On May 12, the International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report entitled A Force in Fragments: Reconstituting the Afghan National Army, which assesses the progress made to date on reforming and rebuilding the ANA so that it becomes capable of assuming full responsibility for security in Afghanistan by 2015.
Overall, the report cites a lack of “agreement between the government of President Hamid Karzai and its international backers on what kind of army the country needs, how to build it or which elements of the insurgency the Afghan army should be fighting” (p. i).
Moreover, despite investments of $10 billion in the ANA from 2002-2008 and $822 million in equipment donations to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSFs) (p. 2), the ANA is still constrained by:
- High attrition rates, estimated at 25 percent (see note 9, p. 2); however, the report recognizes that retention rates have improved “due to salary increases and improvements in pay delivery systems” (p. 19). As well, there is also a dropout rate of 16 percent during basic training (p. 17).
- A deficit of trainers, which the report estimates at 2,504 as of January 2010 (p. 9). ICG reports that in order to meet the set timelines for army personnel expansion, the basic infantry course has been reduced from ten to eight weeks (p. 17); however, as noted in CIGI’s Dispatches from the Field blog, the training days have been lengthened and weekends shortened to maintain the same number of training hours.
- The current focus on training ANSFs recruits has overshadowed meaningful investments in equipment and infrastructure. According to the report, infrastructure development has not kept pace with recruitment and “only about 40 percent of required military bases [are] constructed or underway” (p. 17).
- A reliance on “US and ISAF forces for tactical elements such as supplies and transport” (p. 9), which hampers the ANA as it strives to play a more prominent role in counterinsurgency operations (p. 21). This problem is also linked to the current focus on increasing the number of trained infantrymen rather than seeking a “balance between combat and specialized support training”; in fact, the report mentions “shortfalls in NCOs and senior officers and troops with specialized skills such as medicine, transportation and logistics” (p. 17).
- Poor coordination between the various domestic and international stakeholders involved in rebuilding the ANA. While the report argues that initially the “patchwork command structures” inhibited effective coordination, some progress has been made in improving communication between ISAF, US forces, and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) (p. i). The creation of the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) in April 2009 is another positive development that places both army and police training under the control of one entity, in contrast to the assignment of ANA training to the US and ANP training to Germany during the Petersberg process in 2002.
- Problems transferring knowledge and retaining institutional memory due to “rapid” rotations of Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) personnel and the overwhelming use of contractors (p. 9).
- Factionalism and a lack of ethnic diversity, especially in the officer corps and NCO class (p. 19), has contributed to corruption and resulted in a fragmented force that the ICG report argues has “significant ramifications for winning hearts and minds” (p. 20).
- Bureaucratic delays, ranging from centralized approval for promotions to poorly defined lines of authority (p. iii, 27).
The report also highlights the increasing tension between quantity and quality, again mirroring previous discussions about ANP training and the importance of leadership development. The quality of recruits is a key concern – the report estimates that anywhere from 20-85 percent of ANA soldiers are addicted to drugs, a problem that is also common among ANP officers.
As well, pressures from international partners to rapidly increase the size of the ANA from 112,000 (as of March 2010) to 134,000 by October and 240,000 by 2014 arguably do not “reflect actual operational capacity” (p. 16) or financial affordability since it has been estimated that it will cost $3.5 billion/year to support the growth of the ANSFs and $2.2 billion/year to maintain (p. 24). Interestingly, the report suggests that since most security sector funding comes from Afghanistan’s international partners, “the withholding of funds could be used as a lever to spur change” and encourage the speedy passage of ANA-related legislation (p. 16).
The report also provides a list of recommendations to the Afghan government, MoD, the Afghan parliament, NATO, and the US (p.ii-iii), although the overall message is that better coordination and a long-term perspective is needed to facilitate the development of a more unified, capable, and professional ANA.