Building a Capable, Affordable, and Sustainable Afghan National Security Force

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV
United States Army, commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, Commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.

For the past 22 months, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan has been implementing a comprehensive security force assistance program in Afghanistan. President Obama laid out the goals of this effort during his December 2009 speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point: “deny al Qaeda a safe haven…reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government… and strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces….”

Coalition special operations with Afghan Commandos have largely achieved the first goal, combined Coalition-Afghan ground and air forces are making daily progress on the second, and a significant number of the world’s countries are working on the third to ensure Afghans alone can defend Afghanistan. In order to strengthen Afghanistan’s security forces, we learned much from studying previous efforts to support Afghanistan control its borders, provide security for its people, and enable development.

The recent past (since 2001) suggests that unity of effort through partnership is essential; prior to the creation of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan in 2009, there were many disconnected efforts that did not produce the force Afghanistan and the region needed. However, over the past two years, the international community’s renewed efforts have put Afghanistan on a new course.

Multinational cooperation is essential to this effort and is producing visible results–Afghan Police are now trained before they are assigned, the Afghan Army increasingly has the capacity to clear insurgent strongholds, and the Afghan Air Force will soon have its own capability to train its own pilots. Making up for decades of war, a coalition-funded literacy program achieved a recent milestone with the 100,000th person trained and the total force is on track to be literate within three years.

To be sure, there is still much work to do, but the success of NATO efforts to develop the Afghan military is supporting Coalition force reductions and facilitating geographic transition, which started in July and continues through 2014.

As the international community cedes security responsibility to the Afghan government, institutional transition is equally important. The Afghan government must be capable of maintaining the military and police built under international auspices. A key lesson from Soviet efforts to develop the Afghan National Security Force is the tragedy of not creating self-sustaining and enduring institutions.

To ensure NATO does not repeat this mistake of the past, NTM-A follows the CAS

principle—all purchases must be capable, affordable, and sustainable for Afghanistan.

As we explained in Armed Forces Journal, “An item is capable if it meets the requirement to defeat the current threat and protect the people; it is affordable if it provides the best value over time; and it is sustainable if it is durable enough to withstand the harsh Afghan environment and is able to be maintained without international assistance.” With this in mind, the Afghan Air Force flies the Mi-17; the Afghan National Police officers drive the Ford Ranger; and the Afghan National Army deploys with up-armored HMMWVs many of which are refurbished from US forces in Iraq. And all Afghan service members now wear boots, uniforms, and tactical gear produced in Afghanistan.

To be certain, the Afghan economy and tax base cannot yet support the Afghan forces needed to relieve coalition forces of their security responsibilities. Yet, NTM-A and the government of Afghanistan are mindful of the financial sustainability challenge.  We continue to look for ways to become more efficient while improving effectiveness. What P.W. Singer reminded us about the U.S. defense budget is equally true for the Afghan defense budget, “Whereas efficiency is about “trimming fat” — seeking to achieve the very same output with slightly less inputs — effectiveness is about getting the right things done in the best possible manner. Both the means and the ends have to matter in how the country approaches this effort.” Following the CAS principle, we seek to build a capable, affordable, and sustainable Afghan National Security Force.

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009.

 

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