UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)

The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimated the literacy rate for the entire ANSF at approximately 14%, but it did not provide rates for the ANA and ANP separately. Whether it was ever a realistic goal to create a Western-style army in one of the world’s poorest countries, with a literacy rate of 40 percent and a social and political culture far from the developed sense of nationhood underpinning the US military, is an open question.

The dramatic collapse of Afghanistan's armed forces in 2021 which allowed a Taliban takeover of Kabul's corridors of power, was made possible by ethnic divisions in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and the lack of US airstrikes targeting Taliban leadership after 2019, the latest report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) revealed on 28 February 2023.

In only 30 days, the Taliban captured all 34 provinces in Afghanistan—33 of the 34 within a 10-day period starting on August 6. By August 15, 2021, the Taliban did chilling "victory rounds" in Kabul to mark their return to power. By this time, President Ghani fled the country and the United States completed its military withdrawal, giving away the fate of over 40 million Afghan citizens to Taliban hardliners.

The SIGAR report, which reviewed why Afghan security forces collapsed after the United States began withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, instead of squarely attributing the Taliban's comeback to former President Ashraf Ghani's lack of control over the nation's state of security affairs, pointed out that Washington failed in its "stated goal of creating a self-sustaining Afghan military" in nearly two decades that its forces were stationed in the country in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks.

Since 2002, the United States allocated nearly $90 billion in security assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), with the goal of "developing an independent, self-sustaining force capable of combating both internal and external threats." The goal fell flat shortly after the US signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha in February 2020, while blindsiding the Afghan stakeholders. The agreement stipulated that the United States would withdraw all its military personnel and contractors from Afghanistan by May 2021. In return, the Taliban promised not to attack the United States or allow attacks from Afghanistan on the United States or its allies, and to enter into intra-Afghan peace negotiations.

Several former Afghan and senior United States officials told SIGAR that the Biden administration's withdrawal process was "abrupt and uncoordinated—in particular, the withdrawal of contractor support for the ANDSF." The report added "The United States perpetuated pre-existing ethnic and regional tensions rather than achieving stated mission goals of force diversity and unification".

One former U.S. commander in Afghanistan told SIGAR, "We built that army to run on contractor support. Without it, it can’t function. Game over…when the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the Jenga pile and expected it to stay up."

The report said that former President Ashraf Ghani frequently changed Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) leaders and "appointed loyalists, often on the basis of ethnicity". This, the report added, "weakened chains of command, morale, and trust in the ANDSF." The leadership changes in the ANDSF often came by presidential decrees, the report revealed.

The report said that following the U.S.-Taliban agreement in Doha in February 2020, President Ghani began to suspect that the U.S. wanted to remove him from power. Ghani feared a military coup and became a "paranoid president... afraid of his own countrymen" and of U.S.-trained Afghan officers.

The former president had an "undeniable belief in ethnic superiority, and among the political and military elites he trusted only those who agreed with him," a former Afghan army commander, General Farid Ahmadi, was quoted as saying in the report. According to another Afghan official, Ghani believed that "in a tough time in Afghanistan, you need to really, control the security forces, and that loyalty [from] those security forces only comes if most of the soldiers…are from your own tribe." By the time Kabul collapsed, Pashtuns headed most of the Afghanistan National Army and Afghanistan Air Force corps, including several from Ghani’s Ahmadzai tribe, the report said.

The US conducted 7,423 airstrikes in 2019 — then stopped anti-Taliban air raids abruptly. The report said that in 2019, the United States conducted 7,423 airstrikes in Afghanistan, "the most since at least 2009", targeting Taliban and Islamic State leadership hideouts and supply lines. But the U.S. military support to the ANDSF came to an "abrupt end" after Washington signed Doha agreement with the Taliban on February 29, 2020.

American officers had long worried that rampant corruption, well documented in parts of Afghanistan’s military and political leadership, would undermine the resolve of badly paid, ill-fed and erratically supplied front-line soldiers - some of whom had been left for months or even years on end in isolated outposts, where they could be picked off by the Taliban. Over many years, hundreds of Afghan soldiers were killed each month. But the army fought on, without any of the airborne evacuation of casualties and expert surgical care standard in Western armies, as long as international backing was there. Once that went, their resolve evaporated.

