The training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in preparation to relieve international forces has been one of the key pillars of NATO’s strategy in Afghanistan. To further this goal, international forces have developed the Capability Milestone (CM) rating system, used for the past five years, to assess the training and development of ANSF units. The CM system is based on a four-point scale, with a rating of CM1 indicating that a unit is capable of independent operation. However, a recent Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) audit, Actions Needed to Improve the Reliability of Afghan Security Force Assessments concludes that the CM rating system has not provided reliable or consistent assessments. Assessments often used obsolete data, overstated capabilities and created disincentives for developing a CM1 rating.
The audit discovered significant backsliding among units, especially police, after attaining a CM1 rating. Rates of attrition are still quite high in the ANSF (12 percent in the ANA, 17 percent in the ANP), and new replacements were not trained to the level of the rest of the unit, resulting in steadily declining quality. Similarly the CM rating system itself created a disincentive for developing a CM1 rating, and an incentive for backsliding. When units attained a CM1 rating, international assistance such as force protection, supplies and expertise were withdrawn, increasing the risk of danger to the unit. The CM rating system often overstated unit rankings by relying on misleading quantitative measures, such as the number of supplies or assigned personnel. However, the rating failed to take disparities into account – for example, some CM1 units had a full supply of vehicles, but few trained drivers. Ratings also did not take reflect numbers of personnel present, and so overstated the capabilities of units that had had high levels of attrition. SIGAR also found a significant lack of quality control measures as ratings were moved up the command chain. There was regular use of out-dated data in reports, and high level personnel did not have access to the underlying reports used to generate assessments, making quality control difficult if not impossible.
There were also problems identified with the international training staff themselves. Trainers were often using different versions of the CM assessment system, especially between the ANP and the ANA, and were not penalized for partial completions of assessment forms, leading to unreliable and inconsistent reporting. There were also major personnel shortfalls, resulting in an overstretched training staff and compromising their ability to accurately conduct unit assessments. Poor security conditions sometimes prevented trainers from even making in-person contact with their units, yet trainers were still expected to fill out assessments. Finally, personnel were frequently undertrained for their duties, lacking familiarity with MOI and MOD regulations, as well as a full understanding of the CM assessment criteria.
SIGAR’s audit also identified broader issues that negatively affected the development of the ANSF. Many of these problems are already well known – illiteracy, drug abuse, and corruption. However, chief among these broader issues were the significant logistical challenges facing even CM1 units. The supply-request system was dysfunctional, with requests frequently disappearing and no feedback provided. This created a reliance on international military forces to provide supplies and eroded unit morale. Many CM1 units also lacked functioning facilities and had little to no access of water, electricity and fuel. Thus, even though a unit may have been declared CM1, it may have been unable to carry out patrols or man checkpoints independently due to a lack of supplies.
In April 2010, NATO announced it was moving away from the CM rating system to a new unit-assessment system. However the new assessment system risks developing the same problems that have been identified by SIGAR. Not only must the rating system be reformed, but the audit has demonstrated that the ANSF still needs a significant amount of development, even in top-rated units. SIGAR’s report makes the following recommendations for moving forward with the training and assessment process:
- Require a subjective assessment of unit capabilities
- Develop a manual for training staff that incorporates examples, best practices and MOI/MOD procedures
- Ensure constant ratings-level definitions in and between branches of the ANSF
- Incorporate present-for-duty figures in assessments
- Conduct independent validations of top-rated units
- Track the number of units un-assessed because of an un-submitted report or lack of trainer
- Reward, rather than punish units for attaining top-level status
- Implement functioning supply tracking system
- Systemically train new recruits assigned to already-trained units
- Train already-trained drivers to pass on knowledge to personnel in their unit