Training Afghanistan Security Forces Essential for Peace

Elizabeth Hamrick /

President Obama’s announced plan for accelerated troop reductions in Afghanistan puts at risk the hard-earned battlefield gains made by the coalition forces over the last 10 months, but he rightly highlighted significant progress in training Afghan security forces:

Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people. In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces…”

Progress in preparing Afghan security forces for eventual transition of responsibility is impressive, and the NATO training mission headed by General William Caldwell deserves much praise. However, Afghan security forces are still a long way from being able to maintain security on their own. The transition from U.S.-led to Afghan-led security operations must be driven by conditions on the ground, not the U.S. domestic political calendar. A hasty departure—before the necessary steps are taken to create a sustainable, functioning Afghan security force—risks unraveling all the hard work put into training these forces.

The fate of the Afghan National Police (ANP) is of particular importance. Last week, the Project 2049 Institute released a report on the progress of the Afghan National Police titled The Police Challenge: Advancing Afghan National Police Training. The Heritage Foundation’s Lisa Curtis was part of the senior-level study group convened to examine the challenges facing the ANP and to provide recommendations for enhancing the prospects for success of the force. The report highlights the role the ANP will play in maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan during and after transition; identifies the challenges it faces; offers solutions for the road ahead; and emphasizes that there is still much more work to be done.

A functional Afghan police force is an essential element of promoting rule of law and development in Afghanistan. Officials within the Afghan military mission frequently comment on the importance of ANP training to maintaining a minimal level of stability, which the force has yet to achieve. Current estimates place nearly half of all ANP units at operational capacity. The ANP suffers from shortfalls in both institutional and individual capacity. Without a more professional, trustworthy, and capable police force, the security architecture necessary for sustainable post-conflict peace-building and development will likely fail. In fact, inadequate policing not only prevents the elimination of the insurgency, but also benefits it.

In an environment where police commonly ask for bribes, are unable to resolve local disputes—let alone investigate criminal activity and arrest offenders—Afghan civilians may be more likely to lend their support to extremist groups, which emerge as a sub-optimal but necessary alternative to the inept police.”

The NATO training mission will transfer full control of Afghan security forces to the Afghan government in 2014. While this is still three years away, it is likely to prove a challenging deadline. The report offers clear recommendations which, if followed, have the potential to lead to a successful transition by 2014.

Among other things, the report recommends:

Heritage’s Sally McNamara has also reported on the progress in training Afghan security forces and NATO’s significant contribution to that effort.

The question now is whether President Obama’s accelerated troop drawdown plan will dampen NATO’s commitment to the overall Afghan mission. NATO countries will need to recognize the importance of supporting credible and effective Afghan security forces and follow through on their commitments to building up the Afghan Army and police over the next three years.