior such as ill treatment to fellow afghan soldiers, Quran burning , night raids, and so on) finds its expression inside the armed forces. As a matter of fact, five years ago ordinary Afghans did not use derogatory language to designate foreign soldiers but nowadays this has become very common.
One question nobody dares (or cares) to ask is the number of Afghan military personnel killed by NATO soldiers.
All reasons mentioned above and many others may explain why an increasing number of incidents oppose Afghan National Security Forces to the NATO forces (“green on blue” incidents). Whatever the reasons, this new situation is serious enough to require pragmatic handling.
The low quality of recruitment of the ANSF personnel is often on the top of the news. For years, nearly half of the Afghan National Army recruits did not renew their contract. Over the last three years the number of desertions has dramatically raised, reaching a terrifying level of one deserter out of three recruits. These facts are well known. They have been properly addressed in more than one official reports. National and international media have echoed these facts on a regular basis. Yet, no specific action has been taken so far to remedy this situation.
Several thousands of new recruits are enrolled every month within the National Security Forces. Given the capacities of the recruiters, it is likely that little attention is paid to the motivations and the morality of the recruits. Besides, during the decade long unprofessional, ethnic or politics based, recruitment policies have led to a situation where the officers with many years of service are not more reliable than newly enrolled soldiers (the killer of the two American advisors inside the Ministry of Interior, February 25th, 2012 had several years of service record in the intelligence).
General Dempsey formally requested from Afghan leaders to do something. President Karzai promised that he will take care of the problem. But no one seems to know what to do and how to do it.
One reason, why Afghan conflict ran out of control in the very early stage of the operation Enduring Freedom, is that the international alliance overlooked the formation of the Afghan National Security Forces.
The Bonn Agreement, in 2001, established a goal of 50,000 strong Afghan National Army and 62,000 strong Afghan National Police within two years. But a short-sighted vision of the American military, trying to minimize immediate American war casualties, led the US to sub-contract the Afghan war to the warlords, instead of investing in the development of legal Afghan security forces. After a three-years decrease in insurgency activities (from 2002 to 2004), while the war was gaining new intensity, the ANSF were still in limbo.
Afghan generals, whose vision of the security was that of the Cold War, thought Afghanistan needed strong, rather plethoric, armed forces. Afghan politicians, who are caught in day to day compromised-based politics, did not come with a realistic vision of what kind of security was needed for the country. The 50,000 goal was reevaluated to 80,000 and later to more 350,000 before sizing down to about 230,000 in Chicago (May, 2012). Yet nobody has explained the rationale behind these variations in the numbers. All over the time, discussions ran on the quantitative grounds: how many soldiers? How much equipment, how many billions? Nobody has publicly discussed the security needs of the country to justify the quantities suggested.
As far as the qualitative aspects of the Afghan Security Forces, both from a technical training and equipment point of view and from the point of view of the human qualities of the recruits, are not addressed and as far as the relationship between Afghan soldiers and their foreign supporter has not reached the “brotherhood of spirit and fraternity in arm” blue-on-green incidents will happen. The number of such incidents, will grow in parallel with the disengagement of the NATO forces, until direct interaction between the two bodies comes to an end.
Risk management in this regard can only mean better monitoring of the ANSF recruitment procedures and plunge more directly Afghan forces in the fight against insurgency. “Purification by fire” can be an option to produce trustworthy Afghan Security Forces. Thanks to this kind of “purification” opportunistic elements will not find few hundred dollars of monthly wages worth dying for and infiltrated elements will have to wait much longer before finding the right circumstances to carry out a suicide attack that can inflict losses to the enemy.
The mistrust that exists, and grows every day, will make it difficult for NATO forces to work in a constructive manner with their Afghan counterparts. To handle this problem, while the transfer of responsibilities constitutes fantastically challenging environment for this much needed cooperation, requires an optimization of the interactions. The Afghan Forces and their NATO supporters will have to find common ground to feel safe on both sides and to work together, without a 100% synergy. This is likely to complicate the cooperation during the very crucial period of the responsibility transfer. However, these incidents will not completely jeopardize the transfer process as these incidents remain quite marginal.
If by end 2014, the Afghan National Security Forces are to grow up to 350,000 while the desertion rate is well over 30% and the contract renewal rate is under 60%, there is no way to allocate resources to the qualitative growth of the security means in Afghanistan. Ministries of Defense and Interior will have much to do in recruiting and roughly training many thousands of new security personnel. Under these circumstances, it seems illusory to contain the entryism of the Taliban or other influence groups and to prevent opportunist elements to take advantage of the situation.
With such a background, the ludicrous decision taken by provincial authorities in the South, asking ANA candidates to cease visiting their families in Pakistan are the only likely preventive measures.
A strong and decisive shift in strategic vision is needed to address the security issues during the transition period.
What type of security does Afghanistan need?
Afghanistan’s territorial integrity cannot be guaranteed through military means. Among Afghanistan’s neighbors two are to be considered as potential threat: Iran and Pakistan. Both are nuclear powers (or close to become nuclear powers) with huge armies and unstable political regimes. Whatever the strength of the Afghan army, it is not merely conceivable for Afghanistan to enter in a frontal war with one of these two countries. Afghanistan’s border can only be safe, if Afghanistan can rely on strong support from a super power. The strategic agreement with the United State is such a tool. The mission of the ANA is not to safeguard Afghanistan’s external security but to prevent internal rebellions trying to destabilize the legal regime of the country. For such a task a large army with plethoric infantry is useless. Air force with jet fighters and bomber planes is no more needed. Instead, a small, mobile, well-trained, reliable commando force is far enough to face insurgencies anywhere in the country and to handover to police forces after stabilizing the situation.
As for the Police, a reasonably sized, well trained, well equipped, mobile anti-criminal and quick action force along with a large, effectively managed and supervised corpse of proximity peace keeping force is far enough to supply Afghans with needed security.
Besides a well managed, effective intelligence service does not necessarily need to count thousands of agents. Professionally analyzing collected intelligence information and pragmatically directing intelligence effort can help preventing many insurgency attacks before they happen with no more than a few thousand personnel.
With this shift of vision, the ANA will have less than 50,000 personnel which can easily be controlled, managed, trained and equipped. Besides, by nature, a commando force will not be penetrated by opportunistic elements whose only motivation is to get a good pay.
General Dempsey asked President Karzai to watch carefully his security forces in order to make it easy for NATO to hand over security responsibilities to the Afghans. President Karzai has promised to do so. Who will help the US led NATO and President Karzai to adopt reasonable strategic options for a secure Afghanistan?
About the author: Najib Manalai, 54, is an Afghan poet, writer and political analyst. He has authored several books on Afghan litterature. Educated in France, he publishes literary works and political analysis in various Afghan Media outlets, and writes regular columns for BBC Pashto website. He works as a senior advisor in the Afghan Ministry of Finance. He also has served as senior advisor to the Minister of Information and culture and as deputy minister for culture.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org