The Taliban made major advances throughout Afghanistan in July and August 2021, showing that the US’s efforts to transform the country’s military into an independent-fighting, robust force had failed. Despite about $89 billion budgeted by the US for training the Afghan army, it took the Taliban little more than a month to brush it aside, entering Kabul 15 August 2021.

The disintegration of the Afghan military became apparent in early 2021 when starving and ammunition-depleted forces were surrounded by Taliban fighters who promised them safe passage if they surrendered, leaving their equipment behind. The forces had run out of food and did not have air support. This then gave the extremist group more control over some roads which then led to greater control over entire districts.

The number of soldiers in the country’s military numbered at around 300,000 on paper, but the total number was actually around one-sixth of that. Dependent on a small number of elite Special Forces units that were shunted from province to province as more cities fell to the Taliban, the already high rate of desertion in the regular army soared.

The chronic failure of logistical, hardware and manpower support to many units, meant that “even if they want to fight, they run out of the ability to fight in relatively short order.” Afghan forces were forced repeatedly to give up after pleas for supplies and reinforcements went unanswered, either because of incompetence or the simple incapacity of the system to deliver.

As the depleted government forces started to collapse, local militias were recruited that were loyal to prominent regional leaders such as Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum in the northern province of Faryab or Ismail Khan in Herat, according to Reuters. As the Taliban advanced, Dostum fled to Uzbekistan as the Taliban advanced and Khan surrendered to the Taliban.

President Ghani ordered the mandatory retirement of 164 generals in February 2018 as a further effort to reform the ANDSF and to improve security. On August 23, 2017, two days after the United States unveiled its South Asia Strategy, President Ghani announced the establishment of the Afghanistan Compact, a set of specific reform measures the Afghan government had voluntarily committed to fulfill and allow the United States to monitor. Examples of significant accomplishments within the security portion of the Compact include the transfer of the Afghan Border Police from MoI to MoD. Many challenges remained by mid-2018, however, including the transfer of the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) from the MoI to the MoD.

The reorganization included the transfer of most of the Afghan Border Police (ABP) from the MoI to the MoD in December 2017, renaming them the Afghan Border Force (ABF). Although the MoI maintained 4,000 ABP personnel to conduct customs operations at border crossing points and at airports, the ABF responsible for security along the Afghan border realigned with the regional ANA corps to address previous security gaps between ABP and ANA units. In March 2018, the majority of the ANCOP transitioned from the MoI to the MoD becoming the Afghan National Civil Order Force (ANCOF). The ANCOF mission did not change, and they were used primarily as crisis response units in urban areas. Some ANCOP forces remained in the MoI and were renamed the Public Protection Service (PPS). The PPS are now the MoI’s primary riot control force. These transfers were not without challenges, and issues with logistics, accountability of equipment, and personnel management will require sustained effort to resolve.

SIGAR had persistent concerns surrounding the increased classification of ANDSF data for the prior two quarters (October 2017 and January 2018). With regard to the classification of data USFOR-A provides to SIGAR, according to USFOR-A, much of this data was classified or restricted from public release at the request of the Afghan government. USFOR-A said that the issue began with a request from President Ghani to General Nicholson in October to classify ANDSF casualty data. Then in December 2017, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Hanif Atmar communicated to USFOR-A that the Afghan government considered classified all data that fell under seven broad topical areas: command-and-control information, personnel staffing, training, casualty data, operational readiness, equipping, and resourcing and sustainability. Because Afghanistan is a sovereign nation, USFOR-A officials said they had to respect the Afghan request and classify the data accordingly.

