NATO Training Mission In Afghanistan: Paving Way For Secure Afghan State? – Analysis

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By Justin D. Wallestad and Dr. Theodore Karasik

“Only after Afghanistan’s security institutions are self-sufficient and self-sustaining will it be possible for the Afghan government to make geographic transition gains durable.”– LTG Caldwell Former Commanding Officer for NTM-A 2009-2011

The geographical transition of responsibility from NATO-led security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)– beginning this last summer – were anything but envisioned by policymakers in Washington two years ago, let alone academics who suggested a de facto partition separating the northern Tajiks from the southern Pashtuns in Afghanistan presented the only feasible solution to bringing an end to the war.

Tasked with reversing the negative growth trends of the ANSF, NTM-A has sought to bridge the gap between international quantity benchmark requirements and Afghanistan’s desperate need for leadership quality by streamlining the recruitment, training and leadership development processes, emphasizing literacy and vocational skill-sets, instilling an ethos of stewardship all the while nurturing the necessary institutions and key-enablers for an enduring security outlook in Afghanistan. NTM-A has demonstrated NATO’s continued relevancy and scope in today’s international affairs. Supported by 37 countries – representing one-sixth of the world – NTM-A currently trains Afghan National Army, Air Force and Police at over 70 sites in 21 provinces, amounting to an estimated 30,000 Afghans actively training on any given day.

Although greater attention was given to the U.S. surge in 2010, there still remains to be told the story of an Afghan surge that followed. Where there was once an Afghan Security Force consisting of 97,000 soldiers and 94,000 police, there now stands in total an ethnically-balanced force of just over 300,000 ANSF– well on its way to meet the internationally-approved strength of 352,000 by October 2012. Some question, however, the success of promoting a shared responsibility between Tajiks and Pashtuns despite recruitment of southern Pashtuns exceeding previous goals and reinforcing the Pashtun plurality of 44 percent in the Army.

While recruits are provided with adequate equipment from up-armored HMMWVs and NATO tackle-gear for the Afghan National Army (ANA) to high-quality AK-47 donations from former Soviet bloc states in support of the Afghan National Police (ANP), many still wonder whether these measures are sufficient enough to address the apparent disparity between combat readiness of all units throughout the ANSF. In recognition of the ANP as most likely to participate in criminal activities to include accepting bribes and drug trafficking due to easy access and tribal ties upon return from training, the NTM-A increased ANP basic patrolman wages to the same level as an Army private in hopes of deterring further police corruption. Even gender integration has rapidly changed the face of the ANSF with its accelerated addition of a thousand more women per year over the next five years – proving to be a vital asset in ANSF ability to provide security for all Afghans.

Afghan-NATO combined teams will continue to conduct patrols in Helmand, expel insurgents in Paktika and recover caches in Khwost in the near-term; however, the ANSF has already taken sole responsibility for the security of seven designated areas throughout Afghanistan and is projected to assume lead security for 50 percent of the population by the end of the year, exceeding skeptic assessments that still haunt aspects of the war effort in Iraq. Nevertheless, there still remain specific ingredients necessary for a successful transition.

Needed Ingredients for a Successful Transition: From Literacy to Enduring Institutions

NTM-A grew from a bilateral-led program with less than 30 trainers in 2009 – many of which were defense contractors – to a multinational command providing more than 1,700 Army, Air Force, and Police trainers. Working shohnabashohna – shoulder-to-shoulder – these trainers continue to provide internationally recognized and standardized practices from the European Union (EU) Police to the German Police Project Team with hopes of achieving Afghan-led police training by December 2012.

Under Jordanian oversight, Afghan police sergeants and young Afghan police lieutenants have already begun to firmly take the helm of training at the Police Regional Training Center in Laghman province, as more than 8,000 young Afghans voluntarily report to recruiting stations every month. Although some are disqualified for not meeting minimum age requirements while others for medical conditions, the geographic transition that began this last July demonstrates the increasingly positive perception of Afghan security, reflected in international opinion polls underscoring Afghan confidence in the ANSF. Unfortunately, the mass-production of infantrymen that had dominated Afghan training strategies until late 2009 did little to create a sustainable security force, especially as the professionalization of the ANSF moved to the forefront of importance in building an enduring Afghan Security apparatus.

