Weak Afghan army’s readi­ness to take over by 2014 in doubt

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ASHISH KU­MAR SEN

A deadly spring of­fen­sive launched by the Tal­iban in Afghanistan has put the spot­light on the coun­try’s fledg­ling army, which West­ern of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts say is be­ing un­der­mined by corruption, the lack of rule of law and a weak gov­ern­ment in Kabul.

The army and po­lice also have had to con­tend with high at­tri­tion rates and low lev­els of lit­er­acy among re­cruits.

“To be hon­est, it is weak Afghan gov­ern­ment ca­pac­ity, corruption, and a lack of rule of law that un­der­mines any se­cu­rity han­dover and gains more than il­lit­er­acy and lack of equip­ment,” said a U.S. of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity cit­ing the sen­si­tive na­ture of the sub­ject.

Pres­i­dent Obama has said he will start with­draw­ing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July with the aim of end­ing the U.S. com­bat mis­sion and hand­ing over se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­ity to the Afghan gov­ern­ment by 2014.

How­ever, an­a­lysts and Afghan of­fi­cials doubt the Afghan se­cu­rity forces will be ready on time.

The death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a U.S. com­mando op­er­a­tion in Pak­istan on May 2 has prompted calls from some mem­bers of Congress for a quicker with­drawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Joshua Foust, a fel­low at the Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity Pro­ject and for­mer De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency an­a­lyst, said a large num­ber of Afghan Na­tional Army (ANA) units lack the kind of lead­er­ship that would help them be ef­fec­tive by 2014.

“With the num­ber of ANA di­vi­sions that have been able to be­come ef­fec­tive in the past three years or so, we have shown we are ca­pa­ble of fix­ing it, but I don’t think we are ca­pa­ble of fix­ing it fast enough by 2014,” he said.

An Afghan of­fi­cial, who spoke on back­ground, was sim­i­larly pes­simistic.

“We’re not re­luc­tant to take over the de­fense of our nation, but you can­not hope that by 2014 you will have an army in place,” he said.

A U.S. Gov­ern­ment Accountability Of­fice re­port in Jan­uary cau­tioned that the high rate of at­tri­tion could have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the Afghan army’s abil­ity to meet its goal of 171,600 per­son­nel by Oc­to­ber.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai has in­sisted that Afghan forces will take the se­cu­rity lead from the NATO-led coali­tion in some prov­inces in July.

Afghanistan’s am­bas­sador in Wash­ing­ton, Eklil Hakimi, also ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the han­dover will pro­ceed as planned, based on con­di­tions on the ground.

The Afghan army is slated to take con­trol of ar­eas with low lev­els of in­sur­gency, while the coali­tion forces will con­tinue to have the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of fight­ing the Tal­iban in its tra­di­tional strongholds in the south­ern and east­ern re­gions of Afghanistan.

In­sur­gents and crim­i­nals in the north and north­east some­times mas­quer­ade as Tal­iban but are more of­ten crim­i­nals in­volved in drug traf­fick­ing and high­way rob­bery. The Tal­iban heart­land is in the south.

Over the May 7-8 week­end, the Tal­iban launched an of­fen­sive, which in­cluded sui­cide bombers, in the south­ern prov­ince of Kan­da­har. U.S. of­fi­cials said the at­tack was the start of the ter­ror­ists’ spring of­fen­sive.

Mr. Hakimi said he ex­pects the Tal­iban to try to re­gain ar­eas lost to Afghan and coali­tion forces last win­ter.

“We’d be stunned if didn’t try,” he said.

Afghan se­cu­rity forces have been work­ing jointly with U.S. troops to counter the Tal­iban of­fen­sive in Kan­da­har. Mr. Hakimi cred­ited them with pre­vent­ing the Tal­iban’s of­fen­sive from be­com­ing the spec­tac­u­lar

they at­tack the planned.

How­ever, a West­ern diplo­mat, who spoke on back­ground, cau­tioned that the over­all gains in Afghanistan could be re­versed.

“It is there­fore cru­cial [. . . ] par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the tra­di­tional sum­mer fight­ing sea­son, to con­tinue to put pres­sure on the in­sur­gency and ex­tend the reach of the Afghan gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Kan­da­har prov­ince is gov­erned by Mr. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is fre­quently the tar­get of corruption al­le­ga­tions.

Shahmah­mood Mi­akhel, a for­mer deputy min­is­ter of in­te­rior in the Karzai ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the Tal­iban owes its con­tin­u­ing in­flu­ence to the lack of good gov­ern­ment in Afghanistan.

“The Tal­iban’s phys­i­cal power has been de­graded, but its in­flu­ence has not been re­duced due to an ab­sence of po­lice and gov­ern­ment struc­tures,” said Mr. Mi­akhel, who heads the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace’s Afghanistan pro­gram.

David Kil­cullen, au­thor of “The Ac­ci­den­tal Guer­rilla” and a coun­tert­er­ror­ism spe­cial­ist who has worked in Afghanistan, said the Karzai ad­min­is­tra­tion must fo­cus on im­prov­ing its le­git­i­macy through re­form and

ter­ror ists

had rule of law.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this is some­thing only Afghans can do. We can help, but they have to want it, too,” he added.

“No amount of know-how or en­thu­si­asm on the part of out­siders can com­pen­sate for lack of will on the part of rel­e­vant of­fi­cials.”

The Pen­tagon leads U.S. ef­forts to train and equip the Afghan army. Since 2002, U.S. agen­cies have al­lo­cated about $20 bil­lion in sup­port of this ef­fort and sought $7.5 bil­lion more for fis­cal 2011.

A key ques­tion on the minds of Afghan of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts is whether the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will be will­ing to sus­tain its fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment in Afghanistan be­yond 2014.

“Af­ter 2014, the Afghan army will still need tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial sup­port. The big ques­tion is whether in­ter­na­tional sup­port can be main­tained for the next five to 10 years,” said Mr. Mi­akhel.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment, which cov­ers a frac­tion of the cost of train­ing and equip­ping Afghan se­cu­rity forces, spends the largest por­tion of its an­nual bud­get on the army.

Afghanistan does not use a draft sys­tem mainly be­cause it lacks an ad­e­quate law en­force­ment or legal struc­ture to en­force it.

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