U.S.-Afghan agreement: Issues to be addressed

April 26, 2012

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The draft strategic partnership agreement between the U.S. and Kabul to address their relationship after the completion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal in 2014 has been arrived at after negotiations. The draft addresses the issues for ten years beyond 2014. A scrutiny of Afghan forces and the challenges they face highlights issues that merit inclusion in the agreement.

Currently, the ISAF has six regional commands including Kabul. These are the nerve centres from where operations are planned and conducted in respective regions. The ISAF needs to continue manning some of these headquarters, jointly with the Afghans, even after tactical operations are undertaken exclusively by Afghan forces. The headquarters located to oversee areas along the borders with Pakistan are more critical. Other headquarters may be downsized, or suitably merged and manned by Afghans alone. ISAF needs to also cater for adequate force levels being retained at critical headquarters to be able to decisively intervene should an adverse situation develop.

Afghans are divided along ethnic lines. Militaries have to owe allegiance to the central state authority. Afghan military leadership has not evolved from the rungs of professional soldiers. It accommodates political appointees. Further, Afghans are being trained by various armies thus injecting different cultures, tactics and drills. The price is paid in the area of cohesion. Americans will have to ensure that a professional officer cadre is raised in the years ahead and the armed forces emerge as a homogenous entity.

Recruitment and training of Afghan armed forces and police forces has picked up pace, however, the army has comparatively fewer Pushtuns who are otherwise the predominant ethnic segment. Afghan armed forces have to be more ethnically inclusive. Needless to say, the training of Afghan forces will have to be undertaken beyond 2014. The foremost necessity in counter insurgency operations is hard, actionable and timely intelligence. A weakening of the intelligence grid is also inevitably witnessed when troops operating in an area are relieved by new contingents. The human intelligence sources are sceptical till such time as they develop faith in their new handlers. Technical intelligence gathering, collation and analysis require properly trained personnel. With educational levels rather low even in the officer cadre, trainability is a major hurdle. This is one area that will require liberal provisioning of ISAF/U.S. manpower.

Rampant corruption afflicts the Afghan armed forces’ logistics supply chain. It derogatorily affects the trust that the Afghan military leadership commands among its rank and file. Americans will have to insist on greater accountability.

Though Afghan Special Forces are being trained, the Americans have to retain Special Forces for high value targets and complex operations, before the Afghans can master the complexity of coordination and precision that such operations entail. The Afghan National Air Force is a far cry from the quality of support that ISAF can provide. Air assets would also need to remain and play a vital role in keeping Kabul stable. Logistics, equipment maintenance and replacements are equally imperative to retain the combat potential of Afghan formations and units.

The standards of the Afghan National Police Force are as yet well below par, thus entailing the use of the armed forces where the police should have been adequate. Police forces have to be strengthened to free the armed forces for counterinsurgency operations.

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