Both Reuters and the New York Times carry stories this morning reporting that NATO has floated the idea of extending the 352,000 Afghan National Security Force size for a number of years beyond the current plan that calls for it to fall significantly after the US completes its withdrawal. There are a number of problems with this idea. The first is that the 352,000 number bears little relation to reality at this point, since the ongoing high attrition rate for Afghan forces continued during the prolonged disruption in training due to green on blue attacks. Although ISAF continues to claim that recruiting and initial training goals to support the 352,000 level were met, the likelihood that this level of troops still exists and is integrated into ANSF is very low. (See this post for just one example of the deployment deficit at an Afghan National Border Police facility.) Second, the US bears the bulk of the budgetary load for maintaining ANSF, so extending the commitment to the increased troop level is asking for a large financial commitment from the US at a time when budget deficits are the panic du jour in Washington. Finally, because only one Afghan National Army unit now is reported to be able to function without any advisor input, a large number of US advisors is required to achieve the required ANSF force size and there is not yet a negotiated Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that grants immunity to US troops remaining in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal at the end of 2014. The lack of such an agreement in Iraq resulted in our rapid withdrawal of advisors there.
Here is how the Times described the proposal:
NATO defense ministers are seriously considering a new proposal to sustain Afghanistan’s security forces at 352,000 troops through 2018, senior alliance officials said Thursday. The expensive effort is viewed as a way to help guarantee the country’s stability — and, just as much, to illustrate continued foreign support after the NATO allies end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year.
The fiscal package that NATO leaders endorsed last spring would have reduced the Afghan National Security Forces to fewer than 240,000 troops after December 2014, when the NATO mission expires. That reduction was based on planning work indicating that the larger current force level was too expensive for Afghanistan and the allies to keep up, and might not be required. Some specialists even argued that the foreign money pouring into Afghanistan to support so large a force was helping fuel rampant official corruption.
Recall that the Obama administration managed to quash the semi-annual report on “progress” in Afghanistan that was due in October until after the November elections, but once it finally came out, the New York Times reported:
As President Obama considers how quickly to withdraw the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan and turn over the war to Afghan security forces, a bleak new Pentagon report has found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners.
So we see that there is a huge dependence on “advisors” (=US troops) who are required for there to be any semblance of function for the ANSF. And yet, as I discussed back in November, there is not yet a SOFA in place that provides full criminal immunity to US forces who are in Afghanistan posing as advisors after 2014. Is NATO floating the idea of extending the large force size myth as an enticement to Afghan officials to keep their corruption dollars coming in by approving US troop immunity in the new SOFA? Continue reading