The United States failed to understand the complexities and scale of the mission required to stand up and mentor security forces in a country suffering from thirty years of war, misrule, corruption, and deep poverty, US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko said in the latest of his reports released Thursday.
This report details the U.S. experience of reconstructing the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). The release coincided with remarks by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. SIGAR’s report also emphasises on how the US failed the security forces development and nation building process in Afghanistan. Sopko also argued that the US should be able to say ‘no’ to any aid to Afghanistan if its conditions are not met.
The SIGAR concluded that,
— The United States failed to understand the complexities and scale of the mission required to stand up and mentor security forces in a country suffering from thirty years of war, misrule, corruption, and deep poverty. Early U.S. partnerships with independent militias—intended to advance U.S. counterterrorism objectives—ultimately undermined the creation and role of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP).
— U.S. military plans for ANDSF readiness were created under politically constrained timelines, rather than based upon realistic assessments of Afghan readiness.
— The U.S. government lacks a deployable police-development capability for high-threat environments, so we have trained over 100,000 Afghan police using U.S. Army aviators, infantry officers, and civilian contractors. One U.S. officer watched TV shows like Cops and NCIS to learn what he should teach. In eastern Afghanistan, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot was assigned to teach policing.
— The NATO training mission for the ANDSF was chronically understaffed by more than 50%.
— Insufficient attention to Afghan institutional capacity meant that the personnel, logistical, planning, administrative, and other functions vital to sustaining the fighting forces remained underdeveloped—as they do to this day.
— The U.S. government is not well organized to conduct large scale security-sector assistance missions in post-conflict nations or in the developing world.
— Security-sector assistance cannot employ a one-size-fits-all approach. Security-force structures and capabilities will not survive the end of U.S. assistance if the host nation does not fully buy into and take ownership of security sector assistance programs.
— Developing foreign military and police capabilities is a whole-of-government mission. However, there is a large “hole” in U.S. government reconstruction activity.
— Security sector assistance training and advising is not currently career enhancing for military personnel. Therefore, experienced and capable military professionals often choose other assignments later in their careers, resulting in the continual deployment of new and inexperienced forces for security sector assistance missions.
Additionally, the report also found out that,
— The lack of commonly understood interagency terms, concepts, and models for security sector assistance (SSA) undermined communication and coordination, damaged trust, intensified frictions, and contributed to gross under-resourcing of the U.S. effort to develop the ANDSF.
— Early U.S. partnerships with independent militias—intended to advance U.S. counterterrorism objectives—ultimately undermined the creation and role of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP).
— Critical ANDSF capabilities, including aviation, intelligence, force management, and special forces, were not included in early U.S., Afghan, and NATO force-design plans.
— Individual donor nations’ limitations, rationales for joining the coalition, resource constraints and military capabilities, as well as NATO’s force generation processes, led to an increasingly complex implementation of programs and the lack of an agreed-upon framework for conducting SSA activities.
— The constant turnover of U.S. and NATO trainers impaired the training mission’s institutional memory and hindered the relationship building and effective monitoring and evaluation required in SSA missions.
— Providing advanced Western weapons and management systems to a largely illiterate and uneducated force without appropriate training and infrastructure created long-term dependencies, required increased U.S. fiscal support, and extended sustainability timelines.
— Police development was treated as a secondary mission for the U.S. government, despite the critical role the ANP played in implementing rule of law and providing constant, local-level security nationwide.
— ANDSF monitoring and evaluation tools relied heavily on tangible outputs. This focus masked intangible factors, such as corruption and will to fight, which deeply affected security outcomes and failed to adequately factor in classified U.S. intelligence assessments.
— Because U.S. military plans were created with politically constrained timelines—and because these plans consistently underestimated the resilience of the Afghan insurgency and overestimated ANDSF capabilities—the ANDSF was ill prepared to deal with deteriorating security after the drawdown of U.S. combat forces.
Sopko, in addition to major points mentioned in this report, also argued in his speech that the US needs to recognise that its approach in Afghanistan might have contributed towards lack of ANDSF development. Finally, Sopko also emphasised on the fact that the US civilian mission behind embassy walls in Kabul is making little difference to Afghanistan’s development and reconstruction.
Full SIGAR report can be found at: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-17-62-LL.pdf
SIGAR’s full speech at CSIS: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/speeches/CSIS_Speech_2017-09-21.pdf