In 2010, ISAF leaders and President Hamid Karzai agreed to a transition process at the Lisbon Summit. According to the agreed roadmap, Afghan security forces were to take on full security responsibility for their country by the end of 2014. The transition process officially started on 22 March 2011, with the announcement of the first group of provinces, districts and cities to be handed over to Afghan security leadership. On 18 June 2013, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) formally assumed the lead for combat operations across the country. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) continued to support ANSF operations. President Karzai also announced the fifth and final group of Afghan provinces, cities, and districts to undergo transition in the coming months. This would support the goal of complete transition of responsibility for security to the Government of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

On May 21, 2012, the leaders of the 50 countries contributing to the NATO mission in Afghanistan met in Chicago and agreed to a new transition timetable that would put Afghan security forces in charge of security throughout the country by the summer of 2013. The United States and its coalition partners had been building the ANSF to a combined strength of 352,000 soldiers and police. NATO leaders agreed to scale back the total force to a more financially sustainable 228,500 by 2017, security conditions permitting. They estimated it will cost $4.1 billion per year to maintain a force of this size.

Building Afghanistan's capacity to provide for its own security was a major priority of the US effort in the country following the ouster of the Taliban in 2002. Besides efforts to defeat the Taliban-led insurgency and provide reconstruction and development to Afghanistan's people, the US and its international partners, and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) were focused on fielding and sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The ANSF conisted of the Afghan National Army (ANA; which included the ANA Air Corps and later the Afghan Air Force), under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, and Afghan National Police (ANP), under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. These forces represented critical pillars for establishing security and stability in Afghanistan. The long-term goal was to build and develop ANSF that were nationally respected; professional; ethnically balanced; democratically accountable; organized, trained, and equipped to meet the security needs of the country; and increasingly funded from GIRoA revenue.

The plan for ANSF development was consistent with the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). The ANDS laid out the strategic priorities and mechanisms for achieving the government's overall development vision. The plan for developing the ANSF was also consistent with the Afghanistan Compact, an agreement which defined a political partnership between the GIRoA and the international community. According to the compact, the international community committed itself to providing the budgetary, materiel, and training support necessary to develop national military forces, police services, and associated ministerial structures and the GIRoA committed itself to providing the human resources and political will. Although the US was the primary provider of ANSF training and development, other international members were contributing to the effort. The lead US agency responsible for this developemnt was the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan (CSTC-A). It operated alongside the NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan (NTM-A), with the US Commander of CSTC-A being dual-hatted as the Commander of NTM-A.

The 2001 Bonn Agreement established the goal of a 50,000-person ANA and a 62,000-person ANP. The Bonn II Agreement in December of 2002 expanded the ANA target end-strength to 70,000 personnel. Since the Bonn Agreements and the international declaration of the Afghanistan Compact in 2006, security condition evolved, with a resurgence of activity by insurgents and anti-government elements. Consequently, in May 2007, the international community's Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) approved an increase to 82,000 authorized ANP. Similarly, with the endorsement of the JCMB on 5 February 2008, the authorized ANA force structure increased to 80,000 personnel, with an additional 6,000 allotted for the trainee, transient, hospital, and student account.

Since initial publication in June 2008, the Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan had provided the U.S. Congress semi-annual assessments on developments in Afghanistan and the state of the international coalition’s civil-military campaign. The June 2008 report presented a bleak assessment of the situation in Afghanistan: “The Taliban regrouped after its fall from power and had coalesced into a resilient insurgency.” A year later the situation had declined further; as noted in the June 2009 report: “The security situation continued to deteriorate in much of Afghanistan.” However, these trends gradually began to change as shifts in strategy were supported by critical resources, and in November 2010, the report for the first time highlighted “modest gains in security, governance, and development in operational priority areas,” noting as well their uneven and fragile character. The last three iterations reported that progress has continued to expand, with the most recent report in October 2011 highlighting “important security gains” and “reversal of violence trends in much of the country.”

During the reporting period of October 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its Afghan partners had continued to build on and expand this progress. The year 2011 saw the first year-over-year decline in nationwide enemy-initiated attacks in five years. These trends had continued in 2012. The performance of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the close partnership between the ANSF and ISAF had been keys to this success. As a result, the ANSF continue to develop into a force capable of assuming the lead for security responsibility throughout Afghanistan. Security progress and the development of the ANSF during the reporting period had enabled the security Transition process to continue in accordance with Lisbon Summit commitments. As of the end of the reporting period, nearly 50 percent of Afghans were living in areas where the ANSF had begun to assume the lead for security.

