The Obameter

Train and equip the Afghan army

"Barack Obama will strengthen the training and equipping of the Afghan army and police and increase Afghan participation in U.S. and NATO missions, so that there is more of an Afghan face on security."


Significant gains in Afghanistan training, but many weaknesses remain

President Barack Obama promised that he would increase training for Afghanistan's military and police so that Afghans would take an increased role in maintaining security. The United States spent about $43 billion in the past ten years to recruit, arm and train military and local police forces. Another $11 billion was appropriated for 2012 alone.

That money has put some important pieces in place.

"In January 2009, there were roughly 140,000 total ANSF -- Afghan National Security Forces,” said Carl Moog, a Defense Department spokesman. "Now, we are nearing 352,000 total ANSF. Today, 75 percent of the population in Afghanistan resides in areas that are under transition to Afghan security lead.”

Several independent observers affirm that progress.  Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told House lawmakers that the ANSF "has indeed made impressive strides over the last several years.”  At another congressional hearing, Vanda Felbab-Brown with the Brookings Institution said, "The standing up of the ANSF has been one of the brightest spots of the transition process.”

Increasingly, Afghan forces are able to plan and carry out their own missions. When the Taliban attacks, they have proved that they can respond with minimal American support.

But despite these gains, fundamental weaknesses remain.  

"We should not be fooled by the rhetoric about Afghan competence and control coming from the administration,” Boot said. "This is largely happy talk to appease both the government of Afghanistan and American voters who want to see the U.S. role in Afghanistan decrease.”

In the complex world of military operations, Boot said the Afghan army still relies on Americans for many things that matter. The list includes planning, logistics, gathering intelligence, medical evacuations, air support and more. The Government Accountability Office reported that just 7 percent of army units and 9 percent of police had achieved the highest level of readiness, and even those numbers were questionable because the Defense Department had lowered the bar and redefined readiness from "independent” to "independent with advisors.”

The isolated attacks by individual members of the Afghan forces on their American partners have exposed a very fragile situation. So far, at least 53 international troops have been killed by people they thought were their allies. Taliban infiltration is blamed in some cases; in others, personal grievances and battle fatigue seemed to play a role.

The quest to double the number of security forces as quickly as possible might be part of the problem. Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies told members of the House Armed Services Committee that numerical goals mean little when fundamental codes of conduct are in doubt.

From top to bottom, the Afghan forces "present major problems in terms of unity, leadership, corruption, loyalty, and abuses that alienate the population,” Cordesman said.

"The Afghan National Police remains notorious for perpetrating many crimes,” Felbab-Brown said. And the police have largely been trained not in everyday policing, but in  counter-terrorism. "Crime -- murders, robberies, and extortion -- are the bane of many Afghans' daily existence. The inability of the Afghan government to respond to such crimes allows the Taliban to impose its own brutal forms of order and justice.”

Our ruling

Obama said he would increase training for the Afghan military and police so that they could play a larger role in maintaining security. The administration achieved its numerical goals, and the Afghan forces are much more capable than before.

However, independent analysts express little confidence that Afghans will be able to fend for themselves by the time American and NATO combat forces leave in 2014. Plus, there is great concern that the Afghan military and police will themselves prey on the public and undermine what little stability exists in the country today.

We rate the promise Compromise.


Interview with Carl Moog, spokesman, Department of Defense, November 6, 2012

Council on Foreign Relations, Testimony before House Armed Services Committee, Afghan National Security Forces: Resources, Strategy, and Timetable for Security Lead Transition, June 29, 2012

Brookings Institution, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Afghan National Security Forces: Afghan Corruption and the Development of an Effective Fighting Force, August 2, 2012

Center for Strategic and International Studies, Testimony before House Armed Services Sub-committee on Oversight and Investigations, Afghan National Security Forces and Security Lead Transition: The Assessment Process, Metrics, and Efforts to Build Capacity, July 24, 2012

Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction, Afghan National Security Forces facilities: Concerns with funding, oversight and sustainability for operations and maintenance, October 2012

Government Accountability Office, Long-standing challenges may affect progress and sustainment of Afghan National Security Forces, July 24, 2012

Washington Post, Afghan security force's rapid expansion comes at a cost as readiness lags, October 20, 2012

CBS News, Apparent Afghan insider attack kills NATO troops, October 30, 2012

Trainers in Afghanistan now

President Barack Obama promised that he would increase training for Afghanistan's military and police so that Afghans would take an increased role in maintaining security.

Earlier this year, Obama authorized more U.S. troops for Afghanistan, and as part of that effort he also authorized additional military trainers.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Sept. 15, 2009, about the status of military training in Afghanistan.

Mullen said Obama authorized approximately 4,000 additional trainers, who were expected to be in place in Afghanistan by the end of September, bringing the total authorized training force to about 6,500. Mullen said he thought it would take two to three years to train the forces appropriately, though the army was farther along than the police.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman, urged increasing the targets for the numbers of Afghan military and police.

"We need to expand the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police well beyond the current target of 134,000 soldiers and 96,000 police personnel by 2010," Levin said. "Most of the members of this committee urged four months ago in a letter the establishment of a goal of 250,000 Afghan troops and 160,000 Afghan police by 2013. Hopefully that goal will be adopted and the target set for the end of 2012."

Mullen said that higher goal would take between 2,000 and 4,000 additional trainers.

We'll see how these goals develop over the next few years. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.


U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Testimony of Adm. Mike Mullen , transcript and Webcast , Sept. 15, 2009