Afghans must take ownership of security in 2012
RUSI Analysis, 14 Dec 2011
With President Obama’s decision to reduce troop numbers throughout 2012 in Afghanistan, there will be an urgent emphasis to support Afghan forces fully take charge of their national security.
By John Nagl for RUSI.org
RUSI.org's 2012 Perspectives Series
For more expert perspectives of the year ahead, go to www.rusi.org/2012
Kabul - The winds of change are blowing across the Kabul plain. During a recent visit, it was clear that the war, or at least America's role in it, is on a downward slope. President Obama's decision to draw 10,000 troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, and another 23,000 by the end of next summer, makes 2012 a year of change in Afghanistan.
By the end of 2014, just three years from now, Afghans will be in charge of their own security throughout the country. America would like to leave behind a force of some 10,000 Special Forces and enablers like helicopter units to conduct counterterrorism operations throughout the region; President Karzai is likely to demand a similar number of American advisors to assist the fledgling Afghan National Army (ANA) and Police (ANP) in return. Come 2015, it will be Afghan forces, with a steel spine of American advisors and air power, that will determine whether the country's government continues to stand against pressure from the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
Although they have come a long way in the past two years, under the able mentorship of Lieutenant General William Caldwell, they are not yet up to the task. The ANA and ANP are good fighters, but they lack many of the skills required to succeed in modern warfare - planning and executing air and artillery support and logistics chief among them. They are hampered by low literacy rates and years of neglect from the United States, which only took on the task of increasing the size and capabilities of Afghan forces in a serious way beginning in 2009. Now the clock is ticking down to the time when they will have to take responsibility for their own national security.
And the United States can do more to make them ready for that challenge. While American forces should continue to take on the Haqqani network directly in Eastern Afghanistan, the mission of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, should change from 'Conduct Counterinsurgency' to 'Support Afghan forces conducting counterinsurgency' in 2012. A good time to announce the change of mission would be the NATO Summit to be hosted by President Obama in Chicago in May.
At that conference, the President is likely to announce a continuation of the troop drawdown in Afghanistan - from 90,000 at the end of this year, through the currently planned 68,000 by the autumn of 2012, to perhaps 50,000 by the end of 2013 and some 20,000 to remain in Afghanistan for some years after the Afghans assume control of their security in 2014. Commanders at all levels made strong cases for keeping 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan through 2013, but political and fiscal realities make that unlikely.
Decreasing US troop strength below 68,000 would make it impossible for international troops to maintain the lead in the Afghan counterinsurgency campaign. Afghan forces, which currently number 300,000 and are on track to reach their final planned level of 352,000 by the end of 2012, would have to take the lead. Some are ready to do so now, but most need more time - and all need international help to ensure that medical evacuation, air support, and artillery fires are readily available when the Afghans come under fire from their determined enemies.
The United States should embed American and international advisory teams inside every Afghan Army and Police formation over the course of 2012. These combat advisors would work to train the Afghans in garrison and fight with them against the Taliban and the Haqqanis. They would multiply the effectiveness of the Afghans. Most importantly, combat advisors would hasten the day when Afghans, not Americans and other international forces, will take the lead in defending their own country against the real threats it faces, and will continue to confront for many years to come. With American help, the Afghans can do it.
John Nagl is President of the Center for a New American Security. A retired Army officer, he served in both Iraq wars and recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan sponsored by ISAF.
The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.
Further Analysis: Counter-insurgency, Afghanistan, Central and South Asia