As of early August, the Turkish government in conjunction with Afghanistan, Japan, and NATO officially opened a Police Officer Candidate School in Sivas, Turkey, with hopes of addressing the dire need to close the gap between Afghan Police Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO). Every effort to accelerate leadership development has resulted in a near 20,000 Afghan Police and 26,000 Afghan Army Officer and NCO increase since 2009. The ANSF shift from an infantry-centric force to a self-sustaining force raised the importance of establishing an indigenous training base to ensure Afghans have the capability to maintain the same level of combat readiness in terms of maintenance, medical care, intelligence, and logistical support systems. At the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, the Combined Sergeants Major Course, the Afghan National Police Academy, and NCO leader development courses unite under the banner of the Afghan National Security University, the vocational skills essential to the logistical functions of sustaining ANSF capabilities have prompted the expansion of twelve specialty schools that offer training in Explosive Ordnance and Disposal (EOD), Human Resources (HR), Engineering, Medical, among others; differing greatly from the security situation in Iraq due to the nation’s overwhelmingly low rate of literacy and lack of defense-related infrastructure.

The ANSF in 2009 stood at an overall estimated literacy rate of 14 percent; roughly speaking, nine out of ten police could neither read nor write. Following Afghan Ministry of Education guidelines, NTM-A has employed over 3,000 Afghan teachers in order to provide recruits with 64 hours of mandatory literacy instruction with the intent of raising all ANP trainees to a third grade level sufficient enough for daily expectations. As of late October 2011, over 127,119 soldiers and police have achieved some level of literacy along with another 103,004 more still in training as the ANSF rapidly approaches a 50 percent literacy rate as a result of these measures. Seen as an essential precursor to professionalization and a key to expanding Afghan human capital, literacy training has been accredited as the primary reason many Afghans decide to join the ANSF. Reducing ANSF illiteracy not only increases the cohesiveness of the entire ANA chain-of-command and ensures orders are followed but enables the ANP with the means to read and understand the laws in which they are expected to enforce and conduct essential civil service functions once overlooked or neglected.

The viable threat of insurgent intrusion and combat stress related casualties within the ANSF have required NTM-A, Afghan security ministries and intelligence to develop a proactive multilayered defense and screening process with the purpose of providing precautionary steps in rooting out potential threats at the point of recruitment. From tribal elder letters of recommendation to iris scans, this eight-step process is embedded in Afghan cultural context and enabled by modern-technologies. All of these efforts, among others presently employed by the NTM-A, are working to build a capable, affordable and sustainable Afghan Security Force that has the potential to draw together one of the most diversified nations of the world; perhaps paving the way for a secure Afghan State.

Why a Secure Afghanistan is of Interest to the GCC

Afghan security is paramount to the national security of the GCC, not only in terms of deterring the spread of Iranian influence from southern Iraq into western parts of Afghanistan, continued violence coupled with the effects of the 2008 global economic crisis have negatively impacted Afghan livelihood and increases the prospect of GCC states to suffer from sudden migration of Afghan expatriate communities should the situation in Afghanistan deteriorate. For example, in GCC states industrial zones are increasingly becoming “Talibanized” by the increasing number of expat workers from Afghanistan and a flood of refugees could get out of control. Although Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have made efforts to mediate a deal in ending Taliban attacks on U.S. and NATO forces, the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, President Karzai’s peace envoy to the Taliban, in late September 2011 serves as a reminder that the country has a long road ahead in achieving any measure of stability.

While Afghan pilots receive training on UAE soil and the Emirates continues to serve as a centralized location in the transit of NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), defense contractors, and civilian envoys, the UAE is particularly interested in seeing a peaceful resolution reached in Afghanistan where its Special Operations Forces actively participate on the ground while Afghan money is moving daily into Dubai. All eyes are focusing on Afghanistan’s current and future trends.

Justin D. Wallestad, INEGMA Fall 2011 Intern & Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy, INEGMA


INEGMA is a Free Zone Limited Liability Company based in Dubai Media City, in the United Arab Emirates. Established in 2001, INEGMA was set up to provide media organizations, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, militaries and governments of the Middle East, and international private companies with various services related to military and strategic affairs.

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