The relationship between ISAF and the Afghan Government and its security forces endured significant shocks during the reporting period stemming from: the video release of U.S. Marines defiling corpses presumed to be Taliban fighters; the inadvertent burning of religious materials, including the Holy Quran, by U.S. personnel at Bagram Air Base; "green-on-blue" attacks in which members of the ANSF killed ISAF personnel, such as the killing of two U.S. military officers at the Afghan Ministry of Interior; and the killing of seventeen Afghan civilians in Panjwa’I District, Kandahar Province, allegedly by a lone U.S. Soldier. Although widespread demonstrations sparked by the Quran burnings triggered violence that led to the death of several Afghan citizens, the vast majority of ANSF personnel across the country responded professionally and played a critical role in managing the demonstrations, containing violence, and protecting both Afghan citizens and numerous ISAF and international community facilities and personnel. The effective ANSF response, conducted in accordance with training, demonstrated preparedness to respond to unexpected challenges, commitment to mission, and durability in the relationship with ISAF that withstood impassioned calls by demonstrators to exact retribution amidst a highly charged environment.

At least 4,100 service members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) forces were kileed during the first six months of the year 2015. The latest statistic regarding the Afghan National Security Forces casualties was a 50% increase as compared to the first six months of the year 2014. At least 7,800 service members of the Afghan National Security Forces were wounded during the same period.

At least 100 Afghan police and border officers defected to the Taliban in the largest mass surrender since the United States and NATO forces ended their combat mission at the end of 2014. The Afghan security forces surrendered 25 July 2015 after clashing with Taliban fighters for three days at the Tirgaran base in Badakhshan province, in the remote northeastern part of the country. The local police commander was among those who defected, turning over the base's weapons and ammunition. The head of the provincial council, Abdullah Naji Nazari, said, "No reinforcements were sent to help the police at the base for the past three days when they were under the attack and finally they had no option: They had to join the Taliban."

In a statement, the Taliban claimed its fighters had taken control of several security installations in the area and had captured 110 members of the national security forces. Some officials were reported as saying that the commanders had “made a deal” with the Taliban and that the surrender included handing over all the weapons and equipment at the base to the Taliban. The Taliban later said in an another statement that local elders had negotiated the release of captured policemen, and that it had obtained guarantees they would not rejoin the Afghan national forces.

ANDSF performance over the entire fighting season and the last six months of 2015 was uneven and mixed. The ANDSF demonstrated a growing capability to plan and execute large-scale offensive operations while, as expected, significant challenges remain in the areas of ANDSF leadership, combat enablers, logistics and sustainment, and ministerial capacity. Following successful ANDSF cross-pillar [operations in which more than one ANDSF force component, or pillar, participates] offensive operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan early in the 2015 fighting season, many of the known and persistent challenges and shortfalls became increasingly evident as the Afghan government reacted to Taliban offensives. These shortfalls and challenges hampered ANDSF execution of planned offensive operations and effectively stalled the campaign plan for the second half of 2015 and the corresponding operational initiative.

The Taliban offensives in Helmand and Kunduz in 2014 demonstrated that the ANDSF remained reactive. This allowed the Taliban to foster the impression that the ANDSF cannot control key population centers. Even when the ANDSF was able to regroup and reclaim key population centers and symbols of Afghan governance, this undermined public confidence that the government can protect the Afghan people and overshadowed the numerous successes the ANDSF had in clearing insurgent sanctuaries. Recent surveys show that over the course of a tough fighting season public confidence in the ANDSF eroded slightly, though it still remained high at 70 percent compared to 78 percent in March 2015 and 72 percent in June 2015.

Despite a positive trajectory, the ANDSF had a long way to go. Although the ANDSF had capability advantages over the insurgent forces, they remained reluctant to pursue the Taliban into their traditional safe havens. Given the ANDSF’s stage of development in 2015, they cannot manage the insurgency and ensure security and stability across Afghanistan without further improvement in key enabling capabilities, competent operational-level leaders, and continued development of human capital.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 28-02-2023 15:18:53 ZULU