NATO: “Afghanistan Will Not Unravel After Withdrawal” — Probably Because It’s Unraveling Now

Overall force size, recruitment and attrition for the Afghanistan National Army from latest DoD report.

The situation in Afghanistan is falling apart so quickly and so dramatically that a senior NATO civilian official took it upon himself today to put out an assurance that Afghanistan will not unravel after NATO withdraws its security forces. One can only infer from this statement that NATO can make this assurance because the unraveling is already underway and will be complete prior to the late 2014 date for full withdrawal.

Consider the array of ways in which Afghanistan has forged its way into the news cycle in the last 24 hours at a time when “legitimate rape” should have edged out all other issues. President Obama made an “unscheduled” appearance in the White House Briefing Room yesterday, and Jake Tapper was able to force Obama onto the record on the issue of rapidly escalating green on blue attacks.  Yesterday’s brilliant idea from the Defense Department on stemming the tide of green on blue attacks was to claim that Afghanistan now will spy on its own troops to prevent the attacks. Robert Caruso provided the best response to this revelation on Twitter: “riiiiiiiiiiight.” Perhaps the most stunning development, though, is that while General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was in Kabul for emergency meetings on the green on blue issue, insurgents were able to get close enough to Bagram Air Base to damage his plane (which was unoccupied at the time) in a rocket attack.

I have long maintained that the principal failure in the coalition’s plans for Afghanistan is the abject failure of David Petraeus’ training program that he started in Iraq and moved to Afghanistan. The figure above is taken from the most recent DoD “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan” (pdf). The bar graph and the figures below it (click on the image for a slightly larger view) show us figures for Afghanistan’s National Army. If we consider the twelve month period from March April 2011 to April March 2012, we see that the size of the ANA grew from 164,003 to 194,455. However, in order to achieve that growth, it was necessary to recruit a total of 79,501 troops during that time. Such massive recruiting was necessary because the same twelve month period saw attrition of 48,577 troops. Compared to the force size at the end of this period, that is an attrition rate of 25% (actually 24.98%) for the year.

It simply does not make sense to call the ANA a “combat ready” force that can take the lead on security any time in the foreseeable future when it has an annual attrition rate of 25%. Such a high rate of turnover in the force means that the Afghan population from which the force is drawn does not ascribe subscribe to the idea of a national army. The entire NATO “mission” of preparing Afghan security forces to take responsibility for security is built on a fable that the Afghan people do not support. Green on blue attacks may be dominating the news today, but the failure of the people of Afghanistan to get behind the concept of a national army is what will ultimately end the current NATO strategy.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

14 replies
  1. Duncan says:

    That’s “subscribe to,” not “ascribe to,” and maybe it’s not so much the idea of a national army that they don’t subscribe to, as the idea of a national army subordinate to the US. Aside from that, a very good post. Thanks again.

  2. BSbafflesbrains says:

    @Jim White: That is a depressing prediction and I can’t ascribe to using the term level of success with Iraq; level of
    clusterf#@% seems more descriptive.

  3. Arbusto says:

    Do we know how to win a war or what, such as: Pay the Taliban Baksheesh so they won’t attack us on the Khyber Pass, thus allowing them money to attack us with newer weapons in the North. Train Afghans in PT, hygiene, discipline, tactics and small arms who then desert(?), giving the insurgents trained (and probably armed) fighters. And last, drone the crap out of Pakistan, as an assist for recruitment by the insurgents (Taliban et al). So, along with emptying our treasury, we bribe the Taliban to kill us elsewhere after recruiting, training and equipping them.

    These Colors Don’t Run, they just fade away(made in China).

  4. Garrett says:

    Minor joke:

    David Ignatius said Afghanistan will not descend into civil war, because soccer.

    Which, given the north/south cultural split about soccer versus cricket, you can interpret Straussian.

    It ain’t cricket. It’s a pass and a goal!

  5. Gimme Shelter says:

    as a former 11BP grunt-type, all i can say is that is a long gd walk home from Afghanistan and if i were there i would be busy making sure i knew where all the exits were located. the Russians had to scramble like crazed mad men to get the hell out with their s*** intact when their time came – wonder if the mighty mighty usa will have to do the same.

    btw, the rocket fire shredded the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff’s Boeing C-17 Globemaster III so badly he had to fly out on a different aircraft.

    the Pashtun/Pathan have been fighting for 3,000+ years. they have never lost. they are currently not losing.

  6. MadDog says:

    “…I have long maintained that the principal failure in the coalition’s plans for Afghanistan is the abject failure of David Petraeus’ training program that he started in Iraq and moved to Afghanistan…”

    Too true!

    One of the most strikingly tragic aspects of that failure is that the US military specifically, and the US government more generally, applies the US’s own myopic views regarding what constitutes a “nation state” and therefore totally misunderstand the places called Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The overwhelmingly tribal groupings in both places negate much of the US’s training emphasis on a “national” identity.

    What the US fails to grasp is that they didn’t stand up a national army in Iraq, nor are they training a national army now in Afghanistan.

    Instead, what the US produced in Iraq, and the US is now producing in Afghanistan, are in fact tribal militias.

    Failure to admit this, much less understand, it makes the US perception of a “victory” in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan, no more than a self-serving, and in the end, a self-defeating delusion.

  7. Garrett says:

    @MadDog:

    A thing about the current complex Afghan factionalism, though. It comes at the end of 30 years of a good number of strong powers, all exploiting and driving Afghan factionalism to their own ends.

    Our plan to heavily tilt to the Northern side, with the inevitable destabilization when we leave. Our plan (not Karzai’s, though this one is a guess) to load up the mid-level Army with northerners, to form a barrier around Kabul. Our plan to ignore “secure” areas in what little development work we do. Our plan, and our calculation, in who gets a paid-for warlord militia and who doesn’t.

    Our plan, that elections would be conducted in a way to ensure 100.00% warlord stuffing of ballot boxes, and that we’d then put inspirational photos of purple fingers in Time.

    Our plan, that with a historical two-tribe split of smuggling in Spin Boldak, we’d grant the whole corrupt concession to a particularly nasty young fighter from one tribe.

    Just on and on, that despite whatever we say about it, at a newspaper level, our real actions show intense calculation in driving and exploiting Afghan factionalism. And that we know that we are doing it.

    There is some real home-grown unity and civil society thought in Afghanistan. We don’t much bother with it, because we are too busy plotting with the factional warlords.

  8. MadDog says:

    @Garrett: I don’t disagree with a thing you’ve written.

    However, none of that changes the fact that the US military and the US government at some level also believe their own swill about standing up a national army and police force in a place that has few of the attributes of a nation-state.

    Can both things be happening at the same time? If the real history of US foreign policy and military “adventures” is the final arbiter, you betcha!

    Contradictory policies and programs are a mainstay of our nation. At times, we even proudly acclaim it. *